If you’re a United States citizen, and you’re 21 or older, you may request to have your siblings (sisters or brothers) live in the U.S. as lawful permanent residents (that is, as “green card” holders).

But who legally qualifies as a sibling? How long does it take to bring a sibling to the U.S.? How much paperwork is involved? What will it cost? And will you need an immigration attorney to help you?

WHO IS CONSIDERED A SIBLING?

For immigration purposes, siblings are defined as persons who have at least one legal parent in common. You are not required to be related “by blood” to your sibling, who may be a stepbrother, a stepsister, or an adopted brother or sister.

Only U.S. citizens may petition to bring their siblings to live permanently in the United States. Lawful permanent residents may not. To launch the process, you should consult first with an experienced Las Vegas immigration attorney.

A good immigration lawyer will review – or help you complete – the all-important I-130 form so that no mistakes or misunderstandings unnecessarily delay the process.

Your attorney will also review the other necessary documents and explain how the immigration laws apply to your family’s own circumstances.

WHAT MUST BE INCLUDED WITH AN I-130 PETITION?

Here’s what must be submitted to USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) in order to bring your sister or brother to the United States as a lawful permanent resident:

1. the I-130 form filled out completely and accurately
2. a copy of your birth certificate
3. a copy of your sibling’s birth certificate
4. proof of your U.S. citizenship (if your birth certificate does not prove citizenship)
5. a fee (as of 2018) of $535 payable by money order, personal check, or cashier’s check

WHAT OTHER DOCUMENTS MAY BE REQUIRED?

The birth certificates should indicate that you and your sibling share at least one parent:

1. If your sibling is related to you by adoption, you must also submit a copy of the adoption decree indicating that the adoption took place before the adopted child’s 16th birthday.

2. If your sibling is related to you through a stepparent, you must file documentary proof that the previous marriages of the biological parent and/or stepparent were dissolved legally and a copy of the marriage certificate of the biological parent to the stepparent.

3. If your sibling and you have the same biological father and different mothers, you must also file a copy of the marriage certificates for both marriages and documentary proof that any other marriages involving any of the parents were legally dissolved.

If your own name or your sibling’s name has changed from the name indicated on the birth certificate, you will need a copy of the document that proves the name was changed legally and indicates why: an adoption decree or a marriage certificate, for example.

HOW LONG WILL IT ALL TAKE? HOW CAN AN IMMIGRATION LAW FIRM HELP?

Unfortunately, a sibling may not immigrate immediately to the United States while your I-130 is pending. Quite frankly, in some cases, the wait can be years – literally – but everyone’s situation will be different. That’s one reason why an immigration attorney’s insights can be so invaluable.

An immigration lawyer will help you avoid any unnecessary delays and will ensure that the process is moving as quickly as possible for you and your brother or sister.

If you are finding it difficult to obtain a legal document that you need, like an old marriage certificate, your immigration lawyer may be able to help.

WHEN SHOULD YOU SPEAK WITH AN IMMIGRATION LAWYER?

If you have a sister or a brother who wants to live in the United States, it might be wise to consult an immigration attorney right now about beginning the process.

Immigration law changes all the time, and some of the most recent changes have not benefitted immigrants and their families. Immigration based on family relationships has been a particular target for criticism, and Congress could impose even more restrictions in the months ahead.

If you’re thinking about uniting your family in the United States, the best time to get started is right now.

Let an immigration attorney help you complete Form I-130 – or at least review it – before you submit the form to USCIS. It’s twelve pages long with another twelve pages of instructions – comparable to an income tax form – but immigration attorneys handle I-130s on a routine basis.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Several weeks after you submit the I-130 petition, you should receive a notice from USCIS telling you to check with the USCIS website for a status update. Look for a receipt number in the upper left corner of the notice – that’s the number that you’ll need when you go online.

You can also sign up to receive email updates about the progress of your I-130 petition. It may take a few months, but USCIS will eventually approve – or in rare cases, deny – your I-130 petition for your sister or brother.

An approval is good, but unfortunately, it doesn’t speed things up. Your sibling is placed on the waiting list when USCIS first receives your I-130 form.

WHAT IF YOUR I-130 IS DENIED?

If your I-130 petition for your sister or brother is denied, USCIS must explain why in writing. If you receive a denial, speak with your attorney about the denial and about re-filing the I-130 or appealing the denial. Your attorney will know the best way to move forward constructively.

Approved I-130s are sent by USCIS to the National Visa Center (NVC) for additional processing.

HOW IS THE FINAL DECISION MADE REGARDING THE GREEN CARD?

After the I-130 is approved, your sibling will eventually receive a request to attend an interview at a U.S. consulate in his or her home country. That’s where a decision will be made regarding the approval or denial of the green card.

If you need to acquire a green card or any type of U.S. visa for yourself or for a member of your family, get the legal advice and help that you need – right away – from an experienced Las Vegas immigration attorney.

A good immigration lawyer can review your legal, familial, and employment situation, explain your options, help you avoid unnecessary delays, and if necessary, represent you and advocate on your family’s behalf. A good attorney’s help is your right.