One of the most common questions we’re asked is, “Can my _________ (fill in the blank with a relative) file an immigration petition for me?” So, in this post, we’re going to give a very brief overview of the individuals who can file immigration petitions and who they can file them on behalf of.

The Petitioner

In order for an individual to file an immigration petition, they must either be a lawful permanent resident or a U.S. citizen. They can be a U.S. citizen by birth in the United States or through naturalization; they are treated the same for purposes of filing a petition. The individual filing a petition is often referred to as the “petitioner” as they are petitioning for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to recognize their relationship to an immigrant.

It is important to note an approved petition does not grant the immigrant any legal status. It simply recognizes the relationship between the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident petitioner and the immigrant. Once the petition is approved, the immigrant must take additional steps to actually become a lawful permanent resident himself or herself. Those steps are different for each immigrant, so we won’t be going into detail on that process in this post.

The Beneficiary

The individual for whom the petition is being filed for is referred to as the “beneficiary.” Beneficiaries include the spouses, parents, siblings, and children of U.S. citizens. Both unmarried and married children can be beneficiaries.

Lawful permanent residents are eligible to file a petition for their spouses and unmarried children, either under or over 21 years of age. You will notice lawful permanent residents cannot file a petition for their parents, siblings, or married children.


Couples who are legally married and have a “bona fide,” or legitimate marriage are considered spouses. After a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision, spouses also include LGBT couples.

In order for parents to qualify as beneficiaries, their U.S. citizen child must be at least 21 years old.

Siblings include biological brothers and sisters who share one or two parents. In some cases, they may include adopted siblings.

Children, of course, includes biological children born within a marriage. Stepchildren, adopted children, and in some cases, children born outside of wedlock can also be considered “children” for immigration purposes, but they must meet specific requirements to be eligible.

Once it is determined you can file a petition for your family member or a petition can be filed for you, you may want to know how long you will need to wait before applying for lawful permanent residence. If so, be sure to check back for our post on the difference between immediate relatives and preference categories.

For information on your specific situation, we recommend you use our contact form to schedule an appointment with our office. We would be glad to help you determine the best option for you.

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