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Protecting the most vulnerable: Legalizing your child's Immigration Status

Lawful Permanent Residents and U.S. citizens are able to sponsor their children under the age of 21 for permanent residency ("green cards"). U.S. Citizens may also sponsor their unmarried adult children over the age of 21.

The difference most of the time is how long it takes. Children under the age of 21 are considered "immediate relatives" under U.S. immigration law and are thus not subject to the visa quota system backlogs and waiting periods.

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In most circumstances, a parent must file a visa petition for their child with U.S. CIS (www.uscis.gov) and only once that is approved and the consulate is notified of the approval will the child be able to enter the U.S. The child must go through a consulate screening interview and assuming there are no other grounds that could result in a denial of the case, the immediate relative child will enter the U.S. with a green card (permanent residency) and no other filings must take place.

However, there are times when a child is awarded a temporary green card only valid for 2 years as opposed to a permanent green card that is valid for 10 years and is easily renewable. A stepchild from a marriage that is less than 2 years old by the time the consulate processes the child's immigrant visa will only receive a green card that is conditional-valid for 2 years. This is because Congress presupposes that the marriage that created the stepparent relationship may be a sham or fake or will not last. The immigrant spouse and the immigrant child will both have conditional residency.

Similar to the spouse's predicament, the immigrant child will have to file to take the condition off of their residency when it is about to expire or else lose their green card.

Usually, children have cleaner cases, many having no immigration history in the U.S. However, many children are inside the U.S. already. Sometimes a parent has unsuccessfully tried to smuggle or sneak the child into the U.S. illegally, which creates potential problems for the child if an immigrant visa is approved and the child has a consulate interview.

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