If you are a U.S. citizen wishing to sponsor your foreign-born husband or wife for a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence), you will need to start the application process by filing a visa petition on Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative). You will mail this form (with accompanying documents and fee) to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
If your spouse is currently overseas, then only after the I-130 is approved will your spouse be able to move forward with the green card application, using a procedure called "consular processing".
Learn more about the application process and procedures for the immigrating spouse of a U.S. Citizen, see An Overview of Applying for a Marriage-Based Visa.
If your foreign-born spouse is already in the U.S. after a legal entry, he or she is likely eligible to "adjust status" (apply for the green card) at a USCIS office, without leaving the U.S. -- in which case you do not need to submit the I-130 and wait for its approval before submitting the adjustment of status application (I-485 and accompanying forms and documents). The two can be submitted to USCIS all at once, or "concurrently." However, physical presence in the U.S. is not enough, by itself, to make an immigrant eligible to adjust status. If, for example, your spouse entered the U.S. illegally, it is likely that he or she is NOT eligible to adjust status, but can only use the consular processing procedure and may need a waiver of past unlawful presence as well -- see a lawyer for assistance in such a case.
Click here to learn more about applying for the I-130 and I-485 forms at the same time.
We’ll go through the details of how to prepare and assemble the visa petition here. These instructions refer to the version of the form issued on 12/23/2016, expiring 7/31/2018.
Form I-130 is one of the most important ones in an immigrating spouse's immigration process. It will be the first opportunity to explain who each of you are, where you live, and why the immigrant qualifies for a U.S. visa and residence.
The first thing to notice about Form I-130 is that it runs in two columns (except for the tiny Part A near the top). The left column, or Part B, asks for information about the petitioner--that is, you, the U.S. citizen spouse. The right column asks for information about the immigrant, referred to as "your relative."
Question 1: Check the first box, "Spouse" (meaning husband or wife).
Question 2: This question, about whether you’re related by adoption, is meant for people who use this form to petition for an adopted child. We’re assuming you can answer this question “No.”
Question 3: If you, the petitioning spouse gained permanent residence through adoption (that is, immigrated to the United States before becoming a citizen), check Yes. But no matter which box you check, it won’t affect the application, since this question is mainly directed at people immigrating through parent/child relationships.
(Now we're looking at the left column.)
Question 1: The petitioning spouse must enter his/her last name (surname) in capital letters, but the first and middle name in small letters. For example, Samuel Louis Barnes would write BARNES, Samuel Louis. The spouse should use his/her current married name if it was changed at the time of your marriage.
Questions 2-5: Self-explanatory.
Question 6: This refers only to the petitioning spouse’s most recent marital status, so check married even if there was a previous divorce.
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 11: Add the names of any prior husbands and wives, for example where the relationship ended in annulment, divorce, or death.
Question 12: This question of when the U.S. spouse’s prior marriage ended is intended to make sure the current marriage is valid. If your prior marriage(s) ended after your present marriage began, yours is not a lawful marriage. If you've just discovered that the divorce wasn’t final when your marriage took place, it may not be necessary to run to a lawyer. Assuming that the divorce has since become final, you can simply correct the problem by remarrying.
Question 13: If the petitioning spouse is a naturalized U.S. citizen (meaning not born a U.S. citizen or granted the status via parents, but became one after an application and exam), this number can be found at the top right-hand side of the naturalization certificate. The date and place issued are also shown on the certificate.
Question 14: U.S. citizens can write N/A here.
Question 14b: If you check “yes” here, indicating that you received U.S. permanent residence through marriage, calculate how long it has been since your approval for permanent residence. A petitioning spouse who immigrated through marriage cannot petition a new spouse for five years, unless the first spouse died or the petitioning spouse can prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that the previous marriage was bona fide (real). USCIS is concerned that the first marriage was just a sham, with the long-term goal of getting both of you into the United States by piggybacking on a sham marriage. To prove that the first marriage was bona fide, enclose documentary evidence showing that you and the former spouse shared a life, such as shared rent receipts or a mortgage, club memberships, children’s birth certificates, utility bills, and insurance agreements. As for what makes for “clear and convincing” evidence, this is one of those legal standards that is easy to state but hard to pin down. The bottom line is, a spouse in this situation may have a hard time persuading a suspicious government official that the previous marriage was bona fide.
Part C: (Now referring to the immigrant beneficiary)
Question 1: Current name, with last name (surname) in CAPITAL letters.
Questions 2-5: Self-explanatory.
Question 6: Current marital status only, that is, “married.”
Question 7-8: Self-explanatory.
Question 9: The immigrant 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 the immigrant doesn’t have a Social Security number, just write N/A.
Question 10: The Alien Registration Number is an eight- or nine-digit number following a letter A that USCIS (or the formerly named INS) would have assigned to the immigrant if he or she had previously applied for permanent (or, in some cases, temporary) residence or been in deportation/removal proceedings. Of course, if that previous application was denied because the immigrant was inadmissible or lied on that application, call a lawyer before going any further.
Question 11: Self-explanatory.
Question 12: See advice to Question 12 on Part B, above.
Question 13: It is important to state whether the intending immigrant has been in the U.S., because certain types of negative immigration history may affect eligibility for a green card (or indeed any type of admission to the U.S.).
Question 14: Enter N/A if the immigrant is living outside the United States. If living inside the U.S., state how the immigrant arrived, for example as a visitor, H-1B worker, or on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). But if the arrival was "without inspection," consult an attorney immediately--the immigrant's accrual of unlawful presence in the U.S. is likely to make him or her inadmissible (ineligible for a green card) unless the immigrant qualifies for a waiver.
Question 15: State the employer’s name and address.
Question 16: If the immigrant has been placed in Immigration Court proceedings, see a lawyer, particularly if the case was lost.
Question 17: This is the continuation of Part C, so all questions still refer to the immigrant beneficiary. List only the immigrant's children, if any. This means all children, including any by previous relationships.
Question 18: Self-explanatory. Hopefully, the immigrant intends to live at the U.S. spouse’s address, or USCIS may raise questions.
Question 19: If the immigrant 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: If you have ever lived together, put the last address here. If not, write “N/A.”
Question 22: This question is only for immigrants who are already living in the U.S. and planning to apply for adjustment of status. See a lawyer if unsure whether the immigrant qualifies to use this application procedure. As a backup, you will also need to list the consulate in the immigrant's home country. USCIS will figure out which consulate your case will be sent to, based on where the immigrant lives and 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. (Note: You’d handle this question differently if applying for a K-3 visa, instead; K-3 applicants need to apply through the consulate in the country where the wedding was held or, if it was held in the U.S., in the country of the immigrant's residence.)
Part D: Other Information
Now we’re back to questions to be answered by the petitioning spouse.
Question 1: This refers to other petitions being submitted simultaneously, (for example, for children from this or other marriages), so that USCIS can process the petitions together.
Question 2: This question is meant to uncover the U.S. spouse’s history (if any) of petitioning other immigrants to come to the United States. As you can probably imagine, a petitioning spouse who has a history of short marriages to people whom he or she then helped to obtain green cards can expect a major marriage fraud investigation. Consult a lawyer before proceeding.
Part E. Signature of petitioner
The U.S. citizen, petitioning spouse signs here.
Part F. Signature of person preparing form if other than the petitioner.
If the immigrant or spouse is filling this application unassisted, write N/A here. A little typing assistance or advice from a friend doesn’t count; the only people who need to complete this line are lawyers or agencies who fill out these forms on others’ behalf.
The I-130 visa petition requires the U.S. citizen petitioner to submit supporting documents and payment along with the form. You are not finished with the visa petition until you have gathered: