Form I-130, Explained

Why File an I-130?

The first step in the family-based green card process is to submit Form I-130 (technically called the “Petition for Alien Relative”) to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The main purpose of this form is to establish that a valid family relationship exists between the sponsor and the person seeking a green card. In the context of a marriage-based green card, the I-130 petition is filed to prove that your marriage legally valid (based on a marriage certificate). This is also the phase in your marriage-based green card application process where you submit documents (for example, joint bank statements, joint insurance documents, and photos together) to prove that your marriage is real.

Filing the I-130 petition also establishes your place in line for an available green card. Unless you’re the spouse, parent, or unmarried child (under age 21) of a U.S. citizen (who get to skip the line entirely), your place in line is determined by your “priority date,” which is simply the date that USCIS received your I-130 petition. Typically, petitions are processed in the order that they are filed. Check out our article on How to Read the Visa Bulletin to learn more about the wait times for specific green card categories.

Who Can File?

U.S. citizens can file I-130 petitions for their spouses, children, parents, and siblings. Green card holders can file I-130 petitions for their spouses and unmarried children.

The person filing the I-130 petition is called the “petitioner” or “sponsor.”  This is the person who is the U.S. citizen or green card holder. The person seeking a green card is called the “beneficiary.”

Who Cannot File?

There are some eligibility exclusions that prevent the filing of an I-130 petition, even when the above family relationships exist. You cannot file an I-130 in order to sponsor any of the following relatives:

  1. An adoptive parent or adopted child, if the child was adopted after he or she turned 16 years of age.
  2. A biological parent, if you became a green card holder or obtained U.S. citizenship through adoption.
  3. A stepparent or stepchild, if the marriage that created the step relationship happened after the child turned 18 years old.
  4. A spouse, if you and your spouse were not both physically present at the marriage ceremony.
  5. A spouse, if you became a green card holder through a prior marriage to a U.S. citizen or green card holder—unless you are now a naturalized U.S. citizen, or you have been a lawful permanent resident for at least five years. 
  6. A spouse, if you married your spouse while he or she was part of any proceedings before an immigration court.
  7. Any relative, if USCIS has determined that this person married or attempted to marry purely to obtain a U.S. immigration benefit.
  8. A grandparent, grandchild, nephew, niece, uncle, aunt, cousin, or parent-in-law.

It is important to know that exceptions to some of the above exclusions do exist, and that you may be able to file an I-130 petition with additional supporting documentation in those situations.

How Much Does It Cost?

The government filing fee for an I-130 petition is $535. (For the full costs of the entire marriage-based green card process, click here.)

How Long Does It Take?

The processing time for your I-130 petition will depend on the family relationship and the USCIS office processing your form. For example, currently the processing time for I-130 petitions filed by U.S. citizens for their spouses is 6-8 months. (For the full timeline of the entire marriage-based green card process, click here.)

Where to File?

Where you should mail your I-130 petition depends on where you live and whether you are filing just an I-130 (officially a “standalone” I-130) or an I-130 along with an I-485 green card application (technically called a “concurrent filing”). USCIS provides a chart with all the different scenarios.

Supporting Documents

The I-130 petition needs to be filed with supporting documents to prove that the sponsor is allowed to file an I-130, and that a valid family relationship exists with the person seeking a green card. These supporting documents need to be included with a marriage-based I-130 petition:

  • Proof that the sponsoring spouse is a U.S. citizen or a green card holder (copy of birth certificate, naturalization certificate, valid U.S. passport, or green card)
  • Proof that a legally valid marriage exists (a marriage certificate showing the names of both spouses, the place of marriage, and the date of marriage)
  • Proof that the marriage is not fraudulent (for example, a joint lease, joint bank account statements, and pictures together)
  • Proof that any previous marriages for both spouses have been terminated (typically, a divorce document or death certificate for the previous spouse)
  • Proof of name changes for both spouses, if any (typically, a name change order)
  • Proof of the beneficiary spouse’s nationality (copy of birth certificate and passport)

Secondary Evidence

In the event that a required document is not available, you must submit alternative documents (officially called “secondary evidence”) so that USCIS can make a decision on your I-130 petition.

For example, if your birth certificate is not available, you can first obtain a statement from the government agency in your home country that is in charge of issuing birth certificates, certifying that your birth certificate is not available through them. You can then submit alternative documents to prove the facts of your birth—essentially, the date and place of your birth, and the names of your parents. Such documents might include baptism records, school records, or census records showing your date of birth, place of birth, and your parents’ names.

If none of the above alternative documents are available, you can submit written statements from at least two people who were alive when you were born, and have personal knowledge about the facts of your birth. These statements could be from your grandparents, uncles, aunts, or even family friends. Each statement should include the author’s full name, address, and date and place of birth; all the facts about your own birth (date, place, and names of your parents); and an explanation of how the author has personal knowledge of these facts. 

The I-130 petition is a very important first step in any green card application process that’s based on a family relationship. You should think of the I-130 as an opportunity to prove that your family relationship is valid and authentic.

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