Every year, many U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents sponsor green card applications for their close family members who are foreign nationals. The first step in most family-based green card application processes is filing the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Form I-130, officially called the Petition for Alien Relative. USCIS uses this form to verify a real and qualifying relationship between the green card sponsor and the green card applicant. In this article, we discuss the purpose of Form I-130, who can and can’t file Form I-130, the Form I-130 filing fees, and how long it takes USCIS to process the form.
Written by Jonathan Petts.
Written May 25, 2022
What Is Form I-130 Used For?
The U.S. government offers family-based green cards, employment-based green cards, humanitarian green cards, and other special green cards. Each of these immigrant visa categories has its own application process. For family-based green cards, the first step in the application process is to file Form I-130 with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The U.S. citizen or permanent resident sponsor (petitioner) files Form I-130 on behalf of the family member (beneficiary) they wish to get a green card for. This form does two essential things:
Establishes that the beneficiary is the immediate relative of a U.S. citizen or a U.S. permanent resident
Establishes the beneficiary’s spot in line for a green card if they’re married to a U.S. permanent resident
When you (the sponsor) submit the form, you’ll have to add copies of supporting documents like marriage certificates and birth certificates to prove your family relationship with the family member you’re sponsoring. Eligible family members of green card holders need a “priority date” to submit a green card application. The priority date is the date when USCIS receives your Form I-130 petition and is a saved place in line for green card processing. The U.S. Department of State keeps an online monthly visa bulletin that shows when a priority date is “current”—that is, when the petitioner can finally submit their green card forms (Form I-485) for processing.
Priority dates do not apply to family members of U.S. citizens who can submit their green card forms at the same time as the I-130 or immediately after USCIS approves the I-130. Both family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents must have an approved Form I-130 petition to begin their respective processes. Read more about the Department of State’s visa bulletin with our guide.
Who Can File Form I-130?
U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents who want to register permanent residence for their immediate family members can file Form I-130 to begin the process. You can only sponsor a family member if they’re an immediate relative. Immediate relatives include spouses, parents, and children. Each relative you file for must have their respective Form I-130 petition.
Who Can’t File Form I-130?
If you’re not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, you can’t file Form I-130 on behalf of another person. However, even if you’re an American citizen or green card holder, not all of your family members may meet the eligibility criteria for green card sponsorship. You can’t sponsor a green card for these relatives:
Any family member who has committed visa fraud by marrying or trying to marry just for immigration benefits
Biological parents if you gained your U.S. immigration status through adoption
Adoptive parents or children adopted after they had turned 16 years old
Married children if you’re a U.S. permanent resident (green card holders can only sponsor their unmarried children)
Grandparents or grandchildren, nephews and nieces, aunts and uncles, cousins, parents-in-law
Stepparents who became your family after you turned 18 years old and stepchildren who became your family after they’d turned 18
Your spouse if both you and your spouse did not attend your marriage ceremony in person
Your spouse if you got your green card through a prior marriage and haven’t been a green card holder for at least five years or haven’t become a U.S. citizen by naturalization
Your spouse if you married them while they were in immigration court proceedings
When you submit your Form I-130, you will have to submit supporting documents to confirm that the family member you’re petitioning for does not fall under any of the disqualifying categories discussed in this section.
What Supporting Documents Do I Need To File With Form I-130?
Your supporting documents will have to fulfill two goals. First, they must show that you have valid U.S. permanent resident status or U.S. citizen status. Second, they must prove that you have a genuine family relationship with the person you’re sponsoring the green card for. If your supporting documents are in a foreign language, you’ll have to include a complete English translation with them. Generally, you’ll have to send in the following with Form I-130:
Proof of U.S. citizenship or permanent resident status of the petitioner, includes copies of your naturalization certificate, birth certificate, permanent resident card (green card), or U.S. passport
Proof that you and your foreign family member have a valid relationship, for example, marriage certificate, birth certificate
Proof of any name change of the petitioner or the foreign family member, for example, an affidavit
Passport-size photos of both the petitioner and the foreign family member that are not more than six months old
Form I-130 filing fees
The specific documents you send with your I-130 petition will depend on your immigration background and the family member you’re seeking permanent resident status for. For instance, the supporting documents you would send with an I-130 petition for your spouse will differ from those you’ll submit for your parents.
What If I Don’t Have the Required Supporting Documents for Form I-130?
If you don’t have the required original documents for your application type, you may be able to submit “secondary evidence” for them. If the U.S. government asks for documents but your home country doesn’t provide these documents, you can submit secondary evidence instead.
For example, some countries do not issue birth certificates. Still, for many family-based green card applications, you’ll need to submit a copy of your birth certificate with your Form I-130. In this case, you’ll have to submit a document that would play the same role as the birth certificate. You can check the State Department website to see which other documents from your country the U.S. government would accept as secondary evidence.
It could also help to get a letter from the issuing authority in your country stating that the original document you need is not available.
How Much Is the Filing Fee for Form I-130?
Most U.S. immigration application forms carry a government fee, and Form I-130 does too. For Form I-130, the government filing fee is currently $535. There are a couple of ways to pay the fee — by check or money order, or by credit card by filling out Form G-1450.
If you’re paying with a check or money order, you must make it payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security.” If you write it any other way, such as using the abbreviation DHS for example, the U.S. government will not receive your payment and will return your petition to you without processing.
If you can’t afford the filing fee, you could consider a couple of options for raising the money. Crowdfunding or borrowing a small loan from close friends or family could be helpful. Unfortunately, you cannot apply for a fee waiver for Form I-130.
Where Do I Submit Form I-130?
When your application materials are ready, it’s time to file your petition packet. You can submit Form I-130 either online or by mail. To submit your form online, you need to create a MyUSCIS account on the USCIS website. Make sure to keep your login information in a safe place that you can easily access. You’ll receive all updates on your application through your MyUSCIS account.
If you’re submitting your forms by mail, the USCIS office you send it to will depend on where you’re applying from and what kind of courier service you’re using. If you want to adjust status by applying from the United States and are filing Form I-130 non-concurrently (that is, on its own), your forms will go to either the USCIS Dallas lockbox or Phoenix lockbox, based on the state you live in. Please check out the USCIS direct filing address chart for the specific filing information.
If you are filing from the United States (adjustment of status) and are submitting Form I-130 together with Form I-485, you’ll have to mail your application to the USCIS Chicago lockbox. If you’re filing Form I-130 with no other application forms and you live outside the United States, you’ll mail your forms to the USCIS Dallas lockbox. You may also be able to file it with the nearest U.S. embassy or U.S. consulate abroad, with USCIS’ permission.
How Long Does It Take for Form I-130 To Be Approved?
Depending on your visa category, it can take anywhere from 5 months to even 20 years in some cases for USCIS to approve your I-130 after you successfully submit your petition.
Soon after you submit your I-130 petition, USCIS will mail a receipt notice to your address confirming that it has received your petition and will begin processing it. You can use the information on the receipt notice, precisely your receipt number, to track the status of your I-130 petition on the USCIS website.
Sometimes USCIS may experience processing delays. These are often due to processing backlogs at the USCIS service center handling your case. Sometimes, USCIS may delay your I-130 processing if you did not follow the Form I-130 instructions. For example, if you didn’t write your full name on the form or mailed your petition to the wrong filing address, USCIS will reject it. You’ll have to refile, increasing the application processing time for your case.
Green card applications can be complicated, but help is available. If you are eligible, our free web app will walk you through the Form I-130 process and help you prepare and file your application with the U.S. government. If our app isn’t a good fit or you just have immigration questions you need answered, you can speak with an independent attorney for just $24/month through our Ask an Attorney program.