Established in 1980, with Over 30 Years of PROVEN Success in All Phases of U.S. Immigration law.


Family unification is one of the key principles of US immigration law. US citizens and permanent residents can sponsor spouses and unmarried children for green cards and citizens can sponsor other family members as well, including: married children, parents, and siblings. Not all family members are treated equally, however. The law has created a “preference” system based upon the family relationship. A limited number of green cards are allocated to most of these family groups and the number of applications often greatly outnumbers the available visas, creating long waiting lists. At the bottom of this system, are siblings of US citizens and these applications have a waiting list that is currently more than ten years long.

Certain family relationships, however are not subject to the preference system. People in this category are referred to as Immediate Relatives and include spouses, parents and unmarried children under 21 of US citizens. An unlimited number of green cards are issued to these people every year. In addition, fiancées of US citizens are also given priority in visa processing with the requirement that the fiancée marry the citizen within 90 days of entering the United States.

For obvious reasons, spousal and fiancée petitions are very attractive to individuals seeking permanent residency in the United States and the government has established numerous safeguards to prevent fraud and abuse, including criminal prosecution. It is therefore critical that applications be properly prepared and well documented and that both the citizen and the applicant be prepared for some intense questioning.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. If I am citizen, and my girlfriend is in the United States, what is the best way to get her a green card?

There are no “girlfriend” visas. If you marry and she is legally in the United States (“in status”) or even if she is currently illegal (“out of status”) but last entered the US legally, then your marriage in the US may enable her to obtain her permanent residency without leaving the US. This is true even if she has been out of status in the US for many years. However, she may still be denied her residency if she has a criminal record, deportation or removal order, or other serious immigration violations,

Q. What if we want to get married in her country?

That can be a problem. If she has lived illegal in the US for more than a year and she leaves before obtaining her green card or special USCIS permission known as advance parole, she will likely be subject to a 10 year bar to returning to the US. We strongly suggest you that you marry first in the US, obtain permanent residency, and then get re-married in her home country.

Q. What if my girlfriend entered the US illegally?

If she entered the US illegally and has been living here illegally for more than a year after turning 18, she will not be able to apply for her residency through you in the US. She will need to return home for final processing before the US consulate in her home country and she will be subject to the 10 year bar.

Q. Is there any way to get around the 10 year bar?

She can apply for a waiver (or pardon) to excuse the 10 year bar if you marry and she can prove that her separation from you for 10 years will cause you, the American citizen to suffer extreme hardship. Since March 1, 2012, the Obama Administration now allows spouses of American citizens to apply for this waiver in the US before returning home. If your new spouse has no criminal record, deportation or removal order, or other serious immigration violations, the approval of the waiver will allow her to return home for a brief period and obtain her green card at the US consulate.

Q. What if we are uncertain about our marriage plans? Can I file a fiancée petition for her if my fiancée is now in the Unites States?

A fiancée petition is for a nonimmigrant visa that is issued by a US consulate abroad. If approved, it allows your fiancée to come to the US on the condition that you marry with 90 days of her admission. She would then file for her green card. If she is already here, the visa is unnecessary. You would simply get married.

Q. I met my boyfriend in Germany while was studying abroad. Are we better off getting married and filing a marriage petition or going forward with a K-1 fiancée petition?

You have three options. You can file a fiancée petition for him (K-1) and bring him to the US to marry in 90 days. You can marry him abroad and complete processing at the US consulate which will allow him to enter as a permanent resident. Or you can marry him abroad and bring him in on a nonimmigrant K-3 visa which will then allow you to complete processing of his green card in the US. Each of these options has pros and cons and you should consulate an immigration attorney before making any decisions that could have major repercussions on your lives.

Q. If I am a permanent resident, can I file an application to bring my family to the US?

Permanent residents can only petition for a spouse or unmarried child. But remember, if you are a permanent resident, your relative will NOT be considered an Immediate Relative. This means that visas are numerically limited and there may be waiting lists. (There are actually two separate waiting lists, one for spouses and unmarried children under 21 and a separate list for unmarried children 21 and older.) Also remember that because they are not Immediate Relatives, they must be in status in the US in order to get their green cards without going back to their home country. If they need to go home, they may be subject to the ten year bar.

Q. If USCIS approves my relative petition in the US, can the US consul still deny him an immigrant visa back home?

Yes. The consul makes an independent judgment as to whether he or she believes the relationship is real and if there are other bars to granting permanent residency. Consuls frequently investigate documents including birth, marriage and divorce certificates and closely interview applicants to determine if the marital relationship is genuine. In addition, prior deportation orders, unlawful presence in the US, submission of false documents, use of false or altered passports and insufficient affidavits of support can all result in visa denials.

Q. Can a US citizen sponsor family members other than a spouse or fiancée?

A citizen can also sponsor a parent, an unmarried child under 21, an unmarried child 21 or over, a married child, and a sibling. Of this group, only parents and an unmarried child parent under 21are classified as Immediate Relatives. Relatives who are not an Immediate Relatives, must be in status in the US in order to get their green cards without returning to their home country. If they need to go home, they may be subject to the ten year bar.

Q. Do I need a lawyer to file a family sponsored petition?

The law does not require it but common sense does. The procedure is complicated and if you do not know what you are doing and you make a mistake, it may be very costly in terms of time, money, and emotional hardship.