If you are a U.S. citizen, you may be able to petition for your foreign-born children who are married or age 21 or older (referred to as “sons or daughters” by U.S. immigration law) to immigrate to the U.S. and receive lawful permanent residence (green cards).
To start this process, you will need to prepare and submit a visa petition on Form I-130, with supporting documents and a fee. Form I-130 is available for free download from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This article describes how to fill out and submit that form.
Note that filing Form I-130 only starts the immigration process for a U.S. citizen’s son or daughter. Such a person will be considered a “preference relative” (unlike, for instance, the spouse or unmarried child under 21 of a U.S. citizen, who is an “immediate relative”). Preference relatives, unlike immediate relatives, face annual quotas on the number of visas (green cards) given out, and thus may have to wait years after approval of their I-130 for a visa to become available and to continue with their green card application.
Who Qualifies as a U.S. Citizen’s “Son or Daughter?”
Sons or daughters for whom a U.S. citizen can petition using USCIS Form I-130 include those who once met the immigration law’s definition of a “child” (at I.N.A. Section 101(b)(1)) but who have since turned 21 or gotten married.
The definition of “child” includes:
- natural-born children born to married parents
- natural-born children born to parents who are unmarried – though if the father is the one filing the petition, he will need to prove that he legitimated the child or established a bona fide parent-child relationship, and
- stepchildren -- so long as the child was 18 or under when the parents married, and the parents are still married.
What if you started the immigration process for your child before he or she turned 21 or married, and received USCIS approval of your Form I-130 visa petition? You likely do not need to prepare another I-130. If your child turned 21, the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) may have “frozen” his or her age and allow him to continue with the immigration process as a “child.” If the child married, he or she will have simply shifted from being an immediate relative to a preference relative. You will need to let USCIS know of the change, and the child’s “Priority Date” (described below) will be the date upon which you initially filed the I-130.
Could the Son or Daughter Already Be a U.S. Citizen?
Before you prepare Form I-130, it’s worth checking whether the child is already a U.S. citizen, having become so automatically through your citizenship status. See “U.S. Citizenship by Birth or Through Parents” for more information.
How Long Will Your Son or Daughter’s Immigration Process Take?
How soon your son or daughter (married or over 21) will be able to immigrate after you submit the I-130 may vary, as follows:
- Married children of a U.S. citizen are considered “Third Preference” relatives. This category allots only 23,400 green cards per year, so your child will likely have to wait some years before a green card becomes available.
- Unmarried children age 21 or older of U.S. green card holders are considered “Second Preference” relatives, in subcategory 2B. This category allots only around 26,000 green cards per year, so your child will likely have to wait many years before a green card becomes available.
To better understand this preference system of green-card allotment, see “How Long Is the Wait for Your Priority Date to Become Current?”
Also realize that, if your son or daughter is living abroad, he or she will have to wait until the I-130 is approved and his or her “priority date” becomes current before starting the green card application. Approval of the I-130 confers absolutely no rights to live in the United States.
Issues If the Child Is Living in the U.S. Unlawfully
Living in the U.S. without authorization can lead to the person accruing “unlawful presence,” and thus becoming inadmissible and possibly ineligible for a green card, as described in "Consequences of Unlawful Presence in the U.S. -- Three- and Ten-Year Time Bars" and "The Permanent Bar to Immigration for Certain Repeat Violators."
See an immigration attorney immediately if your child is living in the U.S. unlawfully (after an illegal entry or the expiration of a visa or other authorized stay). Again, having an approved I-130 will not solve this by itself.
I-130 Form: Step-by-Step Instructions
Page one of Form I-130 shows two columns. The left column, or Part B, asks for information about the petitioner -- that is, you, the U.S. citizen. The right column asks for information about the immigrant, referred to as "your relative."
Question 1: Check the fourth box, Child.
Question 2 - 3: These questions concern whether you and your child are related by adoption. Petitioning for an adopted child is an entirely different process. See an immigration lawyer with any questions.
Part B- Petitioner’s Information:
Question 1: Enter your last name (surname) in capital letters (LIKE THIS), but your first and middle name in small letters.
Questions 2-5: Self-explanatory.
Question 6: This refers to your most recent marital status. For example, if you are currently married but previously divorced, just check "married."
Question 7: There's no need to mention personal nicknames, but do include any first or last names by which you have been commonly known, and which therefore might have made it onto paperwork that you will, now or later, be submitting to the immigration decision-makers.
Questions 8-9: Self explanatory.
Question 10: A U.S. citizen can put N/A here, even if you were once a lawful permanent resident and had an Alien Registration Number (known as an A-Number).
Question 11 and 12: Add the names of any prior husbands and wives, for example where the relationship ended in annulment, divorce, or death. Indicate the date the marriage ended.
Question 13: If you are a naturalized U.S. citizen (meaning you were not born a U.S. citizen or granted the status by virtue of your citizen parents, but became a citizen after an application and exam), this number can be found at the top right-hand side of your naturalization certificate. The date and place issued are also shown on the certificate.
Question 14a and 14b: U.S. citizens can write N/A here.
Part C- Beneficiary’s Information:
Now you will be answering questions about your immigrating child (the “beneficiary”).
Question 1: Your child’s current name, with last name (surname) in capital letters.
Questions 2-5: Self-explanatory.
Question 6: This refers only to the beneficiary’s most recent marital status. If your child is married (and immigrating in the Third Preference visa category), the spouse and children (unmarried, under age 21) may also be able to immigrate to the U.S., as “derivatives.”
Question 7-8: Self-explanatory.
Question 9: Your child won’t have a Social Security number until he or she has lived in the United States and had a work permit, a visa allowing work, or U.S. residence. If your child doesn’t have a Social Security number, write N/A here.
Question 10: The Alien Registration Number is an eight- or nine-digit number following a letter A that USCIS (formerly called INS) assigns to an immigrant based on an application for permanent (or, in some cases, temporary) residence or the person having been placed in deportation/removal proceedings. Of course, if your child had such a previous application denied based on being inadmissible or having lied on the application, or your child has been ordered removed from the U.S., call a lawyer before going any further.
Question 11 and 12: Self-explanatory.
Question 13: It is important to state whether the child has been in the U.S., because certain types of negative immigration history may affect eligibility for a green card (or indeed any other application for U.S. entry).
Question 14: Enter N/A if your child is living outside the United States. If living inside the U.S., state what visa status he or she legally entered in. If your child illegally entered the U.S., consult an attorney immediately – the child is likely inadmissible to the United States, which will make it impossible to get a green card anytime soon unless a narrow exception applies.
Question 15: If the child is currently in the U.S. on a legal work visa or work permit, state the employer’s name and address.
Question 16: If the child is or has been in immigration court (removal or deportation) proceedings, be sure to contact an attorney before filing Form I-130.
Question 17: This is the continuation of Part C, so all questions still refer to the immigrant beneficiary son or daughter. List all the immigrant's children (if any); they may be eligible to come to the U.S. and receive green cards as well, as derivatives. But no derivative category exists for the children of unmarried children under age 21.
Question 18: Self-explanatory.
Question 19: If your immigrating child is in the U.S. and no longer has an overseas address, write "N/A" here.
Question 20: If the immigrant's native language uses a non-Roman script (for example, Russian, Chinese, or Arabic), write the name and address in that script.
Question 21: This should be answered "N/A."
Question 22: This question is only for use when immigrants are already living in the U.S. and planning to apply for adjustment of status. See a lawyer if unsure whether the child qualifies to use this application procedure – it’s unlikely unless he or she has a long-term valid visa.
As a backup, you will also need to list the U.S. consulate in the immigrant's home country. USCIS will figure out which consulate the case will be sent to, based on where the child lives and which of the U.S. consulates in that country actually handle immigrant visas. If the country listed doesn’t have diplomatic relations with the United States, USCIS will locate one in a nearby country to handle your child‘s case.
Part D: Other Information (More questions for the Petitioner):
Question 1: This refers to other petitions being submitted simultaneously, (for example, if you are a U.S. citizen filing for your spouse as well, which you would need to do using a separate Form I-130), so that USCIS can process the petitions together.
Question 2: This question is meant to uncover the U.S. citizen petitioner’s history (if any) of petitioning other immigrants to come to the United States, just in case you’ve shown any patterns of suspicious use of the immigration laws.
You must sign the end of the application under Part E. If assisted by an attorney, he or she will sign under Part F, filling in the needed information.
Required Documents for Submission With the I-130
You will need to gather copies (not originals) of the following documents along with the signed forms and filing fees:
- Proof of U.S. citizenship. This will most likely require a copy of your birth certificate, passport, certificate of naturalization, or Form FS-20 (Report of Birth Abroad of a United States Citizen).
- Proof of your parent-child relationship: In most cases of blood-related children, all that you need to provide here are a copy of the child’s birth certificates listing you as the parent; and if you're the father, a copy of your marriage certificate showing your relationship to the child's mother. For a stepchild, you must also provide certificates showing your and your spouse's various marriages’ termination and formation. For a child born out of wedlock, if you’re the father, you will need to submit proof of legitimation or a bona fide parent-child relationship.
- Fees. The fee for an I-130 visa petition is, as of late 2013, $420. However, these fees go up fairly regularly, so double-check the USCIS website at www.uscis.gov or call USCIS at 800-375-5283 for the latest amount.
Where to File the Form I-130 Petition
After you, the U.S. citizen petitioner, have prepared and assembled all the forms and other items listed above, make a photocopy for your personal records. Then send the whole visa petition to the USCIS “lockbox” indicated on the website instructions for Form I-130.
The lockbox will process the fee payment, then forward the petition to a USCIS Service Center for further handling.
What Happens After Filing the I-130
A few weeks after sending in the visa petition, you should get a receipt notice from USCIS. The will tell you to check the USCIS website for information on how long the application is likely to remain in processing. Look for the receipt number in the upper left-hand corner, which you will need in order to check the status of the case online at www.uscis.gov. There, you can also sign up for automatic email updates about the case.
If USCIS needs additional documentation to complete the application, it will send you a letter asking for it. Eventually USCIS will send an approval or a denial of the visa petition. This may take a long time, but don’t worry – it won’t ultimately affect the case. The “priority date” establishing your son or daughter’s place on the waiting list for a visa has already been set as of the date USCIS received the I-130 petition.
If USCIS denies the petition, it will provide a denial notice stating why. Your best bet is most likely to start over and refile the application (rather than attempt an appeal), and fix the reason USCIS gave for denying the I-130. But don’t just refile it if you don’t understand why the first one got denied – instead, get an attorney’s help.
If USCIS approves the application, it will send you a notice and then forward the case to the National Visa Center (NVC) for further processing. Your son or daughter can expect to later receive communications from the NVC and/or consulate, and if and when the priority date has become current, to attend a visa interview there. See "Consular Processing Procedures" for more information.
If your immigrating son or daughter is living in the U.S. and is eligible to adjust status here, the next step (after the priority date, if any, becomes current) is to file an I-485 application for adjustment of status. Your son or daughter, and perhaps you as well, may be called in for an interview at a USCIS office. See "Adjustment of Status Procedures" for more information.