Family reunification for refugees and asylees

Refugees and asylees can apply to bring some members of their family to the USA to join them. Learn about the different types of family reunification including the I-730 petition, Affidavit of Relationship (AOR), I-130 petition, family members you cannot file to bring, how long the process takes, and how to get help with the application process


man holding child at airport
Photo courtesy of Michael Swan

How does family reunification work?

Refugees and asylees have access to family reunification benefits. 

The information below is adapted from CLINIC Legal’s Refugee/Asylee Family Reunification Manual and USCIS. USAHello is not a legal service provider and the information on this page is not legal advice. It is important to seek help from a local refugee resettlement office or legal services offices.  

There are three main ways to apply for a family member. Each box below explains one of the three ways:

Application TypeI-730 Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition
filed with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)


Who can apply
Refugees who have been in the USA less than 2 years

Asylees who have been granted asylum within 2 years

Only individuals who were granted refugee/asylee status directly can apply – also called a Principal Applicant. If you came as a relative of someone else who filed for you, you may not be eligible. Check with a resettlement agency or legal representative.


Family members
Spouse (You must have been married prior to being granted refugee or asylee status in the USA. You may only apply for one spouse).

Unmarried children who were under 21 years of age the time that the parent’s refugee or asylee application was filed. This may include adopted children, step-children and some other categories. 

Family members may be overseas or in the USA. Family members do not have to demonstrate their own refugee claim.
BenefitsFamily members who arrive in the USA through an approved I-730 application are considered refugee or asylee derivatives. They are entitled to the same services and benefits as a refugee (except they cannot file for additional family members through the same form). 

Fees
There are no filing fees to complete an I-730. You may be asked to pay a small fee to a legal service provider to assist with your application. 
Other informationThe I-730 Family Reunification program has many benefits but it can take a long time to process. It is a good idea to start this process as soon as possible. 


How to apply
DOJ Accredited Representatives and Immigration Attorneys can help you complete an I-730 application. It is a good idea to ask a refugee resettlement office in your community for a referral for legal help to complete your application. 

Getting help with this application can help you make sure it is completed correctly and you have the best chance of success. 

While some legal service providers may charge a small fee to help with this, it should not be very large. If someone asks you to pay a high amount of money to file this application, you should seek out help somewhere else. 

Find a non-profit legal help

More information is available on USCIS website.
Application
Type
Affidavit of Relationship (AOR)
Who can applyRefugees who have been in the USA less than 5 years

Asylees who have been granted asylum within 5 years
Family membersSpouse (You must have been married prior to being granted refugee or asylee status in the U.S.A. You may only apply for one spouse). 

Unmarried children under 21. This may include adopted children, step-children and some other categories. 

Parents

Family members must be registered refugees with their own claim to refugee status overseas. Family members must prove their relationship to the applicant with DNA testing.
BenefitsFamily members who arrive in the USA through an approved AOR petition are considered refugee or asylee derivatives and they are entitled to the same services and benefits as a refugee. 
FeesThere are no filing fees to complete an AOR. However, you will be responsible for the costs of completing DNA testing overseas to confirm relationships for children and/or parents. 
Other informationEach year, the countries that are eligible to file an AOR change. You should check with your local refugee resettlement office for up-to-date information. 

The AOR program has many benefits but it can take a long time to process. It is a good idea to start this process as soon as possible. You can file both an AOR and an I-730 at the same time.
Application TypeI-130 Petition for Alien Relative filed with USCIS
Who can applyLegal permanent residents (green card holder)

U.S. Citizens 

If you came as a refugee or asylee and missed the deadline to file an I-730 or AOR and you now have a green card (legal permanent resident) or you are a U.S. citizen, you can file form I-130. This is not a refugee/asylee-specific benefit.
Family membersIf you have your green card, you can petition for:
– Spouse
– Unmarried child

If you are a U.S. citizen, you can petition for:
– Spouse
– Unmarried or married child
– Parents
– Siblings
BenefitsFamily members who arrive in the USA through an approved I-130 petition are not entitled to any refugee/asylee services or benefits.
FeesThere is a filing fee with USCIS (currently $535) and you will also have to pay an additional fee for any legal services you receive to help you complete the application. 
Other informationFind non-profit legal assistance with your application. Learn more on the USCIS website. 

Family members you cannot file to bring to the USA

It is important to talk to a legal representative to help review your specific case. However, in most cases, the following family members do not qualify for family reunification through any application type:

  • Grandparents
  • Grandchildren
  • Uncles or Aunts (sibling of your parent)
  • Nieces or Nephews (children of your sibling)
  • Cousins (children of your parent’s siblings)
  • Spouse by proxy marriage (a marriage where one or both people were not physically present).
  • Any relationship that is not true (fraud). Providing untrue information about a relative or pretending someone is a relative is a serious problem.

How long does it take?

The processing times for these applications are all different. You can check the USCIS website and/or ask a legal representative for up-to-date information. Some applications may be processed within a few months, but it may take a few years before your relative arrives. It is a good idea to file your application as soon as you can. 

How can I get help with my application?

If you are a refugee or asylee who is within 2 years of arrival/grant of asylum, go to your local refugee resettlement office for help filing an I-730 and/or AOR. They may have legal staff in their office or they may refer you to another non-profit organization that can help you. There are no filing fees for these forms. 

If you have missed the deadline to complete these forms, it is still a good idea to check with a resettlement office. In some cases, you might be able to file a humanitarian exemption. 

If you are filing an I-130 as a legal permanent resident or U.S. citizen, you can get help with your application from an accredited representative or immigration attorney. 

A provider that is referred by the U.S. The Department of Justice (DOJ Accredited Representative) will be a non-profit organization. Their fees must be reasonable. This means they will be lower than a private attorney and may be based on your income. You may also choose to use an immigration attorney. 

It is important that you work with someone who is an accredited representative or immigration attorney. Even someone who is an attorney but who has not studied immigration law, may not be prepared to do the best job in helping you. Be aware of people who do not have credentials such as “notarios” or even well-meaning people in your community. They may want to help, but if they do not fully understand the process, they can make a mistake that could mean your family member does not come.

Where can I find affordable legal services?

You can use the following resources to find legal help:

The information on this page comes from CLINIC Legal I-730 Refugee/Asylee Family Reunification Practice Manual, USCIS, and other trusted sources. It is intended for general information purposes only and is updated as often as possible. USAHello does not give legal advice, nor are any of our materials intended to be taken as legal advice. If you are looking for a free or low-cost lawyer or legal help, we can help you find free and low-cost legal services.