Immigration law and the processes it entails in the United States are complex. 

One particular type of form and approach to citizenship is called Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. This is something a relative of a U.S. citizen would complete to try and seek their own green card. The I-130 form is a way to establish a legitimate family relationship between the two parties. 

If you’re a citizen and you filed an I-130 for your spouse, it can take about a year and sometimes more for the case to progress. 

The following are some of the things to know about the I-130 petition and process. 

The Basics

When you submit a Form I-130, it’s the first step that you’re taking if you’re going to help a relative who’s eligible to immigrate to the U.S. and then get their green card. Filing or the approval of the petition doesn’t give your relative any actual benefit or immigration status. 

Instead, it’s something that the government and USCIS approve if they feel that you’ve appropriately established a relationship between you and the relative you’re filing on behalf of that would be a qualification to immigrate to America. 

After the petition is approved by USCIS, then typically, the relative can apply to become a Lawful Permanent Resident, meaning they’d get their green card. If the relative is already located in the U.S. and there’s an available visa, they might be eligible for their green card by filing Form I-485, which is the Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. 

Relationships That Qualify

If someone’s applying for a marriage visa, their I-130 petition is filed to show their marriage is legally legitimate, which is based on their marriage certificate. During this time, you would also start to submit documents that prove the authenticity of your marriage, like statements from joint bank accounts, photos together, or shared insurance documents. 

When you file the I-130 petition, you also establish a place in the line for the green cards that are available. 

If you’re a spouse, unmarried child under the age of 21, or you’re a parent of a U.S. citizen, you can skip this line. 

Otherwise, once your I-130 petition is received, your spot in the line is based on your priority date. That’s the date USCIS received your petition, and usually, petitions are processed in whatever order they’re received. 

Who Can File an I-130?

U.S. citizens can file this form for:

  • Spouses
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Siblings

If you’re currently a green card holder, you can file the petition only for your spouse and unmarried children. 

If you’re filing the form, you’re either known officially as a petitioner or a sponsor, and the person you’re filing for is the beneficiary. 

People who can’t file a Form I-130 include but aren’t limited to:

  • Grandparents, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts, or in-laws
  • Adoptive parents or an adopted child if the child was adopted after turning 16 years old
  • Biological parents if you obtained citizenship or became a green card holder through an adoption
  • A spouse if you weren’t both physically at your marriage ceremony
  • A spouse if you become a green card holder because of a previous marriage unless you’re currently a naturalized U.S. citizen or you’ve had a green card for a minimum of five years. 

The Required Documents

If you’re filing an I-130 petition, you have to include supporting documents since the goal is that you’re demonstrating and proving your valid family relationship with the person hoping to get a green card. 

The documents you might include would be something showing that there’s an existing legally valid relationship and no fraud. You might include proof of nationality for the person who is trying to get their green card and proof the sponsor is a citizen or holder of a green card. 

These could include the birth certificate of the sponsor, as one example. 

If there are required documents that are not available, you might be able to submit alternatives, which are called secondary evidence. 

What Happens After Approval?

After the Form I-130 is approved, then the beneficiary or the relative a sponsor applied on behalf of can then apply for their green card, and in certain circumstances, they may be eligible to apply right away. Otherwise, they might have to wait. 

There are a number of reasons that a Form I-130 could be denied, and if that’s the case for you, then you should receive a Form I-797 by mail, which is a Notice of Action. There are options to appeal if you think your denial was unfair or inaccurate.