Dear Sophie: How can I bring my parents and sister to the U.S.?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Dear Sophie,

My husband and I are both U.S. permanent residents.

Given what we’ve gone through this past year being isolated from loved ones during the pandemic, we’d like to bring my parents and my sister to the U.S. to be close to our family and help out with our children.

Is that possible?

— Symbiotic in Sunnyvale

Dear Symbiotic,

Thanks for your question! Yes, it’s possible to bring your parents and sister to the United States! We have a lot of clients like you who are looking to reunite with their families. My law partner, Anita Koumriqian, and I discussed in a podcast episode what U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents should know about bringing family members to the United States. In that episode, we also discuss certificates of citizenship for individuals who are U.S. citizens born abroad.

As always, I suggest you consult with an experienced immigration attorney in petitioning for green cards for your parents and sister. An immigration attorney can also discuss alternative immigration options for your sister.

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo.

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn

Who can I sponsor as a permanent resident? As a U.S. citizen?

U.S. permanent residents — or green card holders — can only sponsor a spouse or unmarried children for a green card. But if you have lived in the U.S. for at least five years as a green card holder, you are eligible to become a U.S. citizen. U.S. citizens who are at least 21 years old can sponsor a broader list of family members for green cards: parents, spouses, children and stepchildren, brothers and sisters.

Under immigration law, spouses, children and parents of U.S. citizens are considered immediate relatives. As such, they are not subject to the annual numeric or per-country green card quotas, which means getting green cards for your parents would be relatively quick once U.S. embassies and consulates reopen for routine visa and green card processing. (Most remain closed due to the pandemic, and in those that are open, processing is still limited.)

Sponsoring your sister for a green card would be a much longer process. An F4 green card for siblings is subject to the annual green card quota, and she will have to wait for a green card number to become available. Once you submit a green card application on your sister’s behalf and get a priority date, you will need to check the monthly Visa Bulletin to find out when her case can move forward. Individuals born in Mexico, the Philippines, China and India face the longest waits. According to the July 2021 Visa Bulletin, F4 green card numbers are available to individuals born in Mexico who have a priority date of Dec. 15, 1998, or earlier; those born in the Philippines with a priority date of June 22, 2002, or earlier; and those born in India with a priority date of Aug. 15, 2005, or earlier. Individuals born in all other countries must have a priority date of Feb. 8, 2007, or earlier.

How do I become a U.S. citizen?

To apply for citizenship through naturalization you need to have been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the five years that you have been a permanent resident (green card holder). You must file Form N-400 (Application for Naturalization), show you possess good moral character and take both an English test and a civics test.

Please be aware that processing times for naturalization applications can be as long as 17 months at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office in San Jose. (Processing times in San Francisco are even a bit longer.)

Are there any alternatives to the F4?

Depending on what country your sister was born in, one alternative could be the diversity green card. Each year, the U.S. Department of State, which oversees what’s called the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, reserves 50,000 green cards for individuals born in countries that have low rates of immigration to the United States. The State Department publishes instructions each year, which includes the countries whose natives are eligible to register for the annual diversity lottery. Registration for the diversity lottery typically starts in early October and runs through early November. Check out a previous Dear Sophie column I wrote about the diversity green card program.

If your sister qualifies for one of the extraordinary ability employment-based green cards, either EB-1A green card for individuals of extraordinary ability or the EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver) green card for individuals of exceptional ability whose work benefits the U.S., she can file a petition on her own without an employer to sponsor her. Check out the podcast in which I discuss these two green cards.

Best of luck in your efforts to reunite with your parents and sister in the U.S.

— Sophie

Have a question for Sophie? Ask it here. We reserve the right to edit your submission for clarity and/or space.

The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

Sophie’s podcast, Immigration Law for Tech Startups, is available on all major platforms. If you’d like to be a guest, she’s accepting applications!