While many of my Non-Immigrant Visa clients come to the United States with spouse and/or children in tow on dependent visas, parents need to be mindful of their children’s immigration status as they approach adulthood. Oddly enough,and to the astonishment of many clients, the critical age to watch is 21, not 18. Children, on turning 21, will lose their dependent visa status, and must now independently qualify for his or her own visa classification.
In cases where parents are in the United States on an employment-enabled status, the dependent children can attend schooling in the United States on their dependent status (until age 21), without having to hold F-1 foreign student status. This includes pre-school, elementary school, secondary school, vocational school, and college/university.
While the benefit of this at first glance may not be readily apparent,the real benefit is financial. Whether you choose to put your child(-ren) into a private or public school, is of consequence to you, as your child usually qualifies for free or subsidized (in-State rate) tuition rates. If, however, a student is attending a school or institution of higher learning in the U.S. as a foreign student on F-1 immigration status, the child oftentimes has to pay the full, unsubsidized cost of tuition, or be obligated to reimburse public schools for the cost of attendance. The difference in rates can be as much 400%.
As your child will turn 21, some serious immigration-planning needs to take place, taking the parents’ status into consideration, taking into consideration the child’s desire (or lack thereof) to attend post-secondary education and his/her career choices. An important aspect of “immigration-family planning” is the long-term consideration of applying for Lawful Permanent Residence (“Green Cards”) for the entire household.
As a general rule, the Green Card should be applied for before the oldest child turns 21. This is a potentially tricky aspect of family-based immigration, as there is much regulation and case law surrounding Child Status protection. Having children “aging out” of a Green Card petition is often a heart-wrenching,unfortunate circumstance, that should be avoided if possible.
Families with children 12 and over are always well-advised and encouraged to discuss these issues with an immigration lawyer.