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 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.
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.
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. green card holder's 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—they don't refer to spousal relationships.
Question 4: 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 2. Information About You
Question 1: Enter the eight- or nine-digit A-number found on your U.S. permanent resident green card.
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: Your Social Security Number goes here.
Question 4: Enter your 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 6-9: Self explanatory.
Question 10: The address at which you receive mail. If this 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.
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 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.
Questions 24-35: Questions about your parents. Self-explanatory. If you don't have access to some pieces of information, you can say "unknown."
Question 36: Check the "Lawful Permanent Resident" box, then leave the following questions blank (through Question 39).
Questions 40-41: 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).
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 one filing the petition. They are largely self-explanatory.
Part 4. Information About Beneficiary
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 spouse 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 2: It's entirely possible that the immigrant has no USCIS online account number, in which case you can leave this blank.
Question 3: 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 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 immigration 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 him or her, or petition for them at any time in the future. Any names that were left out could lead USCIS to deny later petitions of this sort.
Question 45: Answer "yes" even if the immigrant is not currently in the U.S., but has been here in the past. Certain types of negative immigration history may 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," 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. 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 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 his or her right to remain in the U.S. legally ran out. "D/S" is usually only granted to students.
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, and it could be a number of years before your spouse's priority date becomes current and he or she is allowed to go forward with the green card application.
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: These questions address 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: These refer 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 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 and sign this section.
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 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.
The I-130 petition asks you to submit supporting documents along with the form, including:
After preparing and assembling all the forms and other items (see USCIS's tips), you can either file it online or send the packet by mail to the USCIS "lockbox" office for the region where you live. The mailing 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 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 send in the I-130 petition, you should get a receipt notice. If you filed by mail, this will come from 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 your spouse take the next step in the process, and apply for an immigrant visa or green card.