Immigration Corner - How long is the filing process?

Published: Tuesday | May 5, 2009


I must first offer my congratulations on your success. I am an avid reader of the Gleaner and enjoy reading your column. I reside in the United States and would like to start the process of filing for my mother and siblings. I would like to know how long the process takes, especially for my siblings. Any advice will be greatly appreciated. Keep up the good work. Thanks in advance.

- SA

An adult American citizen can petition for their parents and such a petition is considered an immediate relative petition. This means that there is no set waiting period for the parent to obtain permanent residency, the process will move along as quickly as possible.

If the parent is in Jamaica, the process will take place in two phases through what is referred to as consular processing. The first phase will be generated by the US citizen filing a Petition for Alien Relative, along with all the required filing fees, and documents with the Department of Homeland Security's United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The American citizen must be at least 21 years old. Once that petition is approved, the second phase of the process begins and the file is transferred to the Department of State's National Visa Center. At the completion of the second phase, the file is sent to the United States Embassy in Kingston, and the beneficiary - the parent - goes to the Embassy for an interview. On average, that process takes nine months to one year.

Status adjustment

If, on the other hand, the parent is in the United States pursuant to lawful entry, the parent can apply to adjust their status from a non-immigrant, e.g. visitor, H1-B, etc., to that of a lawful permanent resident thirty days after their entry. The adjustment of status process allows the parent of the US citizen to obtain work authorisation (a work permit) while the application is processed. The time-frame for an adjustment of status application is approximately six months to a year.

Similarly, an adult American citizen can petition for their siblings. However, the petition has to be filed through consular processing. The US citizen would file a Petition for Alien Relative, filing fees and documents for their brother or sister with USCIS. If the immigrant sibling is married or has children, only one petition needs to be filed. Once approved, the petition is transferred to the National Visa Center. The time-frame for processing a sibling petition fluctuates, but on average it takes 12 years. While this is a long time, if you are a US citizen and you have siblings, it is suggested that you file that petition sooner rather than later.

Immediate urge

Do not wait until your sibling has an immediate urge or need to migrate. If you file the petition, the 12 years pass and your sibling decides that they do not want to migrate, you can cancel the petition at that time. Additionally, in 2007 when Immigration Reform was being debated in the United States Congress, there was discussion about removing the brother/sister category.

Unlike some other categories, if you petition for your sibling in Jamaica and they get married, it does not affect the petition. If you filed for your single sibling and they get married, and or have a child during the long waiting period, at any time after the petition is approved you can notify the National Visa Center of the acquired spouse or child.

A lawful permanent resident of the United States (green-card holder) cannot file for their parents or siblings; you must be an over 21-year-old American citizen to file either of those two petitions.

Dahlia A. Walker-Huntington, Esq. is a Jamaican-American attorney who practices law in Florida in the areas of immigration, family, corporate and personal injury law. She is a mediator, arbitrator and special magistrate in Broward County, Florida. Send your questions and comments to: or