The U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services often provides easy-to-follow guidelines for filing different immigration forms, including Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative).
Although these instructions are easy to follow, they may not address all the critical issues some applicants face with filing their petitions. Some may also get confused by the terms used in the written instructions, especially when differentiating the relationship between different parties named in these forms.
This article breaks down the instructions for filing Form I-130 and every vital information each applicant should know before completing their application.
The Purpose of Form I-130
Form I-130 is a petition filed by a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident to petition for their immediate or close relative living abroad to immigrate to the U.S. and hopefully register permanent residence. This form is used to establish the relationship between the applicant and the intended immigrant.
The petitioner’s main task is to prove that they have a family relationship with the beneficiary by providing documents such as birth and marriage certificates where applicable.
In the petition, the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (green card holder) is referred to as the petitioner, while the intended immigrant is known as the beneficiary.
Who Can File Form I-130?
You must either be a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident to file Form I-130. However, your status determines which relative you can petition for.
If you are a U.S. citizen and the sponsoring spouse, you can petition the following relatives:
- your foreign-born spouse;
- unmarried children under 21 years of age;
- unmarried son or daughter over 21 years of age;
- married son or daughter of any age;
- siblings, if you are at least 21 years old; or
- parent, if you are at least 21 years old.
If you are a green card holder, you can petition the following relatives:
- your spouse;
- unmarried children under 21; or
- unmarried son or daughter of any age.
Your status as a petitioner also impacts how long it will take for your family member to get a green card after filing Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence, or Adjust Status.
Relatives of U.S. citizens don’t have to wait in line for a green card to be available before applying for one. However, relatives of lawful permanent residents are restricted by the limited number of green cards available for preference family members in a year. As a result, these relatives have to wait until a green card is available before applying for one.
Who Can’t File Form I-130?
Being a spouse, parent, or child of a U.S. citizen or green card holder isn’t enough reason for filing Form I-130. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has other restrictions that make some of these close relatives ineligible for Form I-130.
A U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident may not petition for the following relatives:
- adoptive parents or children adopted after turning 16 years of age;
- the biological parent of a petitioner who obtained a green card or U.S. citizenship through adoption or a special immigrant juvenile;
- stepparent and stepchild, if the child was already 18 years old by the time the marriage that created the step relationship occurred;
- the spouse who was not physically present at their marriage ceremony;
- the spouse who got married while they were part of immigration court proceedings, such as deportation, removal, or rescission;
- a grandparent, grandchild, nephew, niece, uncle, aunt, cousin, or parent-in-law of the petitioner;
- spouse, if the petitioner became a lawful permanent resident through a prior marriage unless one of the following is true:
- the petitioner is now a naturalized citizen;
- the petitioner has been a green card holder for at least five years;
- the petitioner can prove with sufficient and convincing evidence that their prior marriage wasn’t intended for evading any immigration law; or
- the petitioner’s prior marriage ended due to the death of the former spouse.
How to Fill Out Form I-130
Now that you know the relatives you can petition for, the next step is to fill out Form I-130. You can access this form free of charge through the USCIS website and print it legibly in black ink. You can also request the USCIS Service Center for a copy of the form through the mail if you don’t have internet access.
Form I-130 has nine parts. You must fill out each section fully and accurately as required by the USCIS. Failing to correctly complete this form can result in a rejection, denying you a chance to live close to your loved ones in the US.
Part 1: Relationship
This is the section where the petitioner defines their family relationship with the intended immigrant. The beneficiary can either be a spouse, parent, sibling, or child.
If you are a U.S. citizen, you can petition for any of the relatives mentioned in this section. However, if you are a green card holder, you can only petition for your spouse and unmarried children.
If you’re filing for your sibling, parent, or child, you must indicate whether you are related biologically or through adoption. There are further elaborate questions in this section about these relationships; all you need to do is check the right box that defines your relationship with the beneficiary.
Part 2: Information about the Petitioner
This section collects information about you, the petitioner. Besides names and petitioner’s statement contact information, you have to provide the following information:
The Alien Registration Number (A-Number)
The Alien Registration Number is only applicable to you if you are a green cardholder. You can find this number on your green card under the section marked USCIS#.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Online Account Number
Most people confuse the A number and the USCIS online account number. If you have never opened an account with the USCIS Electronic Immigration System (ELIS) online, you don’t have to worry about this number. If you have, you can find it by logging into your USCIS online account. You’ll find it in the Profile section.
Social Security Number
You can find your social security number on your Social Security card or some documents such as your tax returns form or bank statement. If you forgot your number or lost your card, you can request the Social Security Administration for a replacement.
Your address history provides vital information to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. For example, if you are a lawful permanent resident, you risk losing your green card status if you live abroad for more than 180 days.
As a result, you will no longer be eligible to petition for a relative. In addition, your address history can reveal how long you have lived abroad at a given time.
A US citizen has nothing to lose by living abroad. However, they may have challenges when filing Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, to prove that they can support the beneficiary in the U.S.
As a requirement, the sponsor must be domiciled in the U.S. when filing form I-864. Therefore, if their address shows that they live abroad, there may be a problem filing this petition.
If you are petitioning for your spouse, your marital information will be essential to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. If you were previously married, you must prove that the marriage ended, either because of the death of your spouse, a divorce, or annulment.
If you obtained a green card because you were married to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, you may not file a petition for a spouse unless;
- your previous marriage ended due to the death of your spouse; or
- you have been a green card holder for at least five years.
Suppose you don’t belong to any of the criteria mentioned above. In that case, your only option will be to provide convincing evidence that you didn’t enter your previous marriage to evade any immigration laws. This is a rare option for many petitioners and may require the help of an experienced immigration attorney.
Other sections in this part are self-explanatory. They include:
- parents’ information;
- citizenship status;
- mailing address; and
- employment history.
Part 3: Biographic Information
This section is about the race and ethnicity of the petitioner. The questions are easy to answer. However, you should know that the U.S. government doesn’t identify immigrants of Hispanic or Latino origin as a race but as ethnicity.
Therefore, if you are from any Spanish cultural origins, such as Cuba, Mexico, or Puerto Rico, you need to choose a race you closely identify with among those provided in the form.
The good thing is that you can choose more than one race among those indicated in the section.
Part 4: Information About Beneficiary
This section collects a lot of information about the intended immigrant. Here are parts of this section that you should pay more attention to.
Beneficiary’s Marital Information
Generally, the USCIS closely scrutinizes petitions for spouses to rule out immigration fraud. If the USCIS finds evidence of immigration fraud in the spouse’s marriage history, they may deny the petition.
If your spouse has ever been married before, you may want to seek the assistance of immigration attorneys while filing this form.
Information About Your Beneficiary’s Family
This section is for information about the intended immigrant’s family, including their spouse and children. You should include all the children of the spouse under 21 years old even if they won’t immigrate to the US.
Depending on the family relationship between you and the beneficiary, you may or may not be required to file a separate petition for their spouse or children.
The immigrant you are directly petitioning for is the principal beneficiary. Their petition may include other alien relatives who can’t have independent petitions. However, this entirely depends on how the principal beneficiary is related to you and your immigration status.
Generally, you don’t need to file a separate petition for the beneficiary’s alien relatives under the following circumstances.
If the beneficiary is;
- your sibling and you are a U.S. citizen;
- your spouse and you are a lawful permanent resident;
- an unmarried child below 21 years, and you are a lawful permanent resident;
- your married son or daughter, and you are a U.S. citizen; or
- an unmarried son or daughter over 21 years of age, and you are a US citizen or lawful permanent resident.
Beneficiary’s Entry Information
If the beneficiary is already living in the United States, the USCIS will determine whether or not their authorized stay expired and if they entered the country legally. The USCIS can trace this information from the Form I-94 Arrival-Departure Number and other details of the travel documents, such as a passport.
Overstaying a visa can significantly affect the beneficiary’s green card application. For example, if the beneficiary overstays their visa for less than 180 days before leaving, they’ll be barred from reentering the US for three years. If they overstay their visa for more than one year before leaving, they’ll be barred from reentering the US for ten years.
An immediate relative may apply for adjustment of status by filing Form I-130 and I-485 concurrently if they haven’t overstayed in the U.S. for more than 180 days. However, a family preference relative may not be as lucky to adjust status. They may need to leave the U.S. as soon as they can or seek the assistance of an immigration attorney.
Part 5: Other Information
In this section, the USCIS wants to determine if you have ever filed a petition for any alien relative before. If you have, you’ll include the information about the petition, such as the filing date, name of the beneficiary, or where the beneficiary lives. The USCIS will also want to find out if you are currently filing a separate petition for other relatives.
This section may help you avoid mistakes you may have made in filing previous petitions and also ensure that the information you provide is consistent. In addition, the USCIS may compare your petition to your previous ones for discrepancies, especially if they denied previous petitions.
Part 6, 7, and 8 Petitioner and Interpreter’s Contact Information
You must fill in your contact information and signature in part 6 of the form, even if an interpreter helped you fill the form. This certifies that all the information you provided in the form is correct and accurate. It also proves that you have read and understood the instructions in the petition.
If you had an interpreter, their contact information and signature would go under section 7. However, if someone else prepared your petition, such as your attorney, they must input their name and contact information under section 8.
Part 9: Additional Information
If you run out of space for more information in another part of this document, you can include that in this part.
Form I-130 Supporting Documents
After completing Form I-130, the next step is to gather all the required supporting documents. These documents required differ depending on the status of the petitioner.
If you are a U.S. citizen, you need:
- a copy of your birth certificate;
- a copy of your naturalization certificate if you obtained citizenship by naturalization;
- a copy of Form FS-240, Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) if you are a US citizen born abroad;
- an original statement from a US consular office to authenticate your citizenship; and
- a copy of a valid US passport.
If you are a green card holder, you need:
- a copy of your green card showing both sides. If you haven’t received your green card yet, submit copies of your passport showing your biographic information and admission to lawful permanent residence; and
- any evidence of permanent residence status issued by the USCIS.
Documents to Prove Family Relationship
You will submit different documents as proof of family relationship depending on how you are related to the beneficiary.
Documents for Spouses
- a copy of your marriage certificate;
- if you or your spouse was married before, you must show proof that the previous marriages ended legally;
- two colored passport-style photos for you and your spouse living in the US. You must take the photos within 30 days before filing the petition; and
- proof of bona fide marriage.
Documents for Children’s
- birth certificate of the child showing the child’s name and your name as a parent;
- if you are the child’s father, you must provide a copy of a marriage certificate between you and the child’s mother and proof of termination of prior marriages if applicable; and
- if the beneficiary is a child out of wedlock and you are the father, you must submit evidence proving marriage between you and the child’s mother before the child turned 18. If not, you must prove that there was a bona fide relationship between you and the child before they turned 21 years of age.
Documents for Siblings
- a copy of your birth certificate and that of your sibling showing that you share at least one parent in common; or
- if you and your sibling have a mutual father but different mothers, you must submit copies of marriage certificates showing your father was married to your mothers.
Documents for Parents
- if petitioning for your mother, you only need a birth certificate showing your name and your mother’s;
- if petitioning for your father, you must show a birth certificate showing your name and that of both parents and a copy of their marriage certificates; and
- if you are filing for a stepparent, you need to provide a marriage certificate proving the marriage between the stepparent and your natural parent.
Proving the family relationship may not be as easy as it seems. Gathering documents belonging to you and the beneficiary living abroad may present several challenges. For example, you may miss some documents such as proof of marriage between the parents of a child born out of wedlock or a child’s birth certificate.
In such a case, you need to acquire a statement from a government agency of the country of origin stating that the document is unavailable.
Working with an experienced immigration lawyer may be a good idea if you don’t know how to solve some of these difficult situations.
Form I-130 Filing Fee
Given that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services periodically updates its fees, you must visit its website to find the most current filing fee for Form I-130. Unlike with some petitions, the USCIS doesn’t waive the filing fee for this immigrant petition. The fee is also non-refundable regardless of the outcome of the filed petition.
The USCIS doesn’t accept cash payments sent along with the petition. It only accepts checks or money orders drawn from a bank or a financial institution located in the U.S. Additionally, the payments must be made in U.S. currency, payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Where to File Form I-130
The most important thing to do before filing Form I-130 is to confirm whether you filled the form with accurate information and attached all the supporting documents needed. The USCIS can reject an incomplete immigrant petition even when you miss a small detail such as information declaration and signature. You don’t want to lose money, time, or a chance to petition for your loved one because of common filing mistakes.
Since every petition has unique circumstances, create a checklist and confirm whether you accomplished all the tasks needed to complete this document. After confirming that you have accurately filled out Form I-130 and attached all the supporting documents, visit the USCIS website to find the right filing address.
Indicate the address as it appears on the USCIS website rather than its acronyms to avoid losing your mail or directing it to the wrong department.
Form I-130 Processing Timelines
Form I-130 can be filed concurrently with Form I-485 (Adjustment of Status) to initiate the marriage-based green card application process. However, depending on the immigration category, the processing time for Form I-130 may take anywhere between 5 months to 20 years. Here are the important processing timelines you should keep track of.
Notice of Receipt of Petition
After properly filing Form I-130, you will receive a receipt notice from the USCIS confirming that they have received your petition about 2 to 3 weeks from the filing date. If your petition misses some information, the USCIS may send a Request For Evidence to request additional documents needed to process the petition.
Review of the Petition
The USCIS will review your petition within 2 to 4 weeks of receiving the petition. At this stage, the USCIS determines the relationship between the petitioner and the beneficiary and the status of the petitioner. Generally, petitions by US citizens are always prioritized and have no visa limits per year, which means shorter processing timelines.
On average, it may take between 5 months to a year for a U.S. citizen or family member to obtain a green card.
On the other hand, some petitions by lawful permanent residents take longer because of limits on the number of green cards available for some immigrant categories in a year. Depending on how many applications the USCIS receives and the immigration category, the wait may be anywhere between 6 months to 20 years. Therefore, your petition books a spot in the green card waiting line marked by the date of filing the petition, often known as the priority date.
As you wait, you can check the petition’s status and any changes in the processing timelines online. You can also make a case inquiry if you believe your petition has taken longer to process than it should.
What Happens After Approval of Form I-130?
Once the USCIS approves your petition for Alien Relative, the beneficiary can apply for their green card. An immediate relative, such as a parent, spouse, or unmarried child under 21 years old, may apply right away.
The family preference relatives have to wait until a visa is available before applying for one. If the beneficiary already lives in the US, they can file Form I-485 adjustment of status to change the status of their immigrant visa into lawful permanent residence status.
What Happens if My Petition for Alien Relative Is Denied?
If the USCIS denies your Form I-130 petition, you will receive Form I-797 (Notice of Action) through your mail. This notice will indicate all the reasons why the USCIS denied your petition. Some of the reasons for denial include:
- insufficient supporting evidence of a family relationship;
- incomplete or errors in filling out Form I-130;
- insufficient evidence of bona fide marriage; or
- evidence of marriage fraud.
If you believe the denial was unfair, you may appeal the decision to the Administrative Appeals Office within 30 days from the day the USCIS sent the notice.
Form I-130 FAQs
We’ve answered some common questions people ask about Form I-130.
How Can I Check My I-130 Petition Status?
You can track the progress of your I-130 petition online using your receipt number indicated on any notification letter you receive from the USCIS. You can also send an inquiry to the USCIS to find out the progress of your application.
Will the USCIS Invite Me for an Interview for My I-130 Petition?
The USCIS will most likely invite you and the beneficiary for an interview to confirm the information you provided in the petition. However, the interview may not be necessary in some cases. For example, a U.S. citizen petitioning for their child under the age of 21 living in the U.S. and having filed to adjust status may not need an interview.
Can a Beneficiary Work After Filing Form I-130?
Filing Form I-130 doesn’t give a beneficiary the right to work. However, it makes them eligible for filing Form I-765, Application for Employment, and Authorization Document to obtain a work permit.
Can My Family Member Travel to the US Before the Approval of I-130?
The beneficiary can travel to the U.S. on a tourist visa such as a visa waiver program or a visitor’s visa. However, they need to provide sufficient evidence to the immigration officials at the point of entry that they will leave the country before their visa expires. Otherwise, they may be denied entry into the United States.
Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative can be complicated to fill out. This is because it requires a lot of information and supporting documents. If you find it difficult to keep up with all the requirements of filing this form, you may seek help from an experienced immigration attorney or a filing service.