If you are either a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident, you may be able to petition for your foreign-born children or stepchildren 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 legal definition of child is found in the immigration laws at I.N.A. Section 101(b)(1). It also includes adopted children (so long the child was under age 16 when adopted and met other legal conditions for a valid adoption). However, the process to petition for your 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 (with some exceptions for those turning 21) at the time they receive the green card.
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 His or Her 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 as ‘derivatives.” (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 subcategory 2A. This category allots only around 87,000 green cards per year, 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, if your child 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.
Form: Step-by-Step Instructions for Filling Out
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 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 using 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 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). Permanent residents will find this number on their green card.
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. 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) were approved for residence by USCIS.
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. To immigrate as a "child," your beneficiary must to unmarried.
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 being placed in deportation/removal proceedings. Of course, if your child had such a previous application denied because the immigrant 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 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 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 child. List all the immigrant's children (if any). Unfortunately, no derivative category of visa eligibility 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 or is the immediate relative of a U.S. citizen and entered the U.S. legally (even if the visa ran out).
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 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 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. 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 child’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 remedy the reason USCIS stated for the denial. But don’t just re-file if you don’t understand why the first one was 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 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. You and your child may be called in for an interview at a USCIS office. See "Adjustment of Status Procedures" for more information.