Winning asylum is becoming harder, but it still happens. One of the great benefits of receiving asylum in the United States is that you can file for certain family members to either come to the United States or--if they are already here but do not have status--obtain their lawful status in our country. The process of filing for a family member can be complicated, but a new resource can help: The I-730 Refugee/Asylee Family Reunification Practice Manual.

The first thing to know about this manual is that it is designed for attorneys and accredited representatives; it is not designed for lay people. In other words, it's not really designed to assist asylees and refugees themselves. It's important to understand this, as the manual does include some legal jargon and lots of legal references, which are more easily understood by people with legal training. However, overall, the manual is clear and well-written, and it might also be of use to people who are not represented by attorneys (I fear that the authors might cringe if they read this, but these days, low cost legal help is not easy to find, and for those who cannot secure assistance, the manual could be a real life-saver).

The second thing to know about this manual is that it is terrific. It covers all the basics, and provides ideas to assist in many problematic situations. It also doesn't hurt that it is available for free. So kudos to authors Rebecca R. Schaeffer and Katherine Reynolds, and to the organizations who helped make the manual possible: CLINIC, Church World Service, Elon University, and UNHCR.

In this post, I obviously cannot cover or even summarize the material contained in the family reunification manual. Instead, I want to give an overview of the I-730 process for asylees (as opposed to refugees) and to talk about what to expect when you file an I-730 Asylee Relative Petition for a family member.

First, only spouses and children can benefit from an I-730 petition. For spouses, the marriage must have existed prior to the approval of the asylum application. Also, there are certain restrictions about who is considered a spouse: Proxy marriages and polygamous marriages generally do not count. Children generally include biological children, step-children, adopted children, children born out of wedlock, and even unborn children. The child must have been under 21 at the time the principal's I-589 was filed. Also, the child must remain unmarried until the I-730 is approved and the child/beneficiary is in the United States. There are exceptions to all these rules--and exceptions to some of the exceptions. The manual covers a number of different situations, but if you are not sure, talk to a lawyer. Aside from spouses and children, no other relatives can benefit from an I-730.

The I-730 cannot be filed until asylum is granted, and it must be filed within two years of the date asylum is approved (again, there are exceptions). A separate I-730 must be filed for each family member.

When we file an I-730 for one of our asylee clients, we generally include proof of asylum status (copy of the approval letter or Immigration Judge's order), proof of identity (copy of passport or other identity document), evidence of the relationship (copy of marriage certificate or birth certificate), evidence of the beneficiary's identity (copy of passport), and two passport-style photos of the beneficiary. Depending on the case, evidentiary requirements vary, so talk to a lawyer to be sure.

Beneficiaries who are inside the U.S. will receive an interview at their local USCIS office and, if approved, they will receive asylum status. It is possible to file for a family member who is in the United States even if the person entered the country illegally or overstayed a visa, or if the person has criminal or immigration issues, including people with a final order of removal. However, such cases are complicated, and starting the I-730 process for such a person could cause more harm than good. So if a potential I-730 beneficiary has criminal or immigration issues, it is important to consult with a lawyer before you start the I-730 process.

Where the beneficiary is overseas, USCIS will forward the I-730 (via the National Visa Center) to the appropriate embassy. The embassy will contact the beneficiary about a medical exam and other required evidence (which varies from embassy to embassy), and to schedule an interview. If the case is approved, the beneficiary will receive a travel packet, which acts like a visa and allows her to come to the United States as long as the "visa" is valid. Upon arrival, the person will undergo another inspection at the airport, and--if all goes well--enter the U.S. as an asylee.

As the manual points out, the processing time for an I-730 is not predictable. Most cases where the beneficiary is inside the U.S. take at least a year. Cases where the beneficiary is overseas take longer--a two year wait is not uncommon. In my office, we have seen cases go more quickly, but that is not the norm, especially these days. For cases outside the normal processing time, it is possible to make an inquiry. Pages 57 to 60 of the manual give some helpful advice on that score.

A few final points: For the interview, adult beneficiaries should have some awareness of the principal's asylum case. Beneficiaries are often not questioned about the principal's case, but if they are, it is better to know the basics (and if you do not know the answer, don't guess; say "I don't know"). Also, any documents not in English that are submitted with the I-730 should include certified English translations. Original documents are generally expected at the interview, so try to make sure the beneficiary has those. Lastly, remember that if a principal asylee becomes a U.S. citizen, or if the relationship ends through death or divorce, and the dependent is still an asylee (as opposed to a lawful permanent resident), the dependent will lose his status (and have to apply for nunc pro tunc asylum). For this reason, it is best for dependents to apply for residency as soon as they are eligible.

So I guess that is a wrap for 2019. I wanted to end on a positive note--and there is nothing more positive in asylum-land than family reunification. I wish you all a Happy New Year, and I hope to see you in the 2020's.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: