The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has clear definitions for family relationships, as follows:
- Children – the definition of a child also provides the basis for the definition of parent, sibling and son or daughter. A child is a person under 21 years of age who is born in or out of wedlock. An adopted child qualifies under this category so long as the adoption takes place before the child reaches the age of 16, and has lived with the adoptive parent for two years in legal custody. However, this two-year residency requirement does not apply to orphans (i.e., adopted children whose natural parents are deceased or have abandoned them). Stepchildren are also included as children of the sponsor so long as the marriage between the parent and stepparent took place before the child reached 18 years of age.
- Parent – the definition of a parent is established by the definition of child. That means, a parent is a natural parent or adoptive parent, so long as the requirements for child are met. The natural parent of an adopted child is not a parent according to the DHS.
- Son or Daughter – the definition of son or daughter is a child (as defined previously) who is over the age of 21. This definition is particularly relevant in preference levels one, two and three.
- Brothers and Sisters – siblings can petition for one another if they meet the definition of child from one or both parents. That means stepchildren can petition for their stepsiblings and adopted children can petition for their adopted siblings in the same adoptive family. However, adopted children cannot petition for their natural brother or sister if they were not adopted into the same family.
- Spouse – a marriage must be valid for the DHS to recognize the spousal relationship. A valid marriage is determined by the law of the place of marriage. If the marriage took place outside the U.S., it is valid so long as the parties complied with the law of that country. Consequently, a common law marriage may be valid for immigration purposes if the state or country recognizes such a marriage. That being said, the marriage cannot violate U.S. public policy, such as a polygamous marriage or an incestuous marriage. If either spouse was previously married, they must have obtained a valid divorce before the remarriage will be considered legitimate. Interestingly, “proxy marriages” where the parties are not in each other's presence (commonly called “telephone marriages”) will be valid so long as the parties prove they later consummated the marriage.
Now that we've covered who qualifying relatives are and the official definitions of family relationships in this and the previous article, our next article will cover the important subject of the application process.