The US recognizes that immigration is often a family affair, involving not just a primary applicant, but also that applicant’s family, spouse, and children. The US wants to ensure that families are not separated unnecessarily and that families do not have to make heart-wrenching decisions between their dream to immigrate to the US and keeping their family together. For this reason, the US has in place several provisions to ensure that such difficult decisions are less likely. One of these provisions is Family Unity Benefits.
Family Unity Benefits are available as part of the Legal Immigration Family Equity Act (the LIFE Act), which attempts to legalize newcomers. The benefits are also available under Section 301 of the Immigration Act of 1990. Family Unity Benefits allow the spouses and children of applicants to remain in the US. The benefits also allow the family of an applicant to work legally in the US and to live in the US for a period of two years. Often, this gives a family time to adjust their status, consult with an immigration attorney, and otherwise find a way to remain in the US together. The benefit of being allowed to work is especially important, as it can ensue that both parents are authorized to work, ensuring that they have enough money to remain in the US.
To receive family benefits, qualified applicants must first apply for them by filing USCIS Form I-817 (Application for Family Unity Benefits). Immigration form I-817 is a complex form consisting of 6 pages. It can be used to either apply for benefits or to extend benefits beyond the initial two-year term. There is a filing fee of $435 to be included when Form I817 is filed. In addition, some applicants may need to pay an additional fingerprinting fee as well. If you require fingerprinting, do not send a fingerprinting card with your application. Instead, file Form I-817 with the regular fee and the fingerprinting fee. The USCIS will send you a letter with instructions on where and how to get yourself fingerprinted as part of your application.
In general, if you are applying for Family Unity Benefits for the first time, you will need to get fingerprinted and if you are applying for an extension of benefits, you will not have to pay the additional fee. However, if you are filing form I817 from abroad, you will generally not need to pay the fingerprinting fee, even when applying for benefits for the first time. The latest version of immigration form I 817 and detailed instructions for the immigration form are available through the USCIS website.