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I asked here: https://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/253625/site-to-ask-about-visas-immigration-asylum-seeking and was recommended to ask here on this site.

Basically me and my wife are both US Citizens and we are trying to get my mother in law here (she currently resides in Iraq). I contacted a lawyer regarding bringing her here and she said there are two options:

  1. The united nations (but this is very lengthy, and its only increasing due to the violent conditions in the middle east.

  2. Via application / visa to obtain a green card (I think)

I'd rather do option 2 but the cost of a lawyer is in the tens of thousands… which we couldn't believe - it is what it is. Legally being my wife's mother, and my wife having US citizenship she was told by a friend of ours that she could do it herself. But I am not sure how to even begin? What steps do we need to take or documents do we need to begin this process.

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    You may want to check the lawyer fees of the I-130 route, that is likely much cheaper than the UN route. – StrongBad Apr 16 '15 at 18:09
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    @StrongBad - The issue is the lawyer charges were for the I-130 route! Thats what got me. – JonH Apr 16 '15 at 18:14
  • I think that is probably another reasonable question. Lawyer fees of tens of thousands for a relatively simple visa application seems way too high. – StrongBad Apr 16 '15 at 18:45
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    @StrongBad Yeah, I can't see tens of thousands in legal fees here unless there's some big problems in his case. I've done the application for my wife and later filled out the applications for some of her relatives. All were approved. – Loren Pechtel Apr 17 '15 at 0:43
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If you're not looking to use a lawyer, I suggest you go with the suggestion to apply for a green card for your mother-in-law based on her being the parent of a U.S. citizen. The process is straightforward enough to not need a lawyer. You just need to read the instructions carefully, and have patience, while keeping on top of the process.

The State Department and USCIS have very good information on their websites, and it's organized well, too. Whenever you have a question like this, you should try browsing around travel.state.gov and www.uscis.gov to see if you can find a clear, official answer.

The process starts with USCIS. Your wife will have to file a Form I-130 petition for her mother. For this you'll need some pretty basic documents, like your wife's birth certificate and proof that your wife is a U.S. citizen. Last I've heard (and experienced), the petition will take about 6 months to be approved. This may sound like a long time, but in reality, this is just the standard USCIS processing backlog. Other people who are not immediate relatives of U.S. citizens can have much longer waits, because they're waiting for "their spot in the line". As an immediate relative, your mother-in-law won't have that other, extra wait.

After the petition is approved, things move to the National Visa Center. Your wife will file paperwork and documentary evidence of her ability to financially support her mother, and her mother will file paperwork formally requesting an immigrant visa. Finally, there will be an interview at the U.S. Embassy closest to your mother-in-law.

  • Here is one issue though one of the requirements is "A copy of your birth certificate showing your name and your mother’s name". My wife is originally from Iraq, anyone from Iraq back in those times (During the 80's knows) obtaining your birth certificate is non existent. The only document she has is from the ministery of general affairs, in Iraq those are what are used as a replacement to Birth Certificates, yes it really is that bad! – JonH Apr 16 '15 at 17:52
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    If that's true, then I'm sure USCIS has already encountered it. Possibly include a letter (maybe notarized?) that discusses the problem. – mkennedy Apr 16 '15 at 17:55
  • Okay, do you happen to know where should the letter be coming from. I tried googling and apparently Iraq is not the only country that deals with this, a lot of posts I came across showed people in India with similar issues. All I can say is GOD BLESS AMERICA! – JonH Apr 16 '15 at 18:03
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    @JonH just like other SE sites, smaller is often better. The birth certificate question would be an excellent question on its own. – StrongBad Apr 16 '15 at 18:07
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    @DanGetz - After nearly two years my mother in law was issued a visa on December 26 of 2017, what a great Christmas present. She can now come see this beautiful country and her three grand kids! – JonH Jan 4 '17 at 17:19
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You certainly don't need to spend that kind of money. For US citizens, parents are pretty high on the list to get green cards. The service centers that process the I-130 forms now report 5 months. After that, there's more processing in Iraq, but I wasn't able to quickly find out how long that would take.

Here's the appropriate website: Bringing Parents to the United States as Permanent Residents

If you are a U.S. Citizen who is at least 21 years old, and your mother lives outside the United States, you must submit:

  • Form I-130
  • A copy of your birth certificate showing your name and your mother’s name
  • A copy of your Certificate of Naturalization or U.S. passport if you were not born in the United States

There are more notes and caveats on the page, such as if your wife's name changed with her marriage, she would need to provide documentation about it.

If your mother-in-law has minor children, they cannot be part of the petition because they are considered siblings and fall under a lower priority. However, once your mother-in-law has a green card, she can petition for them.

  • see my comment for Dan Getz above regarding the issue with my wife's birth certificate. Im concerned about that! – JonH Apr 16 '15 at 17:52

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