Helping a Family Member Get Legal Status
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed January 24, 2018
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There are a number of ways to help a foreign-born family member get legal status as a permanent resident in the United States. In most cases, the applicant must be in the country legally in order to qualify. But there are some exceptions to the rule, typically where deportation would place an undue hardship on the individual or their family.
The "Family Visas" subsection in FindLaw's Immigration Law Center provides a wide range of relevant articles and resources. This article provides general summaries of laws and procedures to consider when helping a family member get legal status in the U.S.
For Applicants in the U.S. Illegally:
- Re-Entry Rules - The U.S. government allows otherwise eligible applicants whom it knows are in the country illegally to leave and re-enter after a certain amount of time has passed. If a family member entered the U.S. legally but has an expired visa ("out-of-status"), he or she may need to speak with an immigration attorney.
- Those in the U.S. illegally for more than 180 days may apply for a visa for re-entry after three years. Those in the U.S. illegally for more than 365 days will be barred from re-entering for 10 years.
- Read about the re-entry rules for undocumented immigrants in Chapter 43 of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service's "Adjudicator's Field Manual."
- Download the Application for Permission to Reapply for Admission Into the United States After Deportation or Removal (USCIS Form I-212, PDF).
- Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) - Battered spouses, children, and parents of U.S. citizens and green card holders who are in the country illegally may petition for legal status on their own behalf under the VAWA. Typically, the victim filing for legal status must help law enforcement bring charges against the abuser.
- FindLaw's "Immigration Visas for Battered Spouses and Children" provides a general overview of VAWA-based immigration visas.
- See "Battered Spouse, Children & Parents" on the USCIS website for more detailed information, including relevant forms for download.
- Undocumented victims of partner abuse (if unmarried or recently divorced) or other criminal acts may pursue U-1 nonimmigrant status (also called a "U visa").
- Cancellation of Removal - Undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for more than 10 years and can prove that removal from the country would cause "exceptional and extremely unusual hardship" to a spouse or other immediate family members (if citizens or legal permanent residents) may file to stop a deportation order.
- FindLaw's "Forms of Relief from Removal" highlights the most common forms of relief available to illegal aliens facing removal.
- Interested parties can download the Justice Department's "Application for Cancellation of Removal and Adjustment of Status for Certain Nonpermanent Residents" (Form EOIR-42B, PDF).
For Applicants Outside of the U.S. or Who Entered Legally:
- If You are a U.S. Citizen - In order of priority, you may petition on behalf of your spouse; your child (if under 21 years old); your parent (if you are at least 21 years old); your unmarried child (if over 21 years old) and their children; your married child (of any age) and their children; or your sibling and his/her spouse and children (if you are at least 21 years old).
- See FindLaw's "Family-Based Immigration Overview," "Eligibility and Preference Categories," and "Bringing a Child to Live in the US: Info for U.S. Citizens."
- See "Family of U.S. Citizens" on the USCIS website for more information.
- If You are a Green Card Holder - In order of priority, you may petition on behalf of your spouse or child (if under 21 years old), or your unmarried child (if over 21 years old).
- See FindLaw's "Family-Based Immigration Overview," "Eligibility and Preference Categories," "Bringing a Child to Live in the U.S.: Info for Permanent Residents."
- See "Family of Green Card Holders (Permanent Residents)" on the USCIS website for more information.
- Temporary Fiance(e) Visas -You may petition on behalf of your undocumented fiance(e) if you are a U.S. citizen and meet certain requirements.
- See the USCIS "Fiance(e) Visas" page for more detailed information and links to relevant forms.
- Adopted Children - There are three main procedures for bringing an internationally adopted child into the country as a U.S. citizen: the Hague Process, the Non-Hague Process, and the Immediate Relative Process.
- See FindLaw's "Bringing a Child to Live in the U.S.: Info for Citizens" for more general primer on the process.
- See "Bringing Your Internationally Adopted Child to the United States" on the USCIS website for more detailed information and relevant forms for download.
For information about petitioning on behalf of a family member based on your employment-based visa status, see "Working in the U.S."
Need to Help a Family Member Get Legal Status? Talk to an Attorney
One of the advantages of having a green card is the ability to petition on behalf of family members who would like to join you in the United States, but it's still a very complicated process. If you're interested in helping a family member get legal status, it's best to contact a local immigration attorney who can guide you through the process.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
Contact a qualified immigration attorney to help you with visa procedures.