Obtaining a Green Card through Marriage (I-130)
Hi, glad to see you are here, which likely means that you’re newly married, congratulations! If you’re married to a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident (green card holder,) you may be eligible to apply for a green card. Basically, there are two major ways to apply for a green card— If you’re already in the United States through an adjustment of status, or if you’re applying from abroad which is known as consular processing, either through mail or online. Wondering which works best for you? No worries, we’ll break it down for you!
First Steps: File I-130
Regardless of which route you are taking, someone who is married to a U.S. citizen/legal permanent resident needs to have their resident spouse file what is called an I-130 application. This is crucial for having a successful processing of your adjustment of status I-485 application.
(**Note: If your spouse is the U.S. citizen, you can file both I-130 and I-485 at the same time. Please refer to further details from USCIS website. )
Below we cover the thorough guidance on how to self-apply Form I-130. Ready? Here we go!
What is Form I-130?
I-130, officially called “Petition for Alien Relative,” is the form for petitioner (your American spouse: legal permanent resident or U.S. citizen) to establish the relationship to an eligible relative (that is, you!) who wishes to come to or remain in the United States permanently and get a Permanent Resident Card (the green card.)
To put it simply, by filing I-130, the government in charge, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS,) will examine your application to determine your relationship with your resident spouse is legitimate. After I-130 is approved, you can start filing green card applications, adjustment of status or consular processing. Well, sounds complicated? We’ll walk you through step by step! Check our form I-130 guidance here.
**In the following sections, we address guidance to those petitioners, that is, those filing Form I-130 for their alien spouses.
The list applies to both paper and electronic filing.
- Form I-130
- Form I-485 or consular processing (no worries, we’ll explain later!)
- Proof of Sponsor validity (U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident)
- U.S. Citizens
U.S. birth certificate
Valid U.S. passport
Certificate of Citizenship
Consular Report of Birth Abroad
- Permanent Resident (Green card holder)
Passport issued in another country and bearing stamp of temporary permanent residency in the United States
- Marriage Certificate or other proof of valid marriage (if requested)
- Marriage certificate (a must!)
- Joint leases
- joint bank account statements
- photos of you together
- Letters from friends and relatives proving your relationship
- Proof of termination of prior marriage(s), if applicable (any of the below can serves as the proof varying by situations:)
a divorce decree
- a death certificate of the other spouse
- a certificate of annulment
- Proof of official name change, if applicable,
- Proof of official name change, if applicable (any of the below can serves as the proof:)
- a marriage certificate
- a court order of name change
- adoption papers
- Petitioner’s passport photos*2:
Every petitioner (again, your resident spouse) needs to provide 2 passport-style photos (2 inches by 2 inches) with his/her Form I-130 petition.
- Other supporting documents related to the above documents (if applicable.)
Which way to take? Paper or online submission?
As stated above, you have two ways to file Form I-130: through paper filing or online filing. Since Form I-130 can only be filed by legal U.S residents, who for most cases, live in the U.S., either way works and will not affect the application result. Here we will take you through both ways in detail so that you can decide which option to go after.
Apply through paper filing:
Download the form from USCIS website, have all the necessary documents printed, assemble and envelope them in a packet, and mail to the specified USCIS Lockbox.
Complete the forms
We have a comprehensive guide in filling out the form, check our form guidance here. Below is the summary of the general reminders from USCIS:
- Make sure you download the current version of forms. USCIS will reject any application using the outdated form.
- If you decide to print the form out and handwrite your application, please use black ink and do not use highlighters or correction fluid or tape. If you make the error, please start with the new form.
- If you are filing multiple forms, make sure you state your name, date of birth, and A-number (if any) in the same way on each form.
- Pay the correct fee. USCIS will reject forms submitted with incorrect or incomplete fees. Make sure the amount is correct before you make the payment. Currently, the filing fee for Form I-130 is $535. You can also use the Fee Calculator to check the latest updated fees for each form.
- Send single-sided copies of the application(s).
After you get all your documents and forms completed, you can start the next step: assemble your application.
Assemble your application I - Preparation
Pay the fees
- Credit card:
File Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions.
USCIS only accepts the below credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover. Make sure the card has enough money to cover the fee at the time of filing. Your petition/application may be rejected if your card is declined, and the card will not be accepted and processed by USCIS a second time.
- Check/Money order: For applying in the U.S., you should mail your check/money order with your application form. Also be sure that the office you contact is available to proceed money order/checks.
- If you apply for a green card outside of the U.S., please check on USCIS website to determine if you can file your form at an international office, and which payment method they offer.
Notification and Form Access
- Apply for email/text message notice: Form G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance
- The notification will not include any personal information; it only lists your receipt number and tells you how to obtain case status information.
- The service is only available for forms filed at the three USCIS Lockbox facilities located in Lewisville, Texas; Chicago, Illinois; and Phoenix, Arizona.
- To file the form, please download and complete the form and clip it on the front page of your filing petition form.
Final Check before wrap-up
- The supporting documents should either be in English or accompanied by a complete English translation.
- Please provide the copies of those documents unless requested by USCIS. Since those documents may become part of the record, it is likely that the originals may not be returned to the applicants.
- All attachments are required to have your name and A-Number (if any) listed. Numbering the pages is also acceptable (for example, “page 1 of 11.)
Assemble your application II - Wrap-up
Envelope the application
- Mark the envelope and the cover letter with the category/nature of the submission. For instance, Original Submission, Brief for an Appeal, or Response To Request for Additional Information. Furthermore, the form number is required (e.g., Form -130.)
Wrap up in the packet
- Use fasteners to hold together thick or bulky applications/petitions. Two-hole punching the top of the material for easy placement in the file is appreciated. Avoid using heavy-duty staples, binders, or folders that make the documents hard to disassemble.
- Sticky tabs/notes helps in locating items listed in your attachments. Please place the tabs/notes on the bottom of the page, not the side.
- Do not submit oversized documentation unless it is necessary.
- Be sure to make different cases separated by fasteners or rubbers if you are delivering them in the same envelope.
- If you are re-submitting the packet in response to a Request for Evidence (RFE), please place the notice requesting the additional evidence/information on the top of the packet. Also, please use the special mailing envelope provided.
- If you are submitting evidence in support of a previously filed appeal or motion, place a cover letter with “Brief for (Appeal/Motion)” on top of the packet.
Mail Your Application, Petition, or Request
Mail your forms to the address listed on that form’s webpage. You may submit your forms through USPS, FedEx, DHL, or UPS. If you mail to the wrong filing address, USCIS has the right to reject your application/petition as improperly filed and return it to you to re-file. If you choose the U.S. Postal Service, certified mail with a return receipt is the safest way to send your petition.
That’s all for paper filing. Should you have any questions, feel free to leave us a message :)
What a workload for paper filing, get dizzy? If so, you may prefer the online application more, and here’s how:
Apply through online filing:
create your own account on USCIS website. Log in the account, complete the form, upload all the necessary documents, and submit your application on the same platform. Sounds easy, right? It is, we’ll show you below!
Create the USCIS Online Account
To start completing Form I-130, please create a USCIS account. You can find the guidelines on USCIS website. After you create the account, please log in here. USCIS uses a two-factor authentication process. This means that in addition to entering your username and password, you must also enter a one-time password that will be sent to you by email or text message. When you create your USCIS online account, you can select your preference for receiving the one-time password.
Login the Portal
After logging in, please select the form you want to file from the tab “File a form online,” and choose “Petition for Alien Relative (I-130).”
An overview of the Form I-130 is presented below, including the eligibility, fee, process, etc. Please go through those sections carefully before you start completing the form.
Begin the Form
After you read the instruction, you are directed to the form; each section is listed on the top, and you can click which section you want to begin with. The system automatically saves your response, and you can leave and log in to continue your application whenever you wish. USCIS may reject your form if there is any blank field or if you do not sign your form. Please make sure all the fields are completed and preferably, provide as much information as you can.
In the tab “Evidence,” you can upload your supporting documents here for USCIS’s reference. These documents help USCIS evaluate your form and verify your answers. If the document is not requested, then you do not need to include it.
**Tips for uploading supporting documents**
- Use a scanner or take pictures of each document. Make sure each image is clear and that all text is readable.
- Files larger than 6MB in size is not acceptable.
- Files must be in one of these formats: PDF, JPG, or JPEG, TIF or TIFF.
- Do not encrypt or password protect your files.
- If the supported documents are in a foreign language, please upload an English translation along with the original.
- If we require passport-size photos, you must either scan them or take a picture with your phone.
Submit the Application
In the last tab “Review and Submit,” please go through all the summary of the information you provided in your application. You can also download the form in pdf format for your record and review. After that, you need to digitally sign your legal name (first, middle, and last names) in the specified blank.
You’re not far from completion! Finally, the system will initially screen your data to check if there is any missing information. Once you are ready to submit your application, the system will automatically direct you to the secure Department of Treasury site, pay.gov. To pay your fees online; you can pay the fee with a credit, debit, or pre-paid card. There is no need to file Form G-1450.
Well done! Now you can rest a bit and wait for the further notice!
After a few weeks (typically 2 weeks, but it depends on the capacity USCIS handles at the moment,) you will receive the receipt notice in your account inbox (online,) or from a USCIS Service Center (which is different from the lockbox to which you sent the I-130—the lockbox will forward the file.) You can also login the account to check your application status. (Tips: this applies to paper filing, learn more here.) The date you receive the receipt notice is called the “priority date.”
In the later 2~3 months, you may receive the contact from USCIS asking for further information or supported documents through Request for Evidence (RFE,) if necessary. Moreover, once you file a form, you will have access to a secure inbox to send messages to an immigration services officer and receive a response to your question.
When everything is ready for their scrutiny, they will typically make a decision on the application within the next 7~15 months, depending on the applicants’ situation and the capacity of each USCIS service center. You can check the estimated processing time on USCIS website.
Finally, when you receive the notice stating the I-130 application is approved, this means that the familial relationship between you and your alien spouse is legally formed! A definite hooray and congratulations! The next step is to file Form I-485 to USCIS to apply status adjustment for your spouse. Check out how to file I-485 on your own.