What do I need to know about sponsoring my brother or sister for a green card?

I was on the phone with a client yesterday. He just became a US citizen. He was wondering what does it take to bring his brother or sister to the United States.

Now you’re probably aware that there’s a long, long wait for brothers and sister of US citizens to come to the United States. The reason for this is that Congress has placed a cap on the number of these visas that are available every year. Depending on your country of origin the wait can be as short as 13 years or as long as 20 years based on current numbers at the State Department that they issue through the visa bulletin.

The first thing you need to know is that you have to be a US citizen to sponsor your brother or sister. If you’re in the United States on a green card and you’re thinking about sponsoring your brother or sister, you’re not going to be able to do it until you become a US citizen.

The next thing you need to know is that long wait. It’s a long, long wait and the process works like this. Once you become a US citizen you file what’s called an I-130. It’s a petition for an alien relative and that goes to USCIS. Now because of the long delay on visas being available because that line for a green card to come to the United States is so long, USCIS doesn’t place a high priority on adjudicating and deciding these I-130s. When you file your I-130 you’ll get a receipt notice and then you won’t hear from immigration for quite some time. Lately we’ve been seeing people get their decisions about 4 or 5 years after their file.

One thing to really keep in mind is that you have to keep your address up to date with USCIS because if you move and they can’t forward the mail to you, you might miss a deadline to reply to a question from the Immigration Service or you might miss the approval altogether. You really want to make sure that if you have any kind of pending I-130 for your brother or sister that you’re updating USCIS with your address.

Another thing we’ve been noticing is that we’ve been getting a lot of push-back from USCIS on birth certificates and on documents related to the brother or sister relationship. What do I mean? Well one thing is, a lot of people that we work with come from countries where birth certificates were not so prevalent back in the home country when the US citizens sponsor or the foreign beneficiary were born. Let’s say people were born back in India in 1956. Well back in India there might not have been birth certificates as readily available as there are now.

Now most countries have adopted a birth certificate generation system and are issuing birth certificates now, even for people born way back when but the problem is USCIS is taking a position that these late filed birth certificates, these ones that are generated years and years later when the people are adults are not as compelling evidence as USCIS would like. I think this is generally ridiculous but I can see their point. They want to make sure that there is a brother/sister relationship and the birth certificate is an important way to do that.

You might be forced to document the relationship between your brother and your sister and you in a fashion more than just submitting the birth certificates. This means you might have to submit a lot of secondary evidence that shows that you’re in fact brother and sister. This can include affidavits from older siblings or relatives, school records, family records, any kind of documents that you see that demonstrate that you are together; photographs of the two of you, school pictures. These are the kinds of things that really work.

One problem in particular is that when the parents of the brother and sister who are applying have passed away, it prevents us from being able to get DNA which is the silver bullet in establishing the brother-sister relationship. USCIS and the State Department won’t except a match just between a brother and sister. You have to go up to the parents and get their DNA and then establish with the help of a DNA lab that the brother and sister are in fact related. This can be difficult, time consuming and expensive.

You really want to think this through when you’re getting the process started because what you don’t want is to file your I-130 which is a relatively straightforward process and then the case languishes for 4 or 5 years and then all of a sudden you get a request for evidence from USCIS giving you 60 days to basically prove that your brother is your brother or your sister is your sister and you’re scrambling over those 60 days to either do DNA lab work or find old documents. Very, very stressful and we’ve seen more than one case get denied because the family was not able to get their documents together. These are cases where the people filed on their own and came to us after the request for evidence was issued.

One other thing to keep in mind, when we do the I-130 here at our office, we sort of split up the legal fee and the processing fee into 2 parts. One is the I-130 part with USCIS and the other is the State Department part with the NVC and the Embassy.

Right now we are getting started on a brother of a US citizen I-130 and so we basically only charge half our legal fee for that because nobody knows where we are all going to be 13 years from now. You might want to use a different attorney or I might never be around or whatever, you might not be around so we don’t charge the whole thing upfront, we do it split 50-50 and then on the backend right now it’s pretty exciting. We are getting to help someone who had filed for her brother from Bosnia 13 years ago and now we are going through the second part of the process with the National Visa Center and the Embassy because his visa number finally became available and he’s in line now to get his green card and come to the United states.

If you have any questions about this crazy system we have of sponsoring brothers and sisters to the United States to get them a green card, give us a call (314) 961-8200 or you can email us jim@hackinglawpractice.com. Thanks a lot.