California was one of the first states to allow unmarried domestic partners to register and receive the same benefits extended to spouses. Therefore, residents may wonder what rights domestic partners have to sponsor a family member for citizenship or if it is possible to become a citizen without first getting married.
United States immigration law allows a citizen to sponsor a spouse for citizenship; however, that ability does not extend to unmarried, registered domestic partners. Individuals who want to be able to keep their partners in the country and sponsor them for citizenship are required to get married before beginning the process. The unmarried child of a U.S. citizen has the ability to seek citizenship through the parents. Once a person marries, the path to citizenship must be sponsored by the person’s spouse instead.
There are two categories of family-based immigration. The first is for immediate family members, such as spouses, parents or unmarried children under the age of 21. There are also four categories of family preferences for siblings of U.S. citizens, for the spouse or unmarried child of a permanent resident or the unmarried child over the age of 21 of a U.S. citizen. The first category does not place any limit on the number of people who may immigrate. However, only 226,000 people each year are able to utilize the family preference categories. Thus, a domestic partner may find it easier to become a citizen through marriage than by seeking sponsorship from another relative.
The immigration process may seem complicated, especially for those who do not have experience with the court system. A local immigration attorney may be able to help explain the process, fill out paperwork, attend necessary interviews and serve as a guide through unfamiliar waters.