I-130 Petitions for Relative of a Citizen or Green Card Holder

Citizens and lawful permanent residents of the United States (green card holders) may file petitions for immigrant visas for certain close relatives. They can do this with Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative.

Relatives eligible for visas through an I-130 include spouses, children and unmarried siblings.

The cost to file a Form I-130 is $535 for each qualifying relative applied for. This fee cannot be waived. There may also be an additional fee of $85 if an interview and biometrics services (such as fingerprinting and a background check) are required.

To help you better understand I-130 petitions, our California immigration lawyers discuss, below:

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1. Who may file Form I-130?

U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents may file a Form I-130 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on behalf of a qualifying relative, as set forth below.

A separate Form I-130 must be filed for each eligible relative, other than a derivative beneficiary as defined below.

1.1. Petitions from U.S. citizens

A U.S. citizen may file a Form I-130 on behalf of:

  • A spouse;
  • Sons or daughters of any age, whether married or unmarried;
  • Brothers and sisters (provided the U.S. citizen is at least 21); and/or
  • The citizen's mother or father (provided the U.S. citizen is at least 21).

1.2. Petitions by green card holders

A lawful permanent resident (green card holder) of the United States may file a Form I-130 for:

  • A spouse, or
  • An unmarried child of any age.

1.3. Who is a derivative beneficiary?

When a U.S. citizen files an I-130, a derivative beneficiary is a spouse or unmarried children under 21 years of the citizen's children or siblings who are being petitioned for.

When the qualifying immigrant is a green card holder, a derivative beneficiary is the unmarried children under 21 years of age of any beneficiary.

Derivative beneficiaries do not need to file a separate I-130.

Example: Keiko is a U.S. citizen, age 45. She files an I-130 petition and pays the filing fee for her son, Haruki. Haruki is married and has a 4 year-old child. Haruki is the qualifying relative under Keiko's petition. Haruki's wife and child are derivative beneficiaries and do not need to file separate I-130 forms.

Derivative beneficiaries may also apply for an immigrant visa along with the beneficiary.

2. Who may not file Form I-130?

The following categories of relatives are not eligible under Form I-130:

  • An adoptive parent or adopted child, if:
    • The adoption took place after the child turned 16 years of age, or
    • The child has not been in the legal custody of the parents and lived with the parents for at least 2 years before filing the petition;
  • A natural parent, if the immigrant gained lawful permanent resident status or U.S. citizenship through adoption or as a special immigrant juvenile;
  • A stepparent or stepchild, if the marriage that created the relationship took place after the child turned 18 years of age; 
  • A spouse, if the immigrant and the spouse were not both physically present at the marriage ceremony, unless the marriage was consummated;
  • A spouse, if the immigrant gained lawful permanent resident status through a prior marriage to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, unless:
    • The immigrant is now a naturalized U.S. citizen; and
    • The immigrant has been a lawful permanent resident for at least five years; and
      • The immigrant can establish by clear and convincing evidence that he/she did not enter the prior marriage in order to evade any U.S. immigration law; or
      • The prior marriage through which the immigrant gained immigrant status was terminated by the death of the former spouse;
  • A spouse, if the immigrant married the spouse while he or she was the subject of an exclusion, deportation, removal, or rescission proceeding or appeal, unless the immigrant qualifies for a bona fide marriage exception under INA section 245(e)(3),1
  • Any person, if USCIS determines that such person entered into -- or attempted or conspired to enter into -- a marriage in order to evade U.S. immigration laws; or
  • A grandparent, grandchild, nephew, niece, uncle, aunt, cousin, or parent-in-law.

3. How much does it cost to file an I-130?

There is a filing fee of $535 for each Form I-130 an immigrant wishes to file. This filing fee cannot be waived.

There may also be a biometric services fee of $85, if USCIS later notifies the applicant that he or she needs a biometric services appointment for an interview, fingerprints or other verification of identity.

The biometrics fee may be payable along with the filing fee if an applicant files the Form I-130 with an agency other than USCIS.

Applicants should check with the agency they plan on filing with to determine whether and when they must submit a biometric services fee.

4. What documents will prove U.S. citizenship?

To prove U.S. citizenship, an I-130 applicant should submit one of the following:

A copy of his or her birth certificate, issued by a civil registrar, vital statistics office, or other civil authority showing that the individual was born in the United States;
A copy of the immigrant's naturalization certificate or certificate of citizenship issued by USCIS or the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS);
A copy of Form FS-240, Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA), issued by a U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate;
A copy of an unexpired U.S. passport; or
An original statement from a U.S. consular officer verifying that the individual is a U.S. citizen with a valid passport.

An individual born in the United States who does not have any of the foregoing documents may be able to submit alternate documentation.

For more info, see the instructions for Form I-130 on the USCIS website (linked to at the top of this article).

5. What documents will prove lawful permanent residence?

A lawful permanent resident must provide a copy of the front and back of his or her Permanent Resident Card (Form I-551) with the I-130 petition.

An immigrant who has not yet received a card should submit:

  1. A copy of his or her passport biographic page, and 
  2. A copy of the page showing admission as a lawful permanent resident, or other evidence of permanent resident status issued by USCIS or the former INS. 

6. What documents will prove a family relationship?

Applicants must also prove that there is a family relationship between them and their beneficiary or beneficiaries. Aliens seeking a Form I-130 should carefully read the instructions on the USCIS website to make sure they are providing the right documents.

If you retain a California immigration attorney to handle your application for you, your lawyer will advise you what documents are needed.

7. Does approval automatically get a relative a green card?

If the I-130 application was for a spouse, unmarried child under 21 years of age, or parent of a U.S. citizen, approval of the petition classifies the relative as an “immediate relatives.” A visa is immediately available for an immediate relative.

However, some relatives of I-130 petitioners must wait for a visa to become available. These relatives are assigned to an appropriate visa preference category.

Each year, a limited number of immigrant visas are available for each preference category. The visas are processed in the order in which the petitions are properly filed and accepted.

Relatives that are placed into visa preference categories include:

  • A U.S. citizen's brother or sister,
  • A U.S. citizen's married or adult son or daughter, and
  • Any relative of a green card holder.

For a monthly report on the dates when immigrant visas are available, visit the U.S. Department of State website or call them at 1-202-663-1541.

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Legal references:

  1. To obtain a bona fide marriage exemption an applicant must: (1) request the exemption in writing; (2) prove that the marriage is legally valid where it took place; (3) prove that the spouses married in good faith and not for the purpose of obtaining lawful permanent resident status for the spouse; and (4) prove that no fee or any other consideration was paid to the immigrant for filing the I-130 petition.

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