What step-parents should know about family immigration

On Behalf of | May 13, 2024 | Family Immigration

Immigration to the United States involves navigating a complex array of laws and regulations. This situation, which is already challenging under the best of conditions, can become even more stressful in cases involving step-parents and step-children.

For immigration purposes, a step-parent/step-child relationship is recognized by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) if the marriage creating the step-relationship occurred before the child turned 18 years old. This foundational requirement must be met before anyone can apply for any immigration benefits based on this relationship. Documentation proving the marriage and the ages of any children involved at the time of the marriage will be necessary.

Petitioning for a step-child

A U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) step-parent can petition for their step-child to immigrate to the U.S. by filing out certain paperwork. For example, a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, will almost certainly be required. The form requires comprehensive documentation to establish the legitimacy of the step-parent/step-child relationship, including marriage certificates and birth certificates. The petitioner must also prove their own citizenship or permanent resident status.

Step-children of U.S. citizens are classified as “immediate relatives,” which generally benefits them with shorter waiting times for visa availability, as this category is not subject to annual numerical limits. However, step-children of lawful permanent residents fall under the family preference category, which can involve significantly longer waiting periods due to annual caps on the number of visas issued.

Once a visa is available, a step-child who is already in the U.S. can apply to adjust their status. If the marriage between the parent and step-parent is less than two years old when the step-child’s permanent residency is granted, the residency is conditional. The step-parent and parent must apply together to remove the conditions on residence within the 90 days before the two-year anniversary of the step-child’s obtaining of conditional status.

Given the complexities of establishing and proving family relationships in a blended family scenario – and given how much is at stake in any immigration case – seeking legal guidance related to such petitions is generally wise.