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If you are planning to travel to the U.S., whether for a simple visit or the start of a brand new life, and wish to bring your children along with you, you will have to make sure they have their own visas.

While certain aspects of the application process might be a little simpler for young children than they are for adults, every traveler needs to have his own visa - even babies and toddlers.

One of the main distinctions in the visa path for children under 14, is that their legal guardian may attend the consular interview instead of them.

Visitor visas

If you are planning to visit the U.S. as a tourist with your child, or your child will be traveling in alone (for example, to go visit a relative in the U.S.), you will need to demonstrate that their accommodation is provided for during their stay, and that they have enough funds available to cover their daily expenses. This can be as simple as an invitation letter from their U.S.-based point of contact, stating they will cover accommodation and travel expenses. Of course, if your child is traveling alone, they will need to carry a written letter of consent from one of their parents or a legal guardian.

Transit visas are only granted to children if they are traveling with a parent or legal guardian - so watch out before you book them a connecting flight through the U.S.!

Student visas

As a holder of an F1, M1 or J1 visa as a student in a U.S. educational / vocational institution, your child would qualify for an equivalent F2/M2 or J2 visa as your dependent. In order to apply for one of these visas, you will only have to prove the relationship with the child and show that you already hold your student visa.

Child immigrant visas

A parent who is already in the U.S. as a Legal Permanent Resident and who is looking to bring over their children to join them on a permanent basis can go through the IR-2 visa process in order to get them their own Green Cards. In order to be able to submit a petition for their visa, and act as their sponsor, you will have to have lived with your child for at least two years, before the date of the application - legal guardians need to have had legal custody for the same period of time.

An immigrant visa will certainly take more time than nonimmigrant entry permits to obtain, as you will have to demonstrate sufficient financial means to take care of your child and provide a stable life. However, the USCIS takes uniting families as one of their highest priorities, and this is particularly true with minor children joining their parents.

Overall, you should expect your child’s Green Card to be delivered around one year after the application if you are a U.S. citizen, and around 2 years later if you are a Green Card holder.

Even if you fulfill all the explicit eligibility criteria for your U.S. visa, and are applying in good faith, you may find yourself in the unfortunate situation where your application was rejected.

Now, before trying again, potentially wasting more of your time and resources, let’s have a quick review of the most common possible reasons for which you were refused a visa. 

Sometimes, it comes down to the details, a supporting document you may have forgotten to provide, which would have improved your likelihood of success; sometimes, you may need to reconsider the type of visa you are applying for; and sometimes, just a typo can be enough to spoil your chances.

In short, while the explicit requirements, if not fulfilled, can disqualify you from the get-go, the devil is often in the smaller details; and if you cannot sufficiently convince the officer handling your case that you have the intention and the capability to respect the conditions of the visa you are applying for, you will have to start all over again.

You didn’t choose the right visa type for your situation

As straightforward as this one might seem, not all cases are clear from the onset - apart from the intended purpose of travel and validity period, each visa has its own set of restrictions and limitations of which you need to remain aware. Make sure you have a good understanding of the conditions attached to the visa type you are planning to apply for - for instance, by engaging with an experienced travel and immigration professional from the start.

You don’t meet the minimum financial requirements

Especially if you are after an immigrant-type visa, it will be necessary for you to have a sponsor in the U.S. with enough means to (theoretically) support you financially after you arrive until you manage to settle down and become independent. Your petitioner needs to have enough money to support you for a defined period of time, the amount of which will vary according to the actual location in the U.S. - living standards are not the same in New York as they are in rural Minnesota.

When traveling to the U.S. on a visitor visa, you will be expected to have at least $266 of available funds per day of your stay. Making sure you can demonstrate that you meet these requirements is an absolute must before you decide to apply for a visa.

You’re missing important documentation

This is something that happens often with student visa applicants - in order to be able to receive your student visa, you need to include the receipt for the payment of your SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) fees with your application. If this is missing, your visa cannot be approved.

Another common case is with petitioners for immigrant visas: you will be required to include satisfactory proof of your residence in the United States, as well as an Affidavit of Support, aside from the petition form.

You failed the background check

If you have any sort of criminal record in your past which comes up during the background check that the USCIS will run as part of their review process, this can be a disqualifying factor - although in some cases it may be possible for a waiver to be applied. 

The Consular Officer handling your case is the one making the assessment on whether or not to disregard any criminal offense that appears in your record - so if you are in this situation, don’t despair; it is still possible to try if you can satisfactorily demonstrate that the occurrence in your past has no bearing on your current situation - and a licensed immigration lawyer is a must to have by your side.

You cannot demonstrate that you have a stable life in your home country

As part of the visa application process, the Consular Officer in charge of your case needs to be reassured that you have strong ties to your home country - employment, home rental contracts, or any other factors that will increase the likelihood of you returning home after your stay in the U.S. are necessary for you to obtain your visa. If you are unemployed but meet the other criteria, family ties and real-estate can be potential alternatives to an employment contract.

The bottom line is, whether or not you receive your visa, even if you meet all the “hard” requirements, is up to the Consular Officer. Whether this plays out in your favor or not depends too largely on how informed and well-prepared you are at each step of the process: have an experienced professional by your side from the get-go, and you will already be setting yourself up for success.

If you’re a recently naturalized U.S. citizen, chances are you still have family members who stayed behind in your home country. Particularly, if your parents are getting older, there may be many cases in which you may prefer to have them near you, or near the medical care they need.

Reuniting U.S. citizens with their direct family members is a priority for the USCIS, and although the process to get your parents a residence permit (IR-5 visa) may be long in terms of processing time, it is a lot less complex than some of the other Green Card paths out there.

One thing to keep in mind is that you can only petition for an IR-5 Parent Visa if you are a U.S. citizen.

Find out if your parents qualify for the IR-5 visa

A parent visa can be granted to a biological parent, an adoptive parent or a stepparent, if certain conditions are met. Your biological parents are eligible unless you have been adopted after the age of 16 and received U.S. citizenship that way. Stepparents are able to apply only if they married into the family before you turned 18 years of age, and lived with you for at least 2 years.

Adoptive parents can be sponsored only if they adopted you before your 16th birthday.

Make sure you are eligible as a sponsor

In order to bring your parents over to the United States as legal residents, you need to have obtained U.S. citizenship first - it is not possible to sponsor your parents for an IR-5 visa as a Legal Permanent Resident.

In addition, it will be necessary to demonstrate that you have sufficient financial means to sustain yourself, and your parents as they settle into their new lives. The exact amount of money you need to hold as assets or receive as income varies according to your geographical location in the U.S.

Understand the application process

Once you’ve established that both you and your parents are eligible to go through the IR-5 process, you can get ready to file your application. This is done by filing Form I-130 with the USCIS, and by having a lot of patience!

For a period which can take up to a year to complete, the USCIS will review your application and assess the supporting evidence of your relationship with your parent(s). The process, as with all family-based immigration, comes in two steps: first, your petition is reviewed and needs to be approved, after which your parent(s) may apply for their IR-5 visa. An important note is that you need to file a separate petition for each of your parents if both are planning to immigrate to the U.S.

Once your petition is approved, your parents will have to submit the necessary forms and documentation to their local Embassy or Consular Office, attend a consular interview and wait until they receive their visa. They are permitted to enter the U.S. on a visitor visa to visit you while their IR-5 visa is being processed.

If your parents are already in the U.S. on another visa, they may apply for adjustment of status from within the U.S. using form I-485. If this is the path you choose, make sure they apply for adjustment of status before their current visa expires!

Once their visa is approved, your parents may legally enter the U.S. and apply for a Green Card - this will allow them to live and work in the U.S. in a lawful manner, without the need for a separate work permit.

Although family-based immigration is, at first glance, one of the most straightforward paths towards obtaining a Green Card, remember that every case is unique, and certain circumstances may end up making things easier, or more difficult for your particular situation. Make sure you have the right support by your side as you start your journey in order to avoid unnecessary delays and complications.

Moving to the U.S. and starting a new life is a big step - and what better way to make it than together with the person you love? If you are married to a U.S. citizen or Legal Permanent Resident, you may be able to apply for a spouse visa - which automatically leads to a Green Card.

However, being married to a U.S. citizen or Green Card holder isn’t the only requirement in order to successfully obtain a spouse visa.

Be legally married to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: in order to apply for a U.S. spouse visa, your marriage needs to be legally recognized in the U.S. Most of the times, if the marriage is legal in your country of origin, it will be recognized by the U.S. authorities as well - in case of any doubt, be sure to consult with a qualified professional.

If you have been married for less than two years, you will go through the CR-1 visa process, leading to a conditional Green Card valid for 2.5 years, which can then be extended. If you have been married for 2 years or more at the time of applying, you will go through the IR-1 process and receive a full, unconditional Green Card valid for 10 years.

Have a clear, non-objectionable background

Any criminal history, and particularly any ties to terrorism or human trafficking (even indirect) can be considered grounds for the U.S. authorities to object against your application. Once you apply for a spouse visa, the USCIS will run a background check for such conditions, but also at any past marriages to ensure the legitimacy of your application.

Demonstrate the sincerity and legitimacy of your marriage

The officer in charge of reviewing your case has, as his primary task, to assert that your relationship is true, and not simply an arrangement to obtain the right to immigrate to the U.S.

In most cases, you will need to present pictures of your wedding, of holidays together or times when you met before you got married; plane tickets, reservations for accommodations and receipts may all contribute to demonstrate that your relationship is genuine. Anything that will demonstrate activities together will contribute to making it easier for the immigration officer handling your case to approve your application.

Don’t overstay your visa

If you have traveled, or are traveling to the U.S. before you have decided to apply for a spouse visa, you must make sure you abide by all the conditions that apply under the visa you have been granted - especially when it comes to respecting the maximum duration of stay. If you have overstayed a visa in the past, or if you have been deported, you may be barred from applying for a spouse visa.

Make sure your spouse is eligible to sponsor you

Finally, you need to make sure that your spouse is either a U.S. citizen or a Legal Permanent Resident with a valid Green Card, and that they fulfill the necessary conditions in terms of income and background validation, in order to sponsor your visa application.

If you and your spouse are planning to start a new life together in the U.S., be sure you understand all the requirements and potential pitfalls. A misunderstanding which leads to a denied visa can make things a lot more difficult in the future - and the best way to avoid that is making sure you’ve got an experienced professional by your side from the start.