Family Based Immigration to the U.S.
U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents who have Ukrainian relatives in Ukraine, Poland, or any other countries can file a family-based petition for their relatives.
Immigrant visas are for people who are on the path to legal permanent residency. Immigrant visas may be family-based or employment-based; this article is only about family-based visas.
When a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) files a family-based petition for a relative outside of the United States, the petition is first approved here in the US, then the paperwork is forwarded to the consulate, the relatives go to visa interview at the consulate, gets immigrant visa, comes to the United States, and gets their green card.
U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents who have Ukrainian relatives who are currently in Ukraine, Poland, or any other country can file a family-based petition for their relatives with U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS). Once the petition is approved in the U.S., the paperwork will be forwarded to the relevant consulate for an interview and further processing under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of State. The U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt is the current default consulate for immediate relative petitions for Ukrainians, also you may request to have approved immigrant visa petitions processed at other consulates.
Categories Eligible for Immigration Petitions Based on Family Relationships
Immigration petitions based on Family relationships are available to the following categories.
Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens
- Spouse of US citizen,
- Unmarried child who is under 21 of US citizen,
- Parent of US citizen child who is over 21
Family Based Preference Categories
- Unmarried Sons and Daughters of USC,
- Spouses and Children of Legal Permanent Residents,
- Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Legal Permanent Residents,
- Married Sons and Daughters of US citizens,
- Brothers and Sisters of adult US citizens
Please note that there are no family-based petitions for aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, or grandparents.
If you petition for someone in one of the Family Based Preference categories, that family member can bring with them their spouse and minor children (children who are under 21). Interestingly, immediate relatives of U.S. citizens cannot bring their derivative family members on the same petition and each spouse/child/parent must have their own petition.
A Note on Documentation
You will need all relevant birth certificates, marriage certificates, and divorce certificates to show both the relationship between the family members and the current marital state of the family members being petitioned. If you do not have the proper legal documents, your case will be substantially delayed. There is the possibility of using DNA samples to prove a relationship in parent/child cases, but there are currently substantial delays in the collection of DNA samples for this purpose.
Marriage-based cases (for a spouse) require substantially more documentation to show the existence of a bona fide marriage relationship between the petitioner and the beneficiary.
Wait Times and Processing Times
The wait times are different for each category of applicants.
For Immediate Family Members of U.S. Citizens
Technically speaking, there is not supposed to be a wait time for petitions for immediate family members, but the time is takes for these petitions to be processed by USCIS is roughly 7-12 months for cases that have proper documentation. After that, you move on to consular processing at the National Visa Center and visa interview scheduling, which takes an additional 3-12 months. Due to the covid-19 pandemic, as noted below, interview scheduling wait times have increased around the world.
For Family Based Preference Categories
There are two different wait times: first, waiting for the approval of the petition with USCIS, which can take anywhere from 7 months to 3 years. The second wait is for a visa to become available. Both wait times start at the same date – the date on which the petition is filed. The visa availability wait time depends on the number of people in that category that have already applied in prior years and whose petitions have not yet been processed. In addition, there are per country limitations on China, India, Mexico, the Philippines but that is not generally relevant to Ukrainians. Below are the approximate wait times based on the final action dates in each preference category as of today (03/22/2022):
Family Based Preference Category Wait Times
- Unmarried Sons and Daughters of USC: 6 years
- Spouses and Children of Legal Permanent Residents: 4 months
- Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Legal Permanent Residents: 5 years
- Married Sons and Daughters of US citizens: 13 years
- Brothers and Sisters of adult US citizens: 15 years
Once the visa is available for your family member, you will be notified by email from the National Visa Center that your case is ready for visa processing. You must submit civil documents and financial documents online to the NVC website and wait for the case to be considered Documentarily Qualified. Then your case will be sent to a U.S. Embassy or Consulate to be scheduled for a visa interview.
DUE TO THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC visa interview appointments were stalled for almost two years and there is a large backlog of cases. Some consulates are moving faster than others. It is impossible to predict how soon your case will be scheduled for a consular interview. In some countries there is an additional 12-18 months waiting for the interview. In other countries, interviews are being scheduled only 2 months after the case is Documentarily Qualified.
The US VISA BULLETIN describes these categories in greater detail and lists the current action dates for each type of case. The current action date is the date of the applications that are currently being processed by the Department of State in each category. The wait times are different in each category because there are worldwide quotas on how many visas can be issued each year. The VISA BULLETIN also lists dates for action on Employment Based immigrant visa applications.
The US VISA BULLETIN is updated each and every month as cases are processed. The wait times can go up or down each month. Please refer to the VISA BULLETIN for the current month for up-to-date information.
How to Apply?
- File I-130 petition for relative with USCIS.
- If your case is in a preference category above, you must wait for your priority date to become current before the case is forwarded to the National Visa Center.
- Once approved, the National Visa Center will send you an email notifying you that you can begin to file supporting documents with National Visa Center online.
- Upload all documents including an affidavit of support to the National Visa Center website.
- When all necessary documents have been submitted and approved, the National Visa Center will send your case to the U.S. consulate abroad where you consular interview will be held.
- The U.S. consulate will send you an email notifying you of your appointment date.
All Immigrant Visa processing (after USCIS approval) for Ukrainians automatically transferred to Frankfurt. To transfer to another post, email KyivIV@state.gov
Some immediate relatives may be able to file the I-130 locally at the U.S. consulate in whatever country their Ukrainian relative is located. The U.S. citizen must be physically present to file the petition. Petitioners who want to file locally should email the consulate’s Immigrant Visa Unit to request local filing. Consulates are not obligated, only permitted, to accept local filing.
If a petition was already pending or had previously been approved, there may be options to expedite (speed up) processing of the case, but USCIS and NVC were backlogged even before this crisis. Typically expedited requests are granted in cases where there is more than one factor making the case urgent, for example an elderly mother with cancer who is also evacuating from a war zone (just an example, no guarantees of approval in such a case).
- To request an expedite for an I-130, call 1-800-375-5283. Say “Infopass” to get a live human.
- If you have an I-130 petition approved by USCIS pending processing at the National Visa Center and want to transfer it to an embassy other than Frankfurt, you may request expedition and transfer from the National Visa Center: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/immigrate/national-visa-center/nvc-contact-information.html
- To request an expedited consular interview, must request via appointment setting platform used by the consulates
- Documentation of reason for expedite is essential. More information on standards for expedite requests can be found here>>
Adjustment of Status
Adjustment of status is a process for applicants who are already present in the United States, who entered the U.S. with a visa and otherwise are maintaining legal status in the US, and who have an approved family-based petition in their name. Refer to the U.S government website for detailed information.
Applicants who meet these requirements can skip consular processing and finish their immigration process here in the United States. Please note that there are additional fees for this process and we advise you to speak with an attorney before attempting to do adjustment of status.
National Visa Center CHECK STATUS
What About Fiancé(e)s?
A U.S. citizen may also petition for a K-1 visa so that their foreign fiancé(e) can travel to the United States in order to get married. Interestingly, although this type of visa can lead to a green card for the foreign-born spouse, it is considered a nonimmigrant visa. To start the process, the U.S. citizen must file Form I-192 F, a Petition for Alien Fiancé(e), with USCIS. The form asks USCIS to recognize the relationship between the petitioner and their fiancé(e). The couple must provide proof they have met in person within the last two years.
After USCIS approves the Form I-129F, the file is forwarded to the National Visa Center, which then forwards the file to the U.S. embassy or consulate where the fiancé(e) will apply for their K-1 nonimmigrant visa. At the time of writing, all K-1 visas for Ukrainians are being processed at the U.S. consulate in Frankfurt. The U.S. consulate in Frankfurt states that all Ukrainian immigrant visas, diversity lottery visas, and K visas are treated as urgent. Frankfurt is processing Ukrainian cases on a first-in, first-out basis and is not granting individual expedite requests at this time, except in rare cases such as where the applicant has an immediate life-threatening medical condition that can be treated only in the United States.
The consulate will notify the U.S. citizen when the visa interview for their fiancé(e) is scheduled. The fiancé(e) must bring the required forms and documents to the visa interview. The Department of State consular officer determines whether the fiancé(e) qualifies for the K-1 nonimmigrant visa. If the K-1 visa is granted, it is valid for up to 6 months for a single entry. Upon entry to the United States, the U.S. citizen and K-1 visa holder must marry within 90 days. After marrying, the noncitizen must apply for lawful permanent residence by filing Form I-485 with USCIS.
Practical Considerations for Ukrainians
Petitions for K-1 visas cannot be filed or approved outside the United States. Hence, no local filing is available at consulates abroad, unlike for Ukrainian immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. For U.S. citizens with Ukrainian fiancés, marrying first and then pursuing an immediate relative family-based petition may be a more advantageous process given USCIS processing times for Form I-129F.