Filing Options for Family of Military Personnel Stationed Abroad11 May 2016
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the U.S. Department of State (DOS) have special, expedited procedures for active duty U.S. military personnel stationed overseas who are petitioning for immigration benefits for their family members. These procedures help to greatly reduce the paperwork processing timelines typically experienced in such cases.
Form I-130 Relative Petition Filing Options While Stationed Abroad
USCIS International Offices
The USCIS has a limited number of offices outside the United States. These offices accept form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, filings in limited circumstances. One such circumstance is when the petitioner is stationed abroad and serving active duty in the U.S. military. If the individual is stationed in a country that has a USCIS international office, the I-130 petition may be filed with that local office.
In situations where an active duty military member is stationed in a country that does not have a USCIS office, it is permissible to file the I-130 directly with a U.S. consulate. Until recently, this option only existed if the military I-130 petitioner could demonstrate to the USCIS that “exceptional circumstances” existed to justify the need to file the petition in that manner. In late 2015, however, the rules were changed to allow this direct I-130 petition filing for all such U.S. military personnel. To qualify, though, both the petitioner and the foreign national beneficiary must be physically present in the corresponding consular district.
I-130 Must be Clearly Approvable
If the I-130 is filed with a U.S. consulate, bypassing review by the USCIS, it can only proceed if it is found to be “clearly approvable.” If the consular officer determines that the I-130 does not meet the clearly approvable standard, the I-130 must be forwarded to the appropriate USCIS service center or district office for standard adjudication.
Does Not Impact Delays Caused by Preference Category Backlogs
There are substantial timing advantages to being able to file the form I-130 either at a USCIS international office or directly at a consulate. This process omits the often-lengthy USCIS service center adjudications process, as well as the National Visa Center form and document collection process. This method of processing does not alter backlogs caused by visa number restrictions and retrogression, however. So, for family-based, preference category filings, such as the family-based, second preference “A” (FB2A) category for spouses and children of permanent residents, the beneficiary’s immigrant visa still cannot be issued until the priority date becomes current.
The United States has a proud tradition of providing special benefits for members of the nation’s armed forces. These filing provisions for military personnel serving overseas are most commonly used in marriage-based cases. They provide a small, yet important benefit for purposes of family unity, particularly in light of the frequent transfers required of those who serve and sacrifice for this country.
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