Preparing an I-130 Visa Petition for the Immigrating Spouse of a U.S. Permanent Resident
Step-by-step instructions for the green card holding sponsor of an immigrant spouse of a U.S. Permanent Resident.
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If you are a U.S. permanent resident (green card holder) married to a citizen of another country, and want to petition for your spouse to receive a U.S. immigrant visa or green card, the first step in the application process will be for you to send a visa petition—Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative and attached documents—to an office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This petition asks USCIS to acknowledge your marriage and allow the immigrant to go forward with visa or green card processing.
Approval of the visa petition does not mean the immigrant is guaranteed approval of a visa or green card, however. Like every immigrant, your spouse will eventually have to file his or her own, extensive immigrant visa or green card application. At that time, the immigration authorities will take a hard look at your spouse's health, background, financial situation, and other factors that might disqualify him or her from entering the U.S. or receiving permanent resident status.
If you have a criminal record, see an attorney. Under the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who have been convicted of any “specified offense against a minor” are prohibited from filing a family-based immigrant petition on behalf of any beneficiary (whether a child or not). USCIS will run security checks on all petitions and may call you in for fingerprinting. If the petitioner has a conviction for one of the specified offenses against a minor, then the petition will not be approved unless USCIS determines that the U.S. petitioner poses no risk to the beneficiary.
Filling Out Form I-130
Form I-130 is available as a free download on the USCIS website at www.uscis.gov. This article discusses the version of the form dated 3/23/2015, expiring 12/31/2015. As of early 2016, USCIS has not issued a newer version of the form.
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. Put your Alien Registration Number on the extra sheet as well.
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.
The first thing to notice about page one of 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—we are assuming that’s you. The right column, Part C, asks for information about your foreign-born spouse, referred to as the relative. Now for the questions.
Question 1: Check the first box, Spouse.
Question 2: This question, about whether you’re related by adoption, is meant for people who use this form to apply for an adopted child. We’re assuming you can answer this question “No.”
Question 3: If you gained permanent residence through adoption, 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.
Part B (About you, the permanent resident)
Question 1: You must enter your last name (surname) in capital letters, but the first and middle name in small letters. For example, Samuel Lawrence Renfrew would write RENFREW, Samuel Lawrence. Use your current married name if it was changed at the time of your marriage.
Question 6: This refers only to your most recent marital status. Check “Married,” even if there was a previous divorce.
Question 8: The “place” of your marriage is the city and state, or city and country, where you got married.
Question 10: Enter the eight- or nine-digit A-number found on your U.S. permanent resident green card.
Question 12: There’s a reason for this question: If your prior marriage(s) ended after your present marriage began, yours is not a lawful marriage. If you have 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. (If there was fraud involved in your hasty marriage, consult a lawyer.) The date your previous marriage ended, if your prior spouse died, would be the date of death. If your previous marriage ended by divorce, the date would be the date the judge signed the divorce judgment.
Question 13: Leave blank, since you are not yet a U.S. citizen.
Question 14a: The information requested here is usually on the back of the older-style green cards. The date of admission is on the front of the newer-style ones. The date on the older cards usually starts with the year, so that Dec. 3, 1998 would be 981203. The city is in code on the old type of card: for example, SFR is San Francisco, BUF is Buffalo, and LIN is the Service Center in Lincoln, Nebraska. It's not shown on the new style card; simply state where you were approved for permanent residence. If you adjusted status, that would be the location of the USCIS office that was handling your case. If you came to the U.S. with an immigrant visa, the place of admission is the U.S. city where your plane first landed. Class of Admission asks for the type of immigrant visa (check your visa for the code) or basis for your permanent residence (check your green card if you don’t remember).
Question 14b: If you yourself immigrated through marriage, you cannot petition for a new spouse for five years, unless the first spouse died or you 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 you and your new spouse into the U.S. by piggybacking on a sham marriage. To prove that the first marriage was bona fide, you should enclose documentary evidence showing that you and your former spouse shared a life, such as shared rent receipts, club memberships, children’s birth certificates, utility bills, and insurance agreements. Will USCIS find this evidence to be “clear and convincing”? Unfortunately, this legal standard is easy to state but hard to pin down or apply. The bottom line is that you have a lot of proving to do to persuade a suspicious government official that the previous marriage was bona fide.
Part C: (Now referring to the immigrating spouse)
Question 8: This should of course match the answer to Question 8 in Part B.
Question 9: If the immigrant doesn’t have a Social Security number, just write “None.” He or she probably wouldn’t have a Social Security number without having lived in the U.S. with either a work permit, a visa allowing work, or U.S. residence.
Question 10: The Alien Registration Number is an eight- or nine-digit number following a letter A that USCIS will assign to many types of immigrant applicants. Your spouse won’t have one yet unless he or she previously applied for permanent or, in some cases, temporary residence; or has been in deportation/removal proceedings. (Of course, if the previous application was denied because your spouse was inadmissible or lied on that application, call a lawyer before going any further.) If your spouse has never been assigned an A number, write “None.”
Questions 11 and 12: See advice to Questions 11 and 12 in Part B, above.
Question 14: Enter N/A here if the immigrant is living outside the United States. If the immigrant is living in the U.S., you will need to state what type of visa he or she entered on, or give the descriptive term (like student, visitor, etc.).
The “I-94” arrival/departure record number was created when your spouse entered the U.S. or changed status within the United States. If your spouse 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 spouse’s authorized stay expired or will expire is shown on the I-94 (or I-95 if he or she entered on a crewmember’s visa). Write “D/S”—for “duration of status”—if your spouse was admitted on a student visa or exchange visitor visa with no specific end date.
Don't attempt to lie here if your spouse entered illegally—he or she will ultimately need to prove legal entry, with a copy of the I-94 created or given at entry. Unfortunately, an unlawful entry to the U.S. will make it difficult if not impossible for him or her to obtain a green card. See an immigration lawyer for a full personal analysis.
Question 15: It is probably not necessary to provide this information if your spouse is not in the U.S., but to be safe you should provide it anyway.
Question 16: If your spouse has ever been placed in immigration court proceedings in the U.S., see a lawyer, particularly if the case was lost.
Question 17: This is the continuation of Part C, so all questions still refer to your spouse. List all his or her children, including any by previous relationships.
Question 18: Hopefully, the address will be the same as yours if your spouse is in the U.S., or USCIS may raise questions. If your spouse is not in the U.S. and you’re not sure where you might live when your spouse comes to the U.S., use your current address.
Question 19: Enter N/A if your spouse is in the U.S. and is not keeping a foreign address. Some people in the U.S., such as students, must be maintaining a foreign address, so they should put that address here, even if they don’t plan on going back.
Question 20: If your spouse's native language uses a non-Roman script (for example, Russian, Chinese, or Arabic), you’ll need to write the name and address in that script here (or find someone else to do it).
Question 22: This question should be answered only if your spouse 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 you’re unsure whether your spouse will qualify to adjust status. As a backup, you will also need to list the city and country where your spouse would go to apply for the visa, if it turns out he or she really isn’t eligible to adjust status. This should be in your spouse’s country of citizenship. If you don’t know exactly where the consulate is, just list the capital city of the country—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
Now we’re back to questions to be answered by you, 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. Enter the children’s names here.
Question 2: This refers to previously filed petitions—which may include petitions for other spouses. 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).
As you might imagine, if you have a history of short marriages to people whom you helped get green cards, USCIS may initiate a marriage fraud investigation, and you should see a lawyer.
Signature of Petitioner: You, the petitioning spouse, sign here.
Signature of person preparing this form if other than above. If you are preparing your own application, you can leave this blank. A little typing assistance or advice from a friend does not count—the only people who need to complete this line are lawyers or agencies that fill out these forms on other peoples’ behalf.
Documents to Accompany Visa Petition
The I-130 visa petition asks you to submit supporting documents along with the form, including:
- Proof of your U.S. permanent resident status. To prove permanent residency, make a copy of your green card (front and back). If your green card hasn’t yet been issued, make a copy of the stamp placed in your passport indicating permanent residence.
- Form G-325A; one for each of you. The information you and your spouse supply on this form will allow the U.S. government to check your backgrounds. Most of the form is self-explanatory. USCIS allows you to leave portions blank (except your name and signature) if you already provided the information on your I-130. If you really can’t remember or are unable to find out the information asked for, enter whatever you can remember. Alternately, you can simply say “unknown,” but if you overuse the “unknowns” USCIS may return your entire application for another try. If your spouse is overseas and it would be difficult for her to send a signed G-325A to you for filing with USCIS, you can submit an unsigned G-325A and your spouse can submit a signed version when he or she goes to get the immigrant visa.
- Photos. You and your spouse must each submit a color passport-style photo, 2 × 2 inches in size, taken within the past six months, showing your current appearances. However, USCIS regulations permit your spouse to submit a photo that doesn’t completely follow the instructions if he or she lives in a country where such photographs are unavailable or are cost prohibitive.
- Fees. The fee for an I-130 visa petition as of early 2016 was $420. However, fees go up from time to time, so double-check this on the USCIS I-130 web page, or by calling USCIS at 800-375-5283.
After preparing and assembling all the forms and other items (see USCIS’s tips), you must send the packet to the USCIS “lockbox” office for the region where you live. The address can be found on the USCIS web page containing direct filing addresses for I-130s. If you use the U.S. Postal Service, certified mail with a return receipt is the safest way to send your petition
If you live outside the U.S. or its territories, contact the nearest U.S. consulate about where to send the visa petition. (And be aware that making your home outside the U.S. can cause you to lose your U.S. permanent residency.)
What Happens After Sending in Form I-130 Visa Petition
A few weeks after you send in the visa petition, you should get a receipt notice from a USCIS Service Center (a different office from the lockbox to which you sent the I-130—the lockbox will have forwarded the file to a USCIS Service Center). The receipt notice will tell you to check the USCIS website for information on how long the application is likely to remain in processing.
In a way, how long your I-130 petition spends in processing doesn’t matter. As soon as the petition is received by USCIS, you have established your spouse's place in line (known as his or her Priority Date). And no matter when the petition is approved, your spouse will have to wait until a visa becomes available in the category of spouses of U.S. permanent residents (F2A). Only when the Priority Date is current can he or she take the next step in the process, and apply for an immigrant visa or green card.
See below for a sample approval notice, showing the immigrant's Priority Date: