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What do I do if my Sponsor dies during my application process?

Although always a potential concern, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought this issue into the spotlight. What happens if your Sponsor, the person working to bring you into the United States, dies before the process is complete? In the past this was basically the end of the process. The death of the Sponsor meant the government would not approve the petition.

Thankfully this is no longer the case. In 2009 Congress changed this, adding a provision that allowed noncitizens who’s Sponsor died to move forward with the immigration process in certain situations.

Two examples of how relationship impacts the process

Whether due to COVID-19, cancer, terminal illness, a tragic accident or other causes, the reason or the death does not matter. Although the cause of death rarely impacts the process, the relation of the applicant to the Sponsor will impact the process. The following will discuss two of the most common relationships impacted by this situation: that of a spouse and the Sponsor’s children.

First, a note of caution

In many of these situations, if the applicant is not living in the United States prior to the Sponsor’s death, it is very difficult to move forward. Federal law generally requires the consular officer in these situations to return the petition to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

In some cases it is possible to have the process reinstated if the applicant can show the presence of compelling humanitarian circumstances. To do so, the applicant should contact the DHS office that approved the petition.

More information on the impact of the Sponsor’s death on the application for spouse, children

If the Sponsor was the applicant’s spouse and the applicant was living in the US at the time of the Sponsor’s death, the applicant can likely continue the application process as a widow using the Section 204L form.

If a legal permanent resident when the Sponsor dies, the principal applicant can likely still move forward with the process for their children, referred to as derivative applicants. The surviving parent would generally provide the needed documents at the immigrant visa interview. These include documents like the Affidavit of Support and Federal US Tax Statements. It is important to note that the death of the Sponsor does not generally waive the need for required documentation. If, for example, the process requires an Affidavit of Support, the death of the Sponsor does not waive this requirement. The applicant must instead get a substitute sponsor to complete this document.

The government is very clear to point out that relief under 204L is not an entitlement. Instead, it is allowed at the DHS’ discretion. As such, it is important for those who are taking this route to move forward with the process carefully. Make sure all necessary paperwork is in order and sent in on time.

If the sponsor was an immediate family member besides a spouse, such as a parent or child, and the application was approved, this is another instance where the applicant can pursue a humanitarian reinstatement, find a new sponsor (that is another immediate family member), and show what the impact would be if the application was not reinstated. They can also present evidence that the government review process delayed the applications approval.