It is quite common for people to want to help their relatives gain US citizenship. But, is it just as easy as marrying someone and they immediately have citizenship? Not anymore.


Today, for someone who is a US citizen wanting to help someone else gain their citizenship, the person who is already a citizen generally needs to show that they have enough income or assets to support the relative when he or she comes to America. The process of naturalization for a citizen’s relative begins by filing Form I-130, the Petition for Alien Relative. The form establishes the exact familial relationship and is usually filed along with an application for permanent residence (Form I-485).

Not every relative can become a citizen simply by being distantly related to someone else. The relationship must be sufficiently close, and that is what these filings help one to establish. Generally, only immediate family members may use the citizenship of a relative to gain their own citizenship. These immediate family members include husbands and wives, children, and in some cases, parents and siblings.

Filing Form I-130 and proving documentation establishing a qualifying relationship gives the relative a place in line with others waiting to immigrate from the same country or region based on the same type of relationship. Admission and citizenship are not immediately guaranteed. When that relative reaches the front of the line, he or she must take part in a background check. Admission will then be determined based on certain quotas for admission of people from a particular country each year. Generally, there is no waiting period for spouses, parents, or unmarried children under 21 years of age.

In most cases, when a relative reaches the front of the line, that person’s own family members can join him or her by also applying for an immigrant visa. In other words, if someone marries a person who already has children, those children could apply simultaneously with the parent for immigration to America.

For people who live in America, gaining American citizenship via a relative is much easier. If that person gained admission to the US in a legal manner, and resides there legally, he or she may be able to file an application to become a permanent resident. Unfortunately, due to high demand for entry into the US and limits set by law on the number of people from a particular country or region that can immigrate each year, those outside the country wishing to gain citizenship through a family member may have to wait several years before reaching the front of the line.

Moreover, that relative cannot plan a visit to the United States with the plan of waiting here while the citizenship petition is considered by the government. In fact, if this person visits but overstays a visa, this could actually harm his or her chances for permanent residence, as he or she would no longer be considered a legal entrant into the country.

For the citizen trying to import a relative, there are also a number of obligations. Because that person agrees to support the immigrant, he or she must provide proof of the ability to do so. Should the immigrant be unable to support him or herself after arriving, the citizen must actually take care of that person. Social aid programs may not be available to the immigrant immediately after arriving in the country.

There may also be ongoing requirements to establish the legitimacy of an immigration and prevent fraud. Immigrants and their sponsoring relative may need to cohabitate for a period of time. Spouses who immediately divorce after an immigration may also be pursued for perjury and fraud, and the immigrating spouse may be deported while the sponsoring spouse may face fines or even jail time.

Helping a spouse or other family member to immigrate to the United States is not as simple as it once was, but it is not overly difficult. Still, it may warrant hiring an attorney to help you navigate the various legal requirements and help with filing the appropriate paperwork.