Petitions for a Refugee’s Family Members

When U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) approves a refugee application, the approval allows Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) to conditionally admit the person into the U.S. as a refugee (“principal refugee”). The refugee must arrive in the U.S. within 4 months after USCIS approves the refugee application. Naturally, a principal refugee may want to begin the petition process to reunite with family members.

Can a Principal Refugee Apply for a Spouse and Child’s Refugee Status?

Yes, a principal refugee’s spouse and children (“derivatives”) may receive refugee status. The Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) carefully defines the spouse and child relationship. Under certain circumstances, a spouse or child may not receive derivative refugee status. For example, a spouse or child previously granted refugee or asylee status may not receive derivative refugee status. U.S. regulation discusses the other reasons when a spouse or child may not receive derivative refugee status. See 8 C.F.R. § 207.7(b).

What Is the Process to Apply for a Spouse or Child’s Derivative Status?

The principal refugee must file an I-730 petition for the spouse or eligible child. Only the principal refugee may petition for a spouse and child. A principal refugee must file the I-730 petition for relatives within 2 years after admission into the U.S. Under some circumstances, USCIS may extend the 2-year time limit for humanitarian reasons. See 8 C.F.R. § 207.7(d).

If physically within the U.S, the derivative spouse or child receives work authorization after USCIS approves an I-730 petition. When living outside America, a U.S. embassy or consulate will process the spouse or child.

Consular Processing for Refugee Derivatives

If a principal refugee’s spouse and child live outside the U.S., staff at the U.S. embassy or consulate will interview the spouse (V92) and child (V93). A panel physician must examine the spouse and child. During the interview at the embassy or consulate, the spouse and child will provide biometric fingerprints. At the interview, the spouse and child will also sign the I-765 Form to request work authorization. After approving the spouse and child for travel, consular staff will place a V92 or V93 boarding foil in a passport or other travel document. Consular staff will prepare a sealed travel packet for the spouse and child. Upon arriving in the U.S., CBP staff will review the derivative refugee’s sealed packet.   

Can Other Relatives Receive Refugee Status?

Unfortunately, a refugee’s parent, sister, brother, grandparent, grandchild, nephew, niece, uncle, aunt, cousin, or in-law may not receive derivative refugee status as accompanying or following-to-join. See 8 C.F.R. 207.7(b)(6). After obtaining permanent resident status or U.S. citizenship, the principal or derivative refugee may pursue family-based immigration for relatives.  

What if a Principal-Refugee’s Past Triggers an Inadmissibility Bar?

INA § 212(a) includes many reasons why an immigration officer may deny an application for refugee status. However, INA § 207(c)(3) explains which section 212(a) inadmissibility bars DHS may waive or do not apply to applicants. In some circumstances, an applicant may need to file an inadmissibility waiver.  See 8 C.F.R. § 207.3