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Form I-130 , Petition for Alien Relative – Complete Guide

I-130 Form, Petition for Alien Relative – Complete Guide

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Last updated: April 4, 2024.

By Asel Williams, Esq. · Columbia Law School · Licensed immigration attorney

Form I-130 is a USCIS immigration form is used to prove a relationship with an eligible relative who wishes to apply for permanent residency (green card).

Officially called “Petition for Alien Relative,” the filing of Form I-130 is the first step in a family member’s immigration process.

The USCIS will approve your I-130 petition if you can show a valid relationship with your sponsored relative.

Once approved, your family member can apply for a permanent residency that allows them to live and work in the U.S.

The filing and approval of your I-130 petition does not automatically offer immigration status or benefits.

Your sponsored family member must complete the immigration process to become a lawful permanent resident:

Who Files Form I-130?

Form I-130 can only be filed by a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (green card holder).

And you must file a separate form for each eligible family member you seek to sponsor.

Who Qualifies as an Eligible Family Member?

If you are a U.S. citizen, you can sponsor:

If you are a lawful permanent resident, you can sponsor:

No other relatives may be included in an I-130 petition.

Sponsoring grandparents, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, etc. isn’t allowed.

I-130 Application Fee

Form I-130 filing fees:

  • $625 (if filing online), or
  • $675 (if filing by mail)

For each I-130 form submitted, a separate filing fee is charged.

This fee is nonrefundable regardless of the outcome of your petition.

This fee is subject to change. You can check the current Form I-130 fee on the USCIS website.

How USCIS Processes I-130 Applications

The USCIS processes all I-130 petitions in the order they are filed.

Once an I-130 application is filed, USCIS will mail you Form I-797C (Notice of Action).

Keep this I-797C notice in a safe place because it will contain your receipt notice which used to track the case status online.

Form I-130 Processing Time

Now long it takes USCIS to approve an I-130 petition depends on many factors:

  • How close or distinct your family relationship is under USCIS’s classification;
  • Whether the relative is currently inside the United States or abroad; and
  • Which USCIS office is processing the application.

For applications from U.S. citizens sponsoring an immediate relative currently living in the United States, it usually takes between 11 and 13 months for approval.

For applications sponsoring other family relatives living outside the United States, the U.S. limits the number of visas available.

When the allotted number of visas are depleted, visa applicants are placed on a list until a visa becomes available.

This, for family relatives living abroad, it may take months to several years for approval.

Learn more: How to Read the Visa Bulletin for Family-Based Immigrants

Form I-130 Processing Time

Form typeApplication centerProcessing time
U.S. citizen filing for a spouse, parent, or child under 21Nebraska Service Center12.5 Months to 16 Months
Potomac Service Center7 Months to 9 Months
Texas Service Center5 Months to 7 Months
Vermont Service Center17.5 Months to 22.5 Months
Permanent resident filing for a spouse or child under 21California Service Center8.5 Months to 11 Months
Nebraska Service Center20.5 Months to 26.5 Months
Potomac Service Center1 Week to 7 Months
Texas Service Center5 Months to 7 Months
Vermont Service Center17 Months to 22.5 Months
U.S. citizen filing for an unmarried son or daughter over 21California Service Center56.5 Months to 73.5 Months
Nebraska Service Center12.5 Months to 16 Months
Potomac Service Center7 Months to 9 Months
Texas Service Center5 Months to 7 Months
Vermont Service Center58.5 Months to 76 Months
Permanent resident filing for an unmarried son or daughter over 21California Service Center53.5 Months to 69.5 Months
Nebraska Service Center20.5 Months to 26.5 Months
Potomac Service Center1 Week to 7 Months
Texas Service Center5 Months to 7 Months
Vermont Service Center56.5 Months to 73.5 Months
U.S. citizen filing for a married son or daughter over 21California Service Center92.5 Months to 120 Months
Nebraska Service Center12.5 Months to 16 Months
Potomac Service Center7 Months to 9 Months
Texas Service Center5 Months to 7 Months
Vermont Service Center88 Months to 114 Months
U.S. citizen filing for a brother or sisterCalifornia Service Center104.5 Months to 136 Months
Nebraska Service Center12.5 Months to 16 Months
Potomac Service Center7 Months to 9 Months
Texas Service Center5 Months to 7 Months
Vermont Service Center99 Months to 129 Months

Form I-130 Checklist of Required Documents

The following documents must be submitted with Form I-130 petition:

Evidence of the sponsor’s U.S. citizenship, lawful permanent residence, or U.S. national status:

  • A copy of a birth certificate showing birth in the United States;
  • A copy of naturalization citizenship certification issued by the USCIS or the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS);
  • A copy of Form FS-240 (Consular Report of Birth Abroad) issued by a U.S. Embassy or Consulate;
  • A copy of an unexpired U.S. passport;
  • An original statement from a U.S. consular official stating U.S. citizen with a valid passport; or
  • A copy of the front and back of a Permanent Residence Card (also known as a green card or a Form I-551).

Evidence of family relationship with one or more of the following:

  • Spouse: A copy of the marriage certificate and evidence that spouse terminated any earlier marriage (if applicable);
  • Child: A copy of the child’s birth certificate;
  • Parent: A copy of your birth certificate confirming the identity of your parent; or
  • Brother or sister: A copy of your birth certificate and a copy of your sibling’s birth certificate.

If petitioning for a spouse, evidence of a lawful marriage:

  • Document showing dual ownership of property;
  • A lease showing joint residency;
  • A document showing joint financial assets;
  • A birth certificate showing the birth of a child together;
  • A notarized affidavit form from someone swearing to legal marriage;
  • Any other document showing a lawful marriage; or
  • Other evidence establishing marriage (wedding photographs, gift receipts, vacation receipts, emails, text messages, phone calls, etc.).

Learn more: Form I-130 Checklist of Required Documents

After I-130 Application Has Been Approved

Receiving news that your I-130 application has been approved is good news.

But it’s only the first of the many I-130 process steps.

U.S. immigration law places family-based immigrants into two categories.

These categories directly impact the process you use, and how long it will take for your family member to get a visa. 

Immediate Relative Category

Your sponsored family member will be placed in the “Immediate Relative Category if they are:

  • A spouse of a U.S. citizen;
  • An unmarried child of a U.S. citizen under 21 years of age;
  • An orphan adopted abroad by a U.S. citizen;
  • An orphan adopted in the United States by a U.S. citizen; or
  • A parent of a U.S. citizen over 21.

Family Preference Category

Unlike the Immediate Relative Category, theFamily Preference Category is available for families seeking to reunite who have a more distinct relationship.

Applicants falling into this category do not have a visa available immediately upon I-130 approval but must wait until a visa becomes available.

Your sponsored family member will be placed in the Family Preference Category if they are:

When you receive USCIS approval of your I-130 petition, the next step depends on:

  • The category your family member falls into; and
  • Whether the sponsored family member is inside or outside the United States

Learn more: How to Read the Visa Bulletin for Family-Based Immigrants

Immediate Family Inside the United States

Generally, persons falling into the Immediate Relative Category living in the United States have the option to “adjust status” to a permanent resident by filing Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residents or Adjust Status).

The question that often arises is, “When to file I-485 after I-130?”

For persons in the Immediate Relative Category, there is no waiting for I-130 approval.

They can file Form I-485 with the sponsoring I-130 application (concurrently), while the application is pending, or after the application has been approved.

For persons in this Immediate Family Category, a visa is always immediately available to them so they don’t have to wait, once your I-130 application is approved, their visa is available.

Immediate Family Outside the United States

For a family member in the Immediate Relative Category who lives outside the United States, after USCIS approves the I-130 application, your I-130 file will be sent to the National Visa Center (NVC) for processing. 

Before the NVC, the steps you will follow are: 

  • Pay Fees – Your sponsored family member will be required to pay the Immigration Visa Application Fee and Affidavit in Support Fee;
  • Submit Immigration Visa Application – Your sponsored family member will be required to complete and submit Form DS-260 online; and
  • Provide Documents to the NVC – Your sponsored family member will be required to upload various financial and civil documents to the National Visa Center.

You can expect this process to take up to 1 month.

Once NVC is satisfied that all documents have been submitted and all fees have been paid, your sponsored family member will be scheduled for an interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Family Preference Outside the United States

In most cases, individuals in the Family Preference Category use consular processing to apply for their green card.

In consular processing, the visa applicant is processed and interviewed through a U.S. Embassy or Consulate instead of a USCIS office.

Due to the limited number of visas available in this category, the wait for a visa can take several years.

The approved I-130 file will stay with the NVC until your sponsored family member’s case begins the review process.

Related Links:

Form I-130 Instructions

Form I-130 checklist

How to fill out Form I-130

Family-Based Immigration: Immediate Relatives and the Preference System