Follow to join is an option offered to family members of the principal beneficiaries of approved preference based immigrant visa petitions. Immediate family members (spouses and children under the age of 21) of preference based immigrant visa holders qualify for derivative visa status. The process of follow to join is intended as a solution for families that may not have the option of traveling to the U.S. together. For a family member to be considered to be “accompanying” the principal beneficiary in a derivative status, (s)he must physically arrive with the principal or must be issued an immigrant visa within six months of the date the principal beneficiary was issued his or her immigrant visa, adjusted status, or registered with the appropriate consulate to confer immigrant status on a qualifying family member. After this six month window, the family member must apply for the benefit of following to join the principal in a derivative status. See 22 C.F.R. 40.1(a)(1).
When a family member is accompanying or following to join the principal beneficiary of an approved immigrant petition, (s)he may be granted a derivative visa status which will be charged to the preference category of the principal beneficiary. Family members gaining immigration benefits through derivative status receive the same priority date as the principal they are accompanying or following to join. See INA §203(d).This is intended to preserve the family structure and grant immigration benefits to family members that may not qualify for such benefits on their own. When the principal beneficiary of an approved immigrant petition with an approved or pending application for adjustment of status (I-485) wants to bring his or her spouse and/or children to the United States in follow to join status, (s)he should file an I-824, Application for Action on an Approved Application or Petition.
In order to receive benefits by following to join an immediate relative, the qualifying family relationship must have existed prior to the principal’s adjustment of status or admittance to the United States as a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). In the case of a spouse, for example, if the marriage occurred after the principal was issued an immigrant visa or adjusted status in the U.S., follow to join is no longer a valid option and the LPR must file a family based immigrant petition (I-130) on behalf of his or her family member. See Matter of G, 7 I&N Dec. 731 (BIA 1958).
The I-824 should be submitted by the principal beneficiary to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) service center that last handled his or her case (e.g. adjudicated his or her I-485). An I-824 must include the receipt number received with the approval of the principal beneficiary’s I-485, and as such, will not be adjudicated until the principal’s I-485 has been approved. When filing the I-824, applicants should also submit the following: a copy of the original application or petition used to apply for immigrant status; a copy of form I-797, Notice of Action, for the original petition; and a copy of the principal’s I-551 (permanent resident card / green card). Filing this form will notify the U.S. consulate that the principal’s status has been changed, and will qualify the LPR’s immediate relatives to apply for immigrant visas.