Filling Out Form I-130 for Son or Daughter (Married or Over 21) of U.S. Citizen

How to prepare and mail in the initial I-130 petition on behalf of a U.S. citizen's adult or married child, to start the U.S. immigration application process.

By , J.D. · University of Washington School of Law

If you are a U.S. citizen, you might be able to petition for your foreign-born child or children who are married or age 21 or older (referred to as "sons or daughters" by U.S. immigration law) to immigrate to the United States and receive lawful permanent residence (green cards).

To start this process, you will need to prepare a visa petition on Form I-130, and submit it to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) with supporting documents and a fee. Form I-130 is available on the USCIS website for free download. This article describes how to fill out and submit that form.

Is Form I-130 the Only One Needed to Get a U.S. Citizen's Son or Daughter a Green Card?

Sorry to say, filing Form I-130 is only the first step in 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. Thus, depending on their "Priority Date" (the date when the I-130 was received by USCIS) they might 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. That means we need to refer back to the definition of a "child," which 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 a child before they turned 21 or married, and received USCIS approval of your Form I-130 visa petition? Do you need to start over with a new I-130 because the child is now in a different visa category?

Good news. You likely do not need to prepare another I-130. If your child turned 21, the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) might have "frozen" the child's age and allow them to continue with the immigration process as a "child." A child who subsequently married 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. Although it's rare, it happens, and can save you a lot of effort and money. 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 depends on various factors, 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 a son or daughter who is living abroad will have to wait until the I-130 is approved and their "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

When a would-be immigrant lives in the United States without authorization, it can be problematic for their ability to get a green card. Specifically, it 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

These instructions refer to the version of the form issued 04/01/2024.

Form I-130 starts by asking for information about the petitioner; meaning, you, the U.S. citizen. Later, it will also ask for information about the immigrant, referred to as the "beneficiary" or "your relative."

Part 1 - Relationship

Question 1: Check the fourth box along this row, for "Child."

Question 2 - 3: These questions concern whether you and your child are related by birth, a stepparent relationship, or by adoption. Select the appropriate box. Petitioning for an adopted child is an entirely different process than described here, however. See an immigration lawyer with any questions.

Part 2 - Information About You (Petitioner)

Question 1: 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 2: You might not have a USCIS Online Account Number (from a past application). If you don't, no need to worry, just leave this blank.

Question 3: The U.S. citizen's Social Security Number goes here.

Question 4: Enter your last name (surname) then your first and middle name.

Question 5: There's no need to mention personal nicknames, but do include any first or last names by which you have been commonly known (such as a maiden name) and which therefore might have made it onto paperwork that you will, now or later, be submitting to the immigration decision-makers.

Questions 6-9: Self explanatory. (Regarding Question 9, USCIS is working toward adding a non-binary gender option to its forms, but hasn't yet done so for the I-130. It's best to enter the gender shown on your birth certificate, then add any needed explanation in Part 9, Additional Information.)

Question 10: The address at which you receive mail. (If you're receiving it at someone else's house you can use the first, "in care of" line, but if not, leave this blank.) If your address later changes, be sure to advise USCIS, because you're going to be receiving some important documents by mail.

Questions 11-15: If your mailing address is different from the address where you live, check "no," and fill in Questions 12 and 13. If your current address is less than five years old, fill in Questions 14 and 15.

Question 16: Enter the number of times you have been married. If you have never been married, enter "0" for zero.

Questions 17-23: Enter your most recent marital status. If you are married, indicate the date of your current marriage and provide other details.

Information About Your Parents

Question 24-35: Self-explanatory. (USCIS collects this type of information in case it needs to do extra background checks on applicants.) If a parent has passed away, enter "deceased" in the boxes for city and country of residence.

Question 36 - 39: As a U.S. citizen, you should check the "U.S. citizen" box, then fill out the following questions (through Question 39). If you were born in the United States, you would not have a naturalization certificate or a certificate of citizenship. If you are a naturalized U.S. citizen (meaning not born a U.S. citizen or granted the status via parents, but became a citizen 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.

Questions 40-41: Leave these blank, because you are a U.S. citizen, not a green card holder.

Questions 42-49: Your work history. Mostly self-explanatory. If you aren't working, leave the employer entries blank, but under "Occupation" (Question 44) enter whatever is appropriate, such as "student," "stay-at-home parent," "self-employed," "disabled," or "unemployed."

Part 3, Biographic Information

These questions are still about you, the U.S. citizen filing the petition. They are largely self-explanatory.

Part 4: Information About Beneficiary

Now the form turns to questions about the adult or married child whom you wish to sponsor for U.S. immigration.

Question 1: 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 your immigrating child if the child 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 child was deemed inadmissible or lied on that application, call a lawyer before going any further.

Question 2: It's entirely possible that your child has no USCIS online account number. (This would be based on some past application, for instance if they spent time in the United States as a foreign student.)

Question 3: The immigrating child won't have a Social Security Number (SSN) until and unless they've lived in the United States and had a work permit, a visa allowing work, or U.S. residence.

Question 4: The immigrating child's current name.

Question 5: This is for other names found on the immigrating child's paperwork.

Questions 6-9: Self-explanatory.

Question 10: One purpose of this question is to find out whether a previous immigration petition for this same applicant was denied, so that USCIS can check the files for the reasons. But it's okay to have more than one visa petition filed for the same person at the same time by different people—for example, if the child's other parent is a U.S. citizen and wants to submit a petition also. This can be a form of insurance, in case one parent passes away before the process is done.

Question 11-16: Self-explanatory, mostly contact information.

Questions 17-44: These questions refer to the beneficiary's spouse and children, if any, who might (if the children are unmarried and under age 21) also be able to immigrate to the United States, as what are called "derivatives."

Beneficiary's Entry Information

Question 45: Answer "yes" even if the immigrant is not currently in the United States but has been here in the past. Certain types of negative immigration history can affect eligibility for a green card (or indeed any type of admission to the United States), so see an attorney if, for example, the immigrant overstayed a past visa or was placed in removal proceedings.

Question 46.a: If the immigrant is living inside the United States, 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 United States is likely to make them inadmissible (ineligible for a green card) unless the immigrant qualifies for a waiver.

Question 46.b: The I-94 number was formerly found on a card that entrants in the United States received from the border/port officials and was placed in their passport. Now, however, it's typically an online document, and you can get the immigrant's record and number from the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website.

Question 46.c: Enter the date the immigrant entered the United States.

Question 46.d: This is NOT the date the immigrant child's visa expired or expires. Check the I-94 for the date when your child's right to remain in the United States legally ran out. "D/S" is usually only granted to students, and means "duration of status" (or the length of their studies, which might stretch beyond the years initially planned).

Question 47-50: Enter passport information, starting with the number that the immigrant's home country put in their passport. Or, if the immigrant used some other type of travel document (such as parole or a refugee travel document), enter that number in Question 48.

Questions 51-52: State the immigrant's employer's name, address, and other information, if any. Or you could put "student" or "unemployed."

Question 53-56: If the immigrant has been placed in Immigration Court proceedings (before an immigration judge), see a lawyer, particularly if the case was lost. It's possible the immigrant is not eligible to file for a green card at this time.

Question 57-58: This needs to be filled in only for applicants from countries such as Russia, China, Korea, Japan, various Arab nations, or others that do not use Western "ABC" letters for their written language. You can leave it blank if your native language uses a Western style script.

Question 59-60: This question is only for spouses. When petitioning for a child, leave it blank.

Question 61: This question is only for immigrants who are already living in the United States and planning to apply for a green card via "adjustment of status." See a lawyer if unsure whether the immigrant qualifies to use this U.S.-based application procedure. Not everyone does qualify, and it's unlikely in most cases that they do, unless they have a long-term, valid visa.

Question 62: If the immigrant isn't in the United States, or is in the United States but can't use the procedure known as "adjustment of status," you will need to list the consulate in the immigrant's home country. USCIS will make the final decision on 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.

DO NOT fill out both Questions 61 and 62. You will confuse USCIS as to whether the applicant will be proceeding with adjustment of status or consular processing. The agency will have to make its best guess, which could lead to delays. If, for example, USCIS notices that your child lives in the United States and assumes they can adjust status, it won't send the I-130 approval to the National Visa Center (NVC) for consular processing, and no further action will be taken on the case (because USCIS will be waiting for your child to submit an adjustment of status application). You would need to file Form I-824, Application for Action on an Approved Application or Petition, with the appropriate fee, to get the approved petition transferred to the NVC.

Part 5: Other Information

Now we're back to questions related to the U.S. citizen petitioning parent.

Questions 1-5: These questions address two potential issues. First, USCIS wants to know whether you already tried to petition for this immigrant, but had the petition denied. Second, USCIS wants to know if you have any history of petitioning other immigrants to come to the United States. It will check the records on those, too, looking for fraud or other issues.

Questions 6-9: This gathers information on other petitions being submitted simultaneously, so that USCIS can process the petitions together.

Part 6. Petitioner's Statement, Contact Information, Declaration, and Signature

The U.S. citizen petitioner must affirm their understanding of this form and swear to the information within it, as well as provide contact information and sign here.

Part 7. Interpreter's Contact Information, Certification, and Signature

If you got help from a foreign-language interpreter in filling out the Form I-130, that person needs to fill in and sign this section.

Part 8. Contact Information, Declaration, and Signature of Person Preparing this Petition if Other Than the Petitioner

If you are 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 and sign the form are lawyers or agencies who fill out these forms on others' behalf.

Part 9. Additional Information

This provides added space, in case you need it to finish your answers to any of the questions.

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 are the father, you will need to submit proof of legitimation or a bona fide parent-child relationship.
  • Fees. The fee for an I-130 petition is $625 for online filings and $675 for paper filing. (Figures as of April 1, 2024. It's always a good idea to double-check fees on the USCIS website or call USCIS at 800-375-5283 for the latest amount.) You can pay by check, money order, or by filling out and submitting USCIS Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions.

Where to Send 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 if you plan to mail it. You then have a choice: You can either file it online or mail the whole petition package 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 USSCIS Form I-130

Soon after sending in the petition, you should get a receipt notice from USCIS. The notice will tell you to check the USCIS website for information on how long it is likely to remain in processing (expect months, at a minimum). 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 called a Request for Evidence (RFE) asking for it. (See How to Handle a Request for Evidence (RFE) From USCIS.)

Eventually USCIS will send an approval or a denial of the visa petition. This could 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 an immigrant visa (a green card) has already been set as of the date USCIS received the I-130 petition.

What Happens After USCIS Approves the Petition

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 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 United States and is eligible to adjust status here, the next step (after the Priority Date becomes current) is to file an I-485 application for adjustment of status. Your son or daughter, and perhaps you as well, might be called in for an interview at a USCIS office. See Adjustment of Status Procedures for more information.

What Happens If USCIS Denies the I-130 Petition

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 fix the reason USCIS gave for denying the I-130. But don't just refile the I-130 if you don't understand why the first one got denied. Instead, get an attorney's help.

Getting Legal Help With Your Family Visa Case

For personalized assistance with sponsoring a family member for U.S. lawful permanent residence, consult an experienced attorney. The attorney can be extremely useful in helping evaluate the immigrants' eligibility, preparing paperwork, and monitoring the case toward a successful conclusion. Many immigration attorneys charge flat fees, which makes this part of the expense predictable. (See Is It Better to Pay My Immigration Attorney a Flat Fee or Hourly?.)

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