reunification is the cornerstone of our legal immigration policy.
It is truly one of the most visible areas in government policy in
which we support and strengthen family values. Family unification
translates into strong families who build strong communities.
Immigration through family reunification is a two-step process.
The first step is the filing of a petition by the American citizen
or resident relative with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration. This
establishes that the qualifying relationship exists and sets the
“Priority Date”, or place in line, for quota immigrants (see
second step is application for adjustment of status or for an
immigrant visa abroad. The choice depends on whether the
prospective immigrant is in the United States legally or his or
her home country. If the immigrant is here legally (with some
exceptions), he or she can apply for adjustment of status with
USCIS. If the applicant is abroad, the preferred procedure is to
apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate in the
home country. The government will conduct an interview to
determine if the applicant can immigrate to the U.S., and if the
application is approved, the relative will be made a permanent
Generally, spouses and minor children of both citizens and
permanent residents have the right to immigrate (although
relatives of permanent residents are under an annual quota).
Parents of U.S. citizens over 21 can also immigrate without
waiting for a quota.
distant relatives of U.S. citizens, such as brothers and sisters,
adult and married children, and their dependents are also eligible
to immigrate, but have to wait for their turn through the quota
the 1920s, the U.S. has imposed quotas, or limitations on the
number of legal immigrants each year from each country. For many
immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, this does not present a
problem. Spouses and minor children of citizens (including some
adopted children) can immigrate without any limitations, as can
parents of U.S. citizens over 21 years old. Fiancees of American
citizens are also permitted to enter through this process,
although there are very specific requirements.
But for the
rest, there are limitations, and they can result in very long
waits. These waits vary by country of nationality and preference
(see below). For this reason, it is important for the American
citizen or resident to file a petition as soon as possible, so
that the relative can have the earliest possible place in line.
people, though, are not eligible either to adjust status or obtain
an immigrant visa. Besides obvious problems like a criminal
record, security problems, and fraud, a law called the “Illegal
Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of
1996” (IIRAIRA) prohibits a person from obtaining residence if he
or she has been in the country illegally for more than six months,
and bans such a person from entering the U.S. for three years
after leaving (ten years if the applicant was in the U.S.
illegally for more than a year).
ban those who entered the U.S. illegally from becoming permanent
residents except in very rare cases, and prohibit those who have
been deported from reentering the U.S. without advance
permission. If you think any of these categories might apply to
you, it is important to discuss your situation with an attorney
before filing any immigration application.