Navigating the complexities of family-based immigration can be a daunting journey. It’s a difficult process, even for U.S. citizens who want to help their children. Especially when they have surpassed the age of 21, which further complicates matters when it comes to their required legal procedures. Consequently, an important question arises: Can a U.S. citizen petition for a child over 21?
Yes, they can with the legal pathway laid out through Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. But, if you’re wondering, ‘how long does it take to petition an unmarried child over 21?’, know that the time frame may vary significantly depending on the nature of the case.
Guidelines for U.S. Citizens Sponsoring Children over 21 for Green Cards
One important thing you must know from the beginning is that children over the age of 21 fall outside the definition of ‘immediate relatives‘ under U.S. immigration law. This aspect can make the road to a Green Card more arduous than for children under 21. As a result, it’s not just a simple matter of “Can parent sponsor child green card?” because there are many other aspects that need to be taken into consideration.
Immediate relatives—a term that includes spouses, unmarried children under 21, and parents of U.S. citizens—benefit from an inexhaustible supply of visas, ensuring no wait time for their Green Card applications. In contrast, adult children over 21 are categorized under family preference, which is subject to annual numerical limits.
As a result, they are more likely to have longer waiting periods due to visa availability being tied to their priority date—the date when their I-130 petition was filed. A child who is not married but is over the age of 21 fits into the family preference category. Other family members in the family preference category are either ‘married children of any age’ or ‘brothers and sisters of the U.S. Citizen’ (In this instance, the U.S. citizen must be over the age of 21.). But, we’ll go more in-depth regarding each of these distinctions in what follows:
Related Article: Check Priority Date in our Monthly Visa Bulletin Update
Exploring Family-Based Immigration: Preference Categories Breakdown
As we delve into the specifics of family-based immigration, it’s essential to understand the hierarchical structure of the Family Preference Categories. These categories not only dictate the order of priority but also the intricacies of the visa allocation process. Each preference level reflects a different group of family members, each with its own set of regulatory criteria and annual caps. What follows is a detailed look into each category:
Navigating the F1 Visa: Sponsoring Unmarried Adult Children Over 21
Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens who are 21 years of age and older fall into this category. They can be sponsored via the U.S. citizen petition for child over 21 but are subject to annual visa quotas.
The First Preference (F1) refers to the processes and procedures that U.S. citizens and permanent residents must navigate when petitioning for a child over the age of 21. This framework will help elucidate the pathways available for reuniting families across borders and the expected timelines for doing so.
Guide to F2, F3, and F4 Family Visa Categories
The second preference encompasses both categories F2A and F2B, which include the spouses and children of permanent residents and the unmarried sons and daughters of permanent residents, respectively. The third preference is for married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and the fourth preference includes siblings of U.S. citizens aged 21 and over.
Venturing further into the realm of family-based immigration, we encounter additional categories that a U.S. citizen may utilize when exploring the petition for a child over 21. As we’ve already seen, the Second Preference splits into F2A and F2B, addressing the needs of permanent residents wishing to sponsor their spouses and children or unmarried adult sons and daughters.
The Third Preference accommodates married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, while the Fourth Preference extends eligibility to the siblings of U.S. citizens who are at least 21 years old. These categories reflect the broad spectrum of family relationships eligible for reunification under U.S. immigration policy.
Eligibility Criteria for Family Preference Immigrants
For a family seeking adjustment of status while in the United States, several criteria must be met, including the filing of Form I-485, being inspected and admitted or paroled, physical presence in the U.S. at the time of the parent filing for child over 21, and eligibility for an immigrant visa, among others.
This step, often initiated by a permanent resident petition for child over 21, mandates the completion of Form I-485, which compels the applicant to have been lawfully inspected and admitted or paroled into the country.
Moreover, the applicant must be physically present in the U.S. at the time of the petition and must be eligible to receive an immigrant visa. These stipulations ensure that the process adheres to the strict regulatory framework established for immigration.
Key Factors in Family Preference Visa Availability
As dictated by Congress, family members who fit into the family preference category have a limited number of immigrant visas available to them. The result of this system is that the waiting period for an applicant can be several years or more.
When the number of applications is more than the number of Green Cards available, applicants who do not have priority remain on hold. One thing that helps estimate the place of an applicant is to be aware that the Green Cards are issued in chronological order from the date when the application was filed. That date becomes the applicant’s priority date, and it’s impossible for a person to get a Green Card before that priority date has been reached.
The legislative framework governing family preference visas imposes a ceiling on the number of Green Cards issued annually for adult children over the age of 21 under the Family First Preference. When the demand overshadows this supply, a backlog ensues, compelling applicants to join a ‘figurative queue.’
Unfortunately, the waiting time for applicants can be extended to several years, requiring patience and a strategic approach to planning one’s immigration timeline.
Understanding the Visa Process for Children Over 21: The Bottom Line
The answer to “Can a green card holder sponsor a child over 21?” is yes, under the second preference category, while for U.S. citizens, the first and third preferences are relevant when the parent is filing for a child over 21.
For both permanent residents and U.S. citizens, sponsoring an adult child means navigating the family preference system, which has limited visa numbers and often results in a substantial waiting period. The duration of the process to obtain a green card for child over 21 can be protracted, and citizenship through parents after 21 is contingent on various factors, including the priority date and visa availability.