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Who is an "Immediate Relative" and Why Does it Matter?

Is your child your relative? Are your parents your relatives? In one sense, of course, but in the eyes of immigration law even your child or parents may not be your “immediate relative.” If you are in removal proceedings and are hoping to be sponsored by a parent or child as a defense, knowing the meaning of “immediate relative” is critical for determining the viability of this option. (As is implied, having a relative sponsor you for a green card is in some circumstances an option in removal proceedings).

The relevant provision defines “immediate relatives” as “the children, spouses, and parents of a citizen of the United States, except that, in the case of parents, such citizens shall be at least 21 years of age.” Immigration and Nationality Act § 201(b)(2)(A)(i). “Child,” in turn, is defined as “an unmarried person under twenty-one years of age.”

Together, then, what do these things mean? For children in Immigration Court, the definition of child means that, when the petitioner is a United States citizen parent, only children who are both under the age of 21 and unmarried are “immediate relatives” of their parents. (“Petitioner” is the person sponsoring a green card applicant, and the “beneficiary” is the person seeking a green card). Thus, for instance, a 26 year old is not the “immediate relative” of their United States citizen parent because they are over 21. Going the other way, a parent is only the “immediate relative” of their United States citizen child if the child is at least 21 years old, and not until then. Thus, if a child is a citizen, for instance, by birth, and is 22 years old, that child can sponsor their parents. Spouses, meanwhile, are always immediate relatives of each other, whereas siblings are never immediate relatives of each other. Lastly, only parents or children of United States citizens are “immediate relatives;” parents or children of lawful permanent residents (green card holders) do not qualify as an “immediate relative.” As discussed below, this does not mean that sponsorship is disallowed in such cases, but it does affect how and when the green card can be obtained, and essentially makes sponsorship meaningless for deportation cases.

The most important implication of whether or not a relative is an “immediate relative” is how long the beneficiary must wait to apply for a green card. In Immigration Court, where cases generally are resolved in a few years or less, time matters. If the beneficiary is an “immediate relative” of their United States citizen sponsor (and there are no other issues), a green card application may be done right away, and the green card may be obtained in the United States. But, if the beneficiary is not an “immediate relative” of their sponsor, the beneficiary must wait to apply for a green card, potentially for a very long time. How long is the wait? When a parent is being sponsored by their citizen child, the wait is simply until the child has his or her 21st birthday. On the other hand, whenever a citizen or green card holder parent sponsors their adult child, the first step is to “get in line” by filing a document called the I-130. (This is a separate step done well before the green card application itself). How fast the line then goes before being able to actually apply for a green card depends on whether the sponsoring person is a citizen or green card holder, and whether the child is married or not. Depending on the case, the wait can easily be anywhere from five to fifteen years or more. Thus, whether or not a relation qualifies as an “immediate relative” can make an enormous difference. If the “immediate relative” relation exists, and there are no other bars to a green card, the application may be filed immediately and a green card very likely obtained. If not, it could be a long wait.

Disclaimer: Although I'm an attorney, unless I am retained by you, I am not your attorney. The information in this blog is solely general legal information. Especially in immigration law, the particular facts of your individual case are vitally important and general legal information alone should not be used to make a personalized decision. In addition, the law can change rapidly, and what is found in a particular post may not be the most current reflection of the law. Thus, please speak with an attorney before either taking or choosing not to take any action relevant to your case.

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