Rishi Oza


By Rishi P. Oza

I often field phone calls from prospective clients that are interested in petitioning for green cards for their parents. As a son of Indian immigrants, I can understand the desire to have one’s parents close by, particularly as they age and medical concerns heighten. A common scenario that I get asked about is the sponsorship process for bringing parents that are currently residing overseas to the United States. Fortunately, individuals in this situation have a number of options to select from.

The easiest and least expensive route to pursue for parents seeking to immigrate to the United States is considered consular processing. In this situation, a US citizen is permitted to submit a visa petition(s) for each one of his/her parents. Since parents are considered immediate relatives under immigration law and thus are given the highest priority under law, the US citizen Petitioner is required to submit one visa petition on behalf of each parent; two parents cannot be included on one petition.

That petition is submitted to the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), which takes approximately 12 – 15 months to approve that initial filing. Once approved, the visa then travels to the National Visa Center (NVC), which requests a number of different documents for each parent, such as birth certificates, police clearance certificates and tax returns from the Petitioner.

Indian parents born prior to 1969 often lack birth certificates and in these situations, they are required to obtain a Non-Availability Certificate, which essentially states that no birth certificate was created at their time of birth.

Once all documents have been submitted, the NVC will then coordinate with the specific US consulate with jurisdiction over the parent’s address to schedule a visa interview. Upon completion of the interview, a visa is usually issued within a few weeks.

The entirety of the consular process takes approximately 2 ½ – 3 years to complete. While clients are often taken aback by the lengthy processing time, the benefit of the consular process is that parents will arrive to the United States with permanent residency status. This helps to speed their ability to apply for a Social Security Number, driver’s license and open a bank account. SSNs are particularly important for those seeking to obtain health care coverage for their aging parents.

US citizen Petitioners are required to provide the NVC with an Affidavit of Support that ensures that immigrants that are being sponsored to come to the US will not rely on government benefits upon their arrival (i.e. Medicaid, WIC, low-income housing, etc.). As such, Petitioners looking to enroll their parents into the government-subsidized health program immediately upon their arrival may incur some risk in doing so.

Alternatively, for parents that are already in the United States after arriving on a visa, US citizen Petitioners can instead seek to adjust their status to lawful permanent residents.

The adjustment of status process allows parents to obtain green cards without having to depart the United States. As a point of comparison, the adjustment of status process typically only takes about 1 ½ years to complete and provides parents the flexibility of not only being in the country while their applications process, but also being able to apply for ancillary benefits such as employment authorization and travel permission while their awaiting their green cards.

Although the adjustment of status process does typically cost more than the consular process, due to higher USCIS filing fees, many clients elect to take this route, as it allows their parents to be close during the processing time. As a word of caution, parents should not seek to come to the US on visitor visas with the explicit purpose of seeking to adjust their status.

Customs and Border Protection agents are trained to determine whether an individual arriving on a B-1/B-2 visitor visa is entering with “fraudulent intent,” which could impact their eligibility for green card status.

While intent is allowed to change after someone arrives, entering with the explicit intent of wanting a green card is forbidden.

As a practitioner, the largest issue that I tend to see is one that can largely be avoided by honest conversation – determining whether your parents want to live in the United States is an important point of discussion. Again and again, I see US citizen Petitioners initiate a green card process for their parents (and spend thousands of dollars in doing so) only to find out that their parents have no interest in actually residing in the United States. Parents have often lived their entire lives in environments that are strikingly different than life in the United States.

I can recall when I was in elementary school and my grandfather’s arrival as an immigrant from bustling Gujarat, India to rural Concord, NC. Although I cannot recall exactly how long he stayed, it was no more than six months before he was on a plane back India.

He never came back to America. Asking parents to uproot their entire lives to come to the United States is a considerable request and one that should be made soberly and thoughtfully.

My grandfather missed the constant buzz of India; he missed his friends and relatives; he missed being able to hop on his motorcycle and drive around Rajkot. He missed the liveliness of his street and getting paan at the local corner shop. In Concord, he was home-bound and was unable to drive, I would assume largely because of his unfamiliarity with English.

Although he enjoyed being with his grandchildren, we were often away at school and he could only spend so much time reading and watching television before just missing his home.

Parents should understand the financial commitment required to undertake the green card process and should be aware that green cards are not designed to simply come to the United States for 1 – 2 months out of the year. If they simply want to visit the United States, then they should seek visitor visas, which are designed to accommodate such short trips.

At the same time, US citizen Petitioners should understand what is being asked of immigrant parents, particularly at an age where establishing new roots in a new society is exceedingly difficult.

Ultimately, honest communication today can help to avoid uncomfortable conversations tomorrow; when adding in the rising costs that the government charges for these processes, you may be happy in your heart (and wallet) knowing that the right decision is being made.

You can find more details on the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website. Visit uscis.gov and find the Green Card menu, which explains processes and procedures required to get started.

Rishi P. Oza is a Partner at Brown Immigration Law, a firm that focuses solely on immigration law; he practices in Durham. Contact: [email protected]