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 what's called a visa petition. This is done on government Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative), which you will submit, with accompanying documents and fee, to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
If your foreign-born 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, they're 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." (Click here to learn more about doing this.) 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 they are NOT eligible to adjust status, but can only use the consular processing procedure and might need a waiver of past unlawful presence as well—see a lawyer for assistance in such a case.
We'll go through the details of how to prepare and assemble the I-130 petition here. These instructions refer to the version of the form issued 07/20/21.
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.
There's some important terminology to get used to. The "petitioner" is the U.S. citizen spouse, who is filing this petition on the would-be immigrant's behalf. The immigrant is referred to as "your relative" or the "beneficiary."
Part 1. Relationship
Question 1: Check the first box, "Spouse" (meaning husband or wife).
Questions 2-3: You can leave these blank, since they don't refer to spousal relationships.
Question 4: 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.
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: U.S. citizen's Social Security Number goes here.
Question 4: The petitioning spouse must enter their last name (surname) in 4.a, and first and middle names in 4.b and 4.c. Use your current married name if it was changed at the time of the marriage.
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, and which therefore might have made it onto paperwork that you will, now or later, be submitting to the immigration decision-makers.
Questions 6-8: Self explanatory.
Question 9: Although the U.S. government has promised to make more provision for applicants who don't identify with one gender or another, the form still doesn't have any options such as 'non-binary.' You will need to choose male or female.
Question 10: The address at which you receive mail. If this changes, be sure to advise USCIS, because you're going to be receiving 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.
Question 17: This refers only to your, the petitioning spouse's, most recent marital status, so check married even if there was a previous divorce.
Question 18: Enter the date that you and your immigrating spouse were legally married.
Question 19: Enter the place that you and your immigrating spouse were legally married. If, for example, you had an official at city hall perform the actual wedding and then went to a church for a later ceremony, you would enter the city hall location.
Questions 20-23: Add the names of your current spouse and any prior husbands and wives, for example where the relationship ended in annulment, divorce, or death. In questions 21 and 23, the 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 might not be necessary to run to a lawyer. Assuming that the divorce has since become final, you can simply correct the problem by remarrying.
Questions 24-35: Questions about your parents. Self-explanatory.
Question 36: 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 U.S., 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. Do not use the number that appears after "USCIS Registration No." The date and place issued are also shown on the certificate. For place of issuance, use the city and state where your oath ceremony took place, not the city and state of the USCIS field office where your application was filed, or your residence at the time. If you have a certificate of citizenship after gaining U.S. citizenship through a parent, the certificate number is on the top right-hand side (don't use the "USCIS Registration No."). The date of issuance is expressly stated on the certificate—don't use the date you became a citizen. The place of issuance will be the only city and state on the certificate, which is your residence at the time the certificate was issued.
Questions 40-41: You can 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," and put the applicable dates in Question 45.
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 questions refer to the would-be immigrant.
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 the immigrant if they 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 2: It's entirely possible that the immigrant has no USCIS online account number, in which case leave this blank.
Question 3: The immigrant won't have a Social Security Number until they've 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, leave this blank.
Question 4: The immigrant's current name. For the last name, use the married name if the immigrant changed it.
Question 5: This is for other names found on the immigrant's paperwork, including maiden name.
Questions 6-9: Self explanatory.
Question 10: USCIS is always on the lookout for marriage fraud or other forms of visa fraud, and is asking about prior visa petitions so it can check the immigrant's files on this.
Questions 11-16: Self-explanatory.
Question 17: Count up the number of times your immigrating spouse has been married, including this marriage.
Question 18: Current marital status should be "married."
Question 19: This should be a repeat of the date in Part 2, Question 18.
Question 20: Enter information about the place you were legally married.
Questions 21-24: The first spouse listed here should be you. Again, USCIS is looking for marriage fraud, or instances where the marriage isn't legal because one party is actually still married to someone else. See an attorney if you face issues in this area.
Questions 25-44: Again, the first family member listed should be you. After that, enter all the immigrant's children. Providing a complete list of children is important, in case the immigrant wishes to have them immigrate with too, or petition for them at any time in the future. Any names that were left out will likely lead USCIS to deny later petitions of this sort.
Question 45: Answer "yes" if the immigrant is currently in the U.S. or even if they've 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 U.S.), 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 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 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 U.S. received from the border/port officials and was placed in their passport. Now, however, it's 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's visa expired or expires. You must check the I-94 for the date when their right to remain in the U.S. legally ran out. "D/S" is usually only granted to students, and means "duration of status" (the length of time required to finish their studies).
Questions 47-50: Enter the number that the immigrant's home country put in his or her 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.
Question 53-56: If the immigrant has been placed in Immigration Court proceedings, 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.
Questions 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.
Questions 59-60: If you have ever lived together, put the last address here. If not, write "Never lived together" for Question 59.a.
Question 61: 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. Not everyone does.
Question 62: If the immigrant isn't in the U.S., or is in the U.S. 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. (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 5. Other Information
Now we're back to questions related to the U.S. citizen petitioning spouse.
Questions 1-5: This question addresses two potential issues. First, USCIS wants to know (for obvious reasons) 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. 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.
Questions 6-9: 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.
Part 6. Petitioner's Statement, Contact Information, Declaration, and Signature
The U.S. citizen, petitioning spouse must affirm that he or she understands and swears to the information in this petition, provide contact information, and sign here.
Part 7. Interpreter's Contact Information, Certification, and Signature
If you had help from a foreign-language interpreter in filling out the Form I-130, that person needs to fill in this section and sign it.
Part 8. Contact Information, Declaration, and Signature of Person Preparing This Petition 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.
Part 9. Additional Information
This provides added space, in case you need it to finish your answers to any of the questions.
The I-130 petition requires the U.S. citizen petitioner to submit supporting documents and payment along with the form. You are not finished with the petition until you have gathered:
After preparing and assembling all forms and other items (see USCIS's tips), you can either file it online or send the packet to the USCIS "lockbox" office for the region where you live. The address can be found on the USCIS 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.)
Soon after you submit the petition, you should get a receipt notice. If you filed by mail, this will come in a few weeks, 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). The receipt notice will tell you to check the USCIS website for information on how long the petition is likely to remain in processing.