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:
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.
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 soon your child will be able to immigrate after you submit the I-130 may vary, as follows:
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.
This article discusses the version of the I-130 dated 2/27/2017, expiring 7/31/2018, but still in use as of early 2019.
There are several basic 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 Part 9 of the form (at the end).
Part 1. Relationship
Question 1: Check the fourth box, Child.
Question 2 - 3: These questions concern how you and your child are related. 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 2. Information About You
This section is to be filled out by the U.S. "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). Permanent residents will find this number on their green card.
Question 2: You might not have an online account number. Leave this blank if you don't.
Question 3: Enter your SSN.
Question 4: Enter your last name (surname) in capital letters, but your first and middle names in small letters.
Question 5: There's no need to mention personal nicknames, but do add 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 6-15: Self explanatory.
Question 16: Add up your marriages and enter the total here.
Question 17: This refers to your most recent marital status. For example, if you are currently married but previously divorced, just check "married."
Question 18: Enter the date you were legally married (the same date as should appear on your marriage certificate).
Question 19: ”Place” of marriage means the city and state or country that you were married in.
Questions 20-35: Mostly self-explanatory. 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.
Additional Information About You
Questions 36-41: Mostly self explanatory; you need to explain whether you are a citizen or a green card holder, and how you obtained that status. 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), your certificate number (for Question 39a) can be found at the top right-hand side of your naturalization certificate. The date and place issued are also shown on the certificate.
U.S. citizens can ignore items 40 and 41. 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.
Start with information about the job you have now, and work backward.
Part 3: Biographic Information
Self explanatory. Just remember, this still refers to you, the U.S. petitioner.
Part 4: Information About Beneficiary
Now you will be answering questions about your immigrating child. If that child is not now and has never been in the U.S., he or she probably won't have any of the numbers requested in Questions 1-3. Leave them blank.
Questions 4-9: Self explanatory.
Question 10: It's okay if other people have also filed visa petitions for the child, but USCIS wants to be able to cross-reference and track them.
Question 11: If the child's address is in the U.S., and the child has no immigration status, putting the address here has not, historically, led to any increased risk of arrest; though this could change.
Question 12: This is for the address where the child will live in the United States. This doesn't necessarily have to be with you, but it might raise questions if it's not.
Question 13-16: If your immigrating child is in the U.S. and no longer has an overseas address, you can leave most of this blank, but be sure to enter the child's email and phone numbers.
Questions 17-24: These refer to the beneficiary’s most recent marital status. To immigrate as a "child," your beneficiary must be unmarried at this time.
Questions 25-44: If your child has children, that information would go here. However, the young children might not be able to immigrate with your child as "derivatives." Consult an attorney.
Question 45: It's 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 46a: If your child is 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 46b: 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.)
Question 46c: Enter the date your child most recently arrived in the United States.
Question 46d: 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.
Questions 47-50: Self explanatory.
Questions 51-52: If the child is currently working, state the employer’s name and address and the date the work began.
Questions 53-56: 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 57-58: 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.
Questions 59-60: These can be left blank.
Question 61: 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 also need to answer the next question, about which city and country's U.S. consulate your child will go to apply for the visa, in case it turns out he or she really isn’t eligible to adjust status.
Question 62: List the capital city of the country where your child is from if you aren't sure which consulate is the correct one—USCIS will figure out the rest. If the country listed doesn’t have diplomatic relations with the United States, USCIS should locate a consulate in a nearby country to handle the case.
Part 5: Other Information
Now you're back to answering questions about you, the petitioner.
Question 1-5: These are 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 by USCIS (not whether the green card application was approved or denied).
Questions 6-9: These refer 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.
Don't forget to sign and enter the date and a number where you can be reached.
These sections need to be filled in only if you used an intepreter and an attorney, paralegal, or other person to fill out this form on your behalf.
Required Documents for Submission With the I-130
You will need to gather the following documents along with the signed forms and filing fees:
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. 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.
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. See Adjustment 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.