The U.S. immigration law has several provisions to try to help spouses and their children be reunited as one family unit. However, they can be complicated and without the assistance of an experienced attorney, many refugees sadly lose out on an opportunity called “Follow to Join Benefits” for their spouse and children.
Follow to Join benefits are the process by which a refugee applies for their spouse and children to come to the U.S. even if they are not refugees themselves. Once a refugee enters the U.S. they have two (2) years to apply for these benefits or else they lose them.
Sometimes, you can argue for exceptional circumstances if you miss the two year deadline. I worked with a father who filed for this type of benefit beyond the two year deadline for his son. The reason for his delay was that he had faced persecution at home and was afraid for his son who remained in his home country. My client thought that if he applied for his son to join him, his son might also be in danger in his home country. We successfully argued that considering all the facts, this was an exceptional circumstance to permit filing beyond the two years. Father and son were reunited for the first time after many years apart and most importantly, were both safe in the U.S.
Your spouse can join you only if the marriage relationship existed prior to your entering the U.S. as a refugee. So, if you marry after you enter as a refugee, this process is not for you. If you were married before but have since divorced your spouse, this process is also not for you.
Your children must have also beenborn prior to your entering the U.S. as a refugee with one important exception. If your spouse was pregnant with the child when you entered as a refugee, that child can still qualify. With children, you also have to complete this process before they turned 21 years old.
Importantly, you can apply for these benefits whether your family is overseas or even if they are in the U.S. There are just different procedures you must follow depending on your family's location. One good thing is that there is no application fee for the form used to apply for these benefits.
Lastly, please be aware that if you were untruthful and said you were single during your refugee processing but were in fact married, you could be putting your own status at risk should you try to bring in your spouse and child. You should consult with an attorney before filing any applications for these benefits on your own.