The I-130 Petition: Information for Family Sponsors

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

Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, is the well-known application form used by U.S. immigration officials to process family-based immigrant visa petitions. U.S. citizens and permanent residents wishing to sponsor relatives so that they can become U.S. permanent residents will use this form to start the process. As with all aspects of U.S. immigration, there are a few easily missed details about the I-130 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) to use as a reference while you read this overview.

Is Form I-130 the Only One I Need to File?

Not exactly. In fact, Form I-130 is really only one the beginning of the process of securing permanent residence for a relative.

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 procedure.

Even if the I-130 petition is approved by U.S. immigration officials, that approval on its own does not confer permanent residence, nor any right to live or work in the United States. 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.

In some cases, you 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 Really Need to Show?

This question is somewhat difficult to answer, as the types of family relationships and situations that satisfy the requirements for permanent resident sponsorship vary greatly. Here are a few key tips to keep in mind when putting together your I-130 materials.

Evidence of U.S. Immigration Status Qualifying You to Be a 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, 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.” You will need to 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.

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. The sheer variety of relationships that qualify under the law make it impossible to concretely list the documents you will need, but here are some key pointers.

  • Connect all dots. 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.
  • Confirm whether your country is unable to provide adequate records. The U.S. government recognizes that many countries have incomplete or even 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 wide number of companies in the U.S. that specialize in translation services. Such translations are well worth the cost.

What’s This I-864 Form?

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 forbid entry to immigrating relatives who appear likely to become public charges; that is, dependent on need-based public 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.

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