If you are a citizen or a lawful permanent resident of the United States, and if you have children or stepchildren outside of the U.S. who are not U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, how can you unite your family here in the U.S. and help your children or stepchildren become lawful permanent residents with a path to citizenship?

Like every immigration procedure, it’s complicated. If you want to bring children to the U.S. who are not citizens or lawful permanent residents, it’s best to start the process by obtaining legal help from an experienced Las Vegas immigration attorney.

If your child is outside of the United States, you and your attorney launch the process of bringing the child or stepchild here by submitting a Form I-130 (“Petition for Alien Relative”) to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) along with the required supporting documentation and the filing fee (currently $535 in 2017).

If you petition for more than one child, you must file separate I-130 petitions and fees for each. Your immigration lawyer can offer sound insights and advice, ensure that your paperwork is complete and accurate, and see to it that no misunderstandings arise which might unnecessarily prolong the process.

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER YOU SUBMIT THE FORM I-130?

When a completed Form I-130 has been filed, USCIS will confirm receipt of the petition by sending you a Form I-797C (“Notice of Action”) in two to three weeks. If the I-130 has been filed improperly, USCIS may send you a Notice of Action denying the petition or a Request for Evidence that asks for additional documentation. A denial or a request for more information will needlessly delay the process, but an immigration attorney can ensure that your Form I-130 is prepared accurately and that all necessary documents are included with your petition.

A Form I-130 may be used for:

• natural-born children born to married parents
• natural-born children born to unmarried parents, but if the father is filing, he will have to prove legitimation or a bona fide parent-child relationship
• stepchildren, provided that a stepchild was age 18 or below when the parents married, and provided that they are still married

If you are a U.S. citizen petitioning for your child who is already in the United States, you and your child must file a Form I-485 (“Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status”) when you file the Form I-130. For permanent residents, after you have filed Form I-130, you and your child may file a Form I-485 when a visa becomes available. Let an experienced immigration attorney help.

HOW IS THE TERM “CHILD” DEFINED BY IMMIGRATION LAW?

The marital status and age of children are key considerations in the immigration process, and the word “child” has a very precise meaning in immigration law. For immigration purposes, a “child” must be under 21 and unmarried when the Form I-130 is submitted and at the time the child is given a green card, although there are some exceptions for children who turn 21 while the process is pending.

An adopted child is also defined as a “child” by USCIS, provided that the child was adopted before the child turned 16 years old and provided that the child and adoptive parents met all of the other legal requirements for a valid adoption. In most cases, however, the process to petition for an adopted child does not use Form I-130, as explained below in the section on international adoption.

HOW LONG DOES ALL OF THIS TAKE?

After you submit the Form I-130, how long will it take until your child is allowed to enter the U.S.? It depends. The unmarried, under age 21 children of U.S. citizens are considered “immediate relatives” under immigration law. They qualify for a green card as soon as they can complete the application process.

The unmarried, under age 21 children of green card holders are considered “second preference” relatives. In this category, only about 87,000 green cards are granted annually, so your child may have to wait several years for a green card to become available.

CAN MY CHILD LIVE IN THE U.S. WHILE THE PETITION IS PENDING?

If you are a citizen of the U.S., when you file a Form I-130, your child qualifies at that time to apply for a K-4 nonimmigrant visa which allows the child to enter the United States while the petition is pending. It is not required – your child is allowed to wait outside of the U.S. – but a Las Vegas immigration attorney can help you apply for a K-4 visa to bring your child here sooner.

CAN YOU APPEAL A PETITION THAT WAS DENIED?

If the visa petition that you file is denied, the denial letter will tell you how to pursue an appeal and provide you with the deadline for filing an appeal. A good immigration lawyer can usually help by explaining why a petition has been rejected and by helping you with the appeal paperwork and the Board of Immigration Appeals. If you have to file an appeal, be patient. Every immigration procedure takes time.

WHAT ABOUT INTERNATIONAL ADOPTIONS?

Every year, scores of U.S. citizens adopt children from outside the United States. If you are adopting a child who was born in another country, it’s a complicated procedure. USCIS is responsible for determining the eligibility and suitability of the prospective adoptive parents and for determining the eligibility of the child to immigrate to the U.S. Two separate processes apply only to children adopted by U.S. citizens. A third procedure is available when the requirements for the first two procedures cannot be met.

• The Hague Process: If you submitted Forms I-800A and I-800 to adopt a child, then your child is from a country that has signed the Hague Adoption Convention, so the child will enter the U.S. with an IH-3 immigrant visa (if the adoption was finalized in a Hague country) or an IH-4 immigrant visa (if you finalize the adoption in the United States).

• The Orphan Process (or “non-Hague Process”): If you submitted Forms I-600A and/or I-600 to adopt, then your child is from a country that has not signed the Hague Adoption Convention, so the child will enter the U.S. with an IR-3 immigrant visa (if the adoption is finalized in a non-Hague country) or an IR-4 immigrant visa (if the adoption is finalized in the United States).

• The Immediate Relative Process: When a child does not qualify for the Hague or non-Hague adoption processes, you may file a Form I-130 on the child’s behalf. Parents must have two full years of legal and physical custody, and the adoption must be completed and finalized for the child to be eligible for the immediate relative process.

An experienced Las Vegas immigration attorney can provide parents, stepparents, and adoptive parents with the sound legal advice and insights they’ll need – as well as the legal services that will be required – to bring your child to the United States. Nothing is more important than your children, their well-being, and their future. You can ensure that future will be with you, here in the U.S., with a good immigration lawyer’s help.