The I-130 Petition: Information for Family Sponsors

Filing the initial USCIS petition that starts a family member's immigration and green card application process.

By , Attorney · University of San Diego School of Law

Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, is a well-known application form used by U.S. immigration officials to process family-based immigrant visa petitions. It can be used by U.S. citizens and permanent residents wishing to sponsor relatives so that they can become U.S. permanent residents. The form I-130 starts off the process (though there will be many more steps ahead).

As with all aspects of U.S. immigration, there are a few easily missed details about the I-130 petition that can make or break your application. This is an overview of some of the more important issues you should note.

You can download the form from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and should use it as a reference while you read this overview.

Is Form I-130 the Only One I Need to File for My Immigrating Relative?

Not exactly. In fact, Form I-130 is really only one the beginning of the process of securing permanent residence for a relative, though many of the forms are technically supposed to be completed by the immigrant, not the U.S. petitioner.

Applying for permanent residence requires two main steps:

  1. a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident files an immigrant petition, using Form I-130, on behalf of a relative who has one of the qualifying relationships to the petitioner under U.S. law, and
  2. if that I-130 petition is approved by USCIS and a visa number has become available (there's a waiting list in some categories, based on the date one applied, called the priority date), then the qualifying relative (the "beneficiary") applies for permanent residence either at a U.S. consulate or through a process called "adjustment of status" if already in the U.S. and eligible to use this application procedure.

Even if USCIS approves the I-130 petition, that on its own does not confer permanent residence, nor any right to live or work in the United States while awaiting it. The approval does confirm that U.S. immigration officials recognize that you and your relative have one of the qualifying familial relationships necessary for family-based permanent resident sponsorship to go forward.

In some cases, you might need to file separate I-130s for each qualifying relative you intend to sponsor. In others, where "derivative" family members are allowed, one I-130 is sufficient.

What Documents Do I Need to Show U.S. Immigration Authorities?

The types of family relationships and situations that satisfy the requirements for permanent resident sponsorship vary greatly, and thus there's no one list of documents that works for everyone. Below are a few key tips to keep in mind when putting together your I-130 supporting materials.

You'll Need Evidence of U.S. Immigration Status Qualifying You to Be an Immigrant's Petitioner

One of the most critical things you must show when filing an I-130 for your relative is that you are a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident yourself. This can be more complicated than it sounds!

If you are a permanent resident sponsoring a relative, you can submit a photocopy of the front and back of your Form I-551 Permanent Resident Card to start, but any other documents you have showing your permanent residence are also helpful. Submit copies of your current passport, along with your Form I-797 approval notice of your permanent residence or your immigrant visa stamp.

If you are a U.S. citizen, the usual documents to show are a copy of your valid U.S. passport, a copy of your government-issued birth certificate showing you were born in the U.S., or a copy of your naturalization certificate. However, many U.S. citizens do not have a valid passport or even a birth certificate.

If you aren't able to obtain one of these documents, U.S. immigration officials can accept what is called "secondary evidence." For example, to show birth in the U.S., you could contact the Department of Health in the U.S. state or territory where you were born and request a "Letter of No Record" (to show no birth certificate was created) along with early birth documents, such as a baptismal certificate, a hospital birth certificate, census records, early school records, family bible records, or sworn affidavits from persons having knowledge of your U.S. birth.

You'll Need Evidence of Your Qualifying Relationship to the Would-Be Immigrant

Proving that you have a qualifying relationship with the relative you are sponsoring is also extremely important. Overall, you will want to show clear, credible, and understandable evidence of your familial relationship. Be sure to:

  • Connect the lines between family members. You want to give immigration officials an easy paper trail to follow so they can see that you and your relative are indeed related. For example, if you are sponsoring a brother or sister, you will want to submit copies of your birth certificate, your relative's birth certificate, and the marriage certificate of your parents. The combination of these materials can show immigration officials that you and your relative have common birth parents, thus making you siblings.
  • Use official copies. All certificates you submit should be government-issued, certified copies if possible. The birth certificates should also be "long-form," meaning that they list not only the name of the person, but also the full names of the birth parents and the date and place of the birth.
  • If you can't get official copies, confirm that your country is unable to provide adequate records. The U.S. government recognizes that many countries have incomplete or nonexistent record-keeping for families. The U.S. Department of State has country-specific guidance for which civil documents it accepts.
  • Break through language barriers. Assume that U.S. immigration officials cannot understand any language other than English. Any family documents you submit should be translated into English (word for word) if they are in another language. You can obtain certified English translations of documents from a number of companies in the U.S. that specialize in professional translation services. Such translations are well worth the cost (usually a couple of hundred dollars per document).

You'll Need Forms and Documents Showing You'll Serve as Financial Sponsor, Too

Part of a sponsor's responsibilities include a promise to the U.S. government, and to the immigrating relative, that the sponsor will financially support the relative if necessary. Immigration law forbids entry to immigrating relatives who appear likely to become public charges; that is, dependent on need-based government assistance.

If you are sponsoring a relative for permanent residence, you will have to file Form I-864 with or after the I-130 to fulfill this financial promise.

Form I-864 is not just a formality. It is a legally binding contract between you, your relative, and the United States. If for some reason your relative does acquire permanent residence but is not able to support himself or herself financially in the U.S., you can be held liable for providing financial support.

What Documents Will My Relative Have to Fill Out?

The I-130 is really just the beginning. Your immigrating relative will need to fill out multiple forms and submit documents. Exactly which ones depends on whether the person is coming from abroad via "consular processing" or is in the U.S. and able to adjust status. See Getting a Green Card: Consular Processing vs. Adjustment of Status for details.

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