If you are either a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident, you may be able to petition for your children or stepchildren—if they are not already U.S. citizens—to immigrate to the U.S. and receive lawful permanent residence (green cards). You must start this process by submitting 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.
Who Qualifies as a Child?
Children whom you can petition for using USCIS Form I-130 include:
- natural-born children born to married parents
- natural-born children born to parents who are unmarried; though if the father is filing the petition, he will need to prove legitimation or 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.
The immigration laws have their own definition of “child.” An adopted child can be a “child” eligible to bring to the U.S. so long as the child was under age 16 when adopted and met other legal conditions for a valid adoption. However, in many cases the process to petition for an adopted child to receive a green card is different, and does not use Form I-130. See Adopting a Child From Overseas.
The children must be under age 21 and unmarried, both at the time you file the I-130 petition for them and at the time they receive the green card. There are some exceptions that might help children who turn 21 while waiting for a visa or green card—see How the CSPA Helps Family-Based Preference Relatives and Derivative Beneficiaries.
Could the Child Already Be a Citizen?
If you’re a U.S. citizen, then before you prepare Form I-130, you should check into whether your children have already become citizens, automatically. See U.S. Citizenship by Birth or Through Parents for more information.
Do You Need to File a Separate Form I-130 for Your Child If You’re Petitioning for the Other Parent as Well?
If you are a U.S. citizen petitioning for a spouse, and for your children with that spouse, you need to file separate Forms I-130 for each person. If, on the other hand, you are a lawful permanent resident petitioning for a spouse, and for your children with that spouse, you file a single Form I-130 for the spouse and include the children. (Don’t try to puzzle out the logic behind this—it’s a quirk of U.S. immigration law.)
If there is any chance that you might become a citizen before the immigration process is over, however, you might want to submit separate Forms I-130 for both your spouse and children now, to save the trouble later (when the fees will probably be higher, too).
How Long Will the Child’s Immigration Process Take?
How soon your child will be able to immigrate after you submit the I-130 may vary, as follows:
- Unmarried minor children (under age 21) of U.S. citizens are called “immediate relatives” by the immigration laws and are eligible for a green card just as soon as they can get through the application process.
- Unmarried minor children (under age 21) of U.S. green card holders are considered “Second Preference” relatives, in category F2A. This category allots only around 87,000 green cards per year, and lots of people want these visas, so your child will likely have to wait some 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 filing an I-130, and even approval of the I-130, confers absolutely no rights to live in the United States. If your child is in the U.S. and you’re a U.S. citizen, however, you can file the I-130 at the same time you file the child’s green card application. The filing of the green card application will allow the child to remain in the U.S. until the government makes a decision on the application. If you’re a green card holder, currently you can’t file the I-130 together with the green card application.
If your child is living abroad, he or she can’t come to the U.S. just because you filed the I-130 or had it approved. Your child will have to wait until he or she gets an “immigrant visa” to move to the U.S. permanently.
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 for Filling Out
This article discusses the version of the I-130 dated 3/23/2015, expiring 12/31/2015 but not yet replaced as of early 2016.
There are several general rules to follow when filling out an I-130. It’s best to fill out the form on your computer, but if you’re writing answers by hand, use a pen with black ink.
If you find that there’s not enough space to give a full answer to a question, give the answer on a separate sheet of paper and attach it to the form. Make sure you indicate the question you’re answering (for example, “Part C., Item 7”), and date and sign every extra sheet.
If the form asks for some information that you can’t possibly have, don’t just leave the space blank. If your answer is really “none,” such as when the form asks for a middle name and you don’t have one, write “none” in the space provided. When the form asks a question that does not apply to you, it will usually be obvious to USCIS (based on other answers on the form) that it does not apply to you, but sometimes not. To be safe, you should put “N/A” (meaning “not applicable”) so USCIS doesn’t think you forgot to answer the question.
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 or resident. The right column, Part C, 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. Again, you are allowed to petition for an adopted child, but most likely you need to use a different process. See an immigration lawyer with any questions.
Part B—Petitioner’s Information:
Question 1: Enter your last name (surname) in capital letters, but your first and middle names in small letters.
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.
Question 8: ”Place” of marriage means the city and state or country that you were married in.
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). Permanent residents will find this number on their green card.
Question 12: The date a marriage ends is the date of a spouse’s death, or if you got divorced, the date the judge signed the court papers that made your divorce final.
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. Permanent residents will find the date of admission on their green card. “Place of admission” is where you either entered the U.S. with your immigrant visa for the first time, or, if you adjusted status, the location of the USCIS office that was processing your application.
Part C—Beneficiary’s Information:
Now you will be answering questions about your immigrating child (the “beneficiary”).
Question 6: This refers only to the beneficiary’s most recent marital status. To immigrate as a "child," your beneficiary must be unmarried.
Question 9: Your child won’t have a Social Security number until he or she has lived in the U.S. 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 assigns to an immigrant when he or she applies for certain types of visas or other immigration benefits, or if the immigrant is being placed in deportation/removal proceedings. Of course, if your child had such a previous application denied because he or she was inadmissible or lied on the application, or your child has been ordered removed from the U.S., call a lawyer before going any further.
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 unless a narrow exception applies.
The “I-94” arrival/departure record number was created when your child entered the U.S. or changed status within the United States. If your child doesn’t have a little white I-94 card stapled in his or her passport (they stopped doing this in May 2013 for people arriving by plane or ship), or attached to an approval notice when he or she changed status, you can search for the I-94 number online at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov. (Some persons, such as Canadian tourists driving across the border, do not have I-94s created for them.) The date your child’s authorized stay expired or will expire is shown on the I-94. Write “D/S”—for “duration of status”—if your child was admitted on a student visa or exchange visitor visa with no specific end date.
Question 15: If the child is currently in the U.S., state the employer’s name and address. It is probably not necessary to provide this information if your child is not in the U.S., but to be safe you should provide it anyway.
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 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 should be answered only if your child is already living in the U.S. and planning to apply for adjustment of status. (Put “N/A” and skip to Part D otherwise.) See a lawyer if unsure whether your child qualifies to adjust status. As a backup, you will also need to list the city and country where your child will go to apply for the visa, if it turns out he or she really isn’t eligible to adjust status. If you don’t know exactly where the consulate is, just list the capital city of the country where your child is from—USCIS will figure out which consulate the case will be sent to, based on which of the State Department'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 a consulate in a nearby country to handle the case.
Part D: Other Information (More questions for you):
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 your history (if any) of petitioning other immigrants to come to the United States. For place of filing, you can use the city and state you were living in when you filed the petition. The “result” is whether your petition was approved or denied (not whether the green card application was approved or denied).
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 the following documents along with the signed forms and filing fees:
- Proof of U.S. citizen or permanent resident status. This will most likely require a copy of your birth certificate, passport, certificate of naturalization, Form FS-20 (Report of Birth Abroad of a United States Citizen), green card, or your passport stamped with an I-551.
- 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 with the child's mother. For a stepchild, you’ll also need to 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’ll need to provide proof of legitimation or a bona fide parent-child relationship.
- Fees. The fee for an I-130 visa petition is, as of early 2016, $420. However, fees go up from time to time, so double-check the USCIS I-130 web page or call USCIS at 800-375-5283 for the latest amount.
Where to File the Form I-130 Petition
After you, the U.S. 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 thewebsite instructions for Form I-130. Note that there is a different address if you are filing the I-130 together with the child’s green card application.
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. 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 and give you a deadline for responding.
You can expect it to take anywhere from a few months to a year for USCIS to make a decision on your I-130.
If you filed the I-130 together with your child’s green card application and USCIS finds no problem with the I-130, you won’t get a separate notice telling you the I-130 has been approved—USCIS will begin taking action on the green card application. If you file the I-130 by itself, you’ll get a notice telling you that USCIS either approved it, is going to deny it (you might get a chance to convince USCIS not to deny it), or denied it.
If USCIS approves the application, it will forward the case to the National Visa Center (NVC) for further processing (unless you said on the I-130 that your child was going to adjust status). Your child 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 on this procedure.
If your immigrating child 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, if you didn’t already do that at the same time you filed the I-130. You and your child may be called in for an interview at a USCIS office. SeeAdjustment of Status Procedures for more information.
If USCIS denies the I-130 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 remedy the reason USCIS stated for the denial. But don’t just refile if you don’t understand why the first one was denied—instead, get an attorney’s help.