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Many immigrants who live in the United States want to “sponsor” their parents to come to the United States either to visit their family or to live permanently with their family. The term “sponsor” usually means to bring to the United States or “petition for.” Such immigrants often reach out to immigration lawyers in the United States for guidance on how to sponsor their parents to come to the United States for either purpose.

This article will help answering some of the basic questions you may have if you would like your parents to temporarily visit you in the United States. However, we encourage you to talk to an experienced lawyer about your specific case in order to avoid any potential problems and complications.

 If your parents want to temporarily visit (and not permanently live in) the United States, they must first obtain a visitor visa (visa category B-1/B-2). Visitor visas are non-immigrant visas for persons who want to enter the United States temporarily for business (visa category B-1), tourism, pleasure or visiting (visa category B-2), or a combination of both purposes (B-1/B-2).

Some examples of activities permitted with a B-1 Business Visa include: consulting with business associates; attending a scientific, educational, professional, or business convention or conference; settling an estate; negotiating a contract.

Some examples of activities permitted with a B-2 Tourism and Visit Visa include: tourism; vacation (holiday); visiting with friends or relatives; medical treatment; participation in social events hosted by fraternal, social, or service organizations; participation by amateurs in musical, sports, or similar events or contests, if not being paid for participating; enrollment in a short recreational course of study, not for credit toward a degree (for example, a two-day cooking class while on vacation).

Some examples of activities that require different categories of visas and cannot be done while on a visitor visa include: study; employment; paid performances, or any professional performance before a paying audience; arrival as a crew-member on a ship or aircraft; work as foreign press, radio, film, journalists, and other information media; permanent residence in the United States.

a) Do My Parents Need a Visa?

If your parents are citizens of one of the 38 currently designated countries, they may be able to visit the United States on Visa Waiver Program. Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of certain countries to come to the United States without a visa for a stay of 90 days or less. For more information, and to see a list of designated countries, please visit http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/visit/visa-waiver-program.html.

If your parents’ country of citizenship is not on the list, or if they would like to visit the United States for longer than 3 months, they will need to apply for a visitor visa.

b) How to Apply? 

To apply for a visitor visa, your parents will need complete the Online Non-immigrant Visa Application (Form DS-160). It needs to be completed and submitted online and is available on the Department of State website: https://ceac.state.gov/genniv/.

c) What to Expect after Applying? 

Once your parents applied for a visitor visa online, they will go to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country where they live for a visa interview.

If your parents are 80 years old or older, then an interview is generally not required. But if your parents are under 80, then an interview is usually required (with some exceptions for renewals).

Your parents must schedule an appointment for their visa interview, generally, at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country where they live. While visa applicants may schedule their interview at any U.S. Embassy or Consulate, it may be difficult to qualify for a visa outside of the applicant’s place of permanent residence.

The Department of State encourages applicants, including your parents, to apply for their visa early because the wait times for interview appointments vary by location, season, and visa category.

Before the interview, your parents have to gather and prepare the following documents required by the U.S. Embassy or Consulate: (1) a valid passport (must be valid for at least six months beyond their period of stay in the United States); (2) non-immigrant visa application (Form DS-160) confirmation page; (3) application fee payment receipt; (4) photo.

d) What to Expect during the Visa Interview? 

During your parents’ visa interview, a consular officer will determine whether they are qualified to receive a visa, and if so, which visa category is appropriate based on their purpose of travel.

To be approved for a visitor visa, your parents will need to show that:

  1. They are coming to the United States temporarily for an authorized purpose, such as to visit their family, to travel, to visit sightseeing sites, etc.
  2. They will not engage in unauthorized activities such as employment. Sometimes, even babysitting a relative’s child may be considered unauthorized employment. For example, while your mother is certainly allowed to visit your child – her grandchild – and spend time with him or her, she cannot be coming specifically for the purpose of babysitting the child.
  3. They have permanent residence in their home country, to which they will return. This is shown by demonstrating close ties to their home country such as family relationships, employment, business ownership, school attendance, and/or property ownership.
  4. They have sufficient financial means to pay for travel expenses and expenses of intended activities. If your parents cannot cover all the costs for their trip, they may show evidence that you or another person will cover some or all costs for their trip.

To establish that your parents qualify for a visa, they must prepare documentation to prove that they satisfy the above requirements. For that reason, it is important that your parents thoroughly prepare for their interview and collect all the necessary documents. A good attorney can guide them through this process. 

e) What Happens after the Visa Interview? 

At your parents’ visa interview, their applications may be approved, denied, or they may require further administrative processing.

If your parents’ visas are approved, they will be informed how and when their passports with visas will be returned to them.

If your parents’ visas are denied, they can reapply at any time. However, unless there is a substantial change in their circumstances, it will be very difficult to receive a visa after a denial. For that reason, it is best to consult an experienced attorney before your parents initially apply for a visa to improve their chances of an approval.

f) What Happens after Visa Approval? 

When your parents enter the United States with a visitor visa, they will usually be permitted to stay in the United States for up to 6 months, although the specific time they are allowed to stay will be determined at the border and indicated on your parents’ Form I-94. If your parents wish to stay beyond the time indicated on the Form I-94, they may apply for an extension or change of status.

For more information about visitor visas and application process, please see the Department of State website: http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/visit/visitor.html.

It is important to get in touch with a good immigration lawyer in the United States as early as possible to avoid potential problems and to plan the best immigration strategy for your family. Attorneys at I.S. Law Firm have provided immigration help to many immigrants and their families. To learn more about our services and for consultation, please contact us at +1-703-527-1779 or via e-mail: [email protected].