Rescued Syrian refugees are taken from the port of Augusta on Sicily, southern Italy, to a reception centre.
© UNHCR/A. D'Amato

US Family Reunification

The United States has a family reunification program. Only immediate family members are eligible to petition under this program. Under the U.S. law, an “immediate family member” is the child, spouse, or parent of the person requesting reunification. To be considered a “child,” the person must be unmarried and under 21 years of age. This means that siblings, cousins, and other family members are not eligible to petition under the current family reunification program.

Once a refugee has been resettled to the U.S., resettlement agencies are responsible for providing support for the family reunification process. All refugees are assigned a “sponsor” when a case is approved and the resettlement agency assures their case. Please note that UNHCR is not involved with these processes. For more information, please consult your local resettlement agency.  

Family reunification is a priority to UNHCR; therefore it is important that the overseas refugee states that s/he has family members in the U.S., as it will assist UNHCR in determining where the case is referred. Please note that having a sponsor in the U.S. does not grant access to an interview or a referral for resettlement from UNHCR. The UNHCR office in the country of asylum will determine if a refugee will be referred to a third country for resettlement.  However, it is important to note that UNHCR does not generally make priority referrals when U.S. relatives of refugees have access to family reunification through other means such as the I-730 or Priority Three (P-3) process.


The I-730 Process

The I-730 is a refugee/asylee relative petition in what is often called a “follow-to-join” process. If you have been admitted to the U.S. as a refugee or if you were granted status in the U.S. as an asylee, you may be eligible to petition for your spouse and/or unmarried children under the age of 21. For more information, please consult UNHCR’s I-730 Following-to-Join Guide or the the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services website for additional information.

Priority Direct Access Program

The P-3 category of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) affords access to members of designated nationalities who have immediate family members (known as “anchor” relatives) in the U.S. who entered as refugees or were granted asylum. Parents, spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of the U.S. anchor can participate in this program. For information on the current nationalities eligible for P-3 processing, please visit the USCIS website here.

Who will be required to provide DNA to gain access to the P-3 program?

The anchor relative in the United States and each of his or her biological parents and children listed in Section II of the Affidavit of Relationship (AOR) must submit to DNA testing to confirm their biological relationship. DNA testing will not be required to verify a relationship between relatives overseas and the anchor relative for the purposes of access to the P-3 program. In addition all AORs will still go through a verification process and family relationships will be assessed during the USCIS interview. Applicants that are denied by USCIS due to lack of credibility regarding claimed family relationships may provide DNA evidence between family members on the case at their own expense to support a Request for Review (RFR).

Affidavit of Relationship (AOR)

An AOR is a legal document including a sworn statement testifying to the nature of a relationship and are commonly required for immigration purposes. An anchor relative can submit an AOR and an I-730 petition; however, neither the Refugee Support Center nor DHS/USCIS can determine which application is seen first. Note that when the overseas applicant is notified of his/her interview, s/he can choose to ignore the processing of either application. The overseas refugee applicant should notify the anchor relative in the U.S. of his/her decision. The refugee and/or anchor relative should then notify the resettlement agency and DHS/USCIS as well.

When should one file an AOR? When should one file and I-730 Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition?

Ideally, relatives in the U.S. are encouraged to file an AOR as soon as possible. The AOR process often takes two years before family members arrive, so relatives are encouraged to file as soon as they are eligible. In addition, eligible nationalities change annually and refugees may not be eligible to file next fiscal year. An AOR must be filed within five years of arrival. In contrast, the I-730 must be filed within two years of the arrival of the U.S. applicant or within two years of the grant of asylum status.

How long does it take for an AOR to be processed?

Processing time depends on a variety of circumstances, including the length of time it takes for the U.S. to conduct overseas interviews, the location of the refugee applicant and the stability of country conditions.. Furthermore, processing may take longer if a case includes significant discrepancies or missing information.

How can a refugee or anchor relative check his or her case status?

The Refugee Support Center responsible for processing the overseas applicant’s AOR will notify the resettlement agency where the anchor relative submitted the AOR. The notification includes the time for the scheduled interview with the overseas family member. The overseas refugee applicant  and the anchor relative should remain in contact  regarding his/her case status. The status of an I-730 Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition can be checked on-line at http://www.uscis.gov. The LIN-number can be found on the US anchor’s official visa receipt. The petitioner should contact the relevant U.S. embassy with further inquiries.

Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa Program

If you are an Iraqi national who worked for or on behalf of the U.S. Government in Iraq and meet certain requirements, you may be eligible for the Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program. For more information on this program, please visit the U.S. Department of State website here.

If the U.S. relative is asking about a case overseas, can I contact UNHCR for assistance?

Generally, UNHCR does not intervene in AOR or I-730 cases as they are handled by the U.S. government.