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Preparing I-130 Petition for Spouse: Starting the Immigration Process as a Green Card Holder

Reuniting with a spouse in the United States can be a complex journey, but it all begins with the I-130 petition. For Green Card holders, understanding the I-130 process is essential for bringing their spouse to join them. This petition is the foundational step in establishing a legal relationship and starting the immigration process.

What is the I-130 Petition Process for Green Card Holders?

I-130 Petition Officially known as the Petition for Alien Relative, it allows Green Card holders to sponsor their spouse for immigration.

Submission Process:

  • Form I-130: Submit this form to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
  • Supporting Documentation: Include proof of lawful permanent resident status and evidence of the marital relationship.

USCIS Review:

  • Application Review: USCIS will review the application, which may include an interview to verify the authenticity of the relationship.
  • Approval and Priority Date: If approved, the petition is assigned a priority date, marking the spouse’s place in line for further processing.

What’s the Importance of the I-130 Petition in Starting the Immigration Process for a Spouse?

The I-130 petition is more than just paperwork—it’s the critical first step in reuniting families. By establishing the legal relationship between a Green Card holder and their spouse, this petition sets the stage for the spouse’s immigration journey. Without an approved I-130, the process cannot move forward, making it a vital component in achieving family reunification. For Green Card holders eager to bring their spouse to the U.S., mastering the I-130 petition process is the first move toward building a life together.

Requirements for I-130 Petition Filing

Filing an I-130 petition is the essential first step for U.S. citizens and Green Card holders looking to bring their spouse to the United States. This process requires careful attention to detail and the submission of various documents to establish the validity of the marital relationship and the petitioner’s immigration status.

  1. Completed Form I-130: The petitioner must fill out Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. This form includes detailed information about both the petitioner and the beneficiary (the spouse). Ensure all sections are completed accurately to avoid delays.
  2. Proof of Status:
  • For U.S. Citizens: Submit a copy of your U.S. passport, birth certificate, Certificate of Naturalization, or Certificate of Citizenship.
  • For Green Card Holders: Provide a copy of the front and back of your Permanent Resident Card (Green Card) or a copy of your foreign passport with a stamp showing temporary evidence of permanent residence.
  1. Evidence of Marital Relationship:
  • A copy of the civil marriage certificate.
  • Proof of termination of any previous marriages for both spouses, such as divorce decrees, death certificates, or annulment documents.
  • Passport-style photos of both the petitioner and the beneficiary.
  • Documentation of any legal name changes for either spouse, if applicable.
  1. Filing Fee: Ensure the appropriate filing fee is included. As of the latest update, the fee is $535, but you should check the current fee on the USCIS website or the Form I-130 instructions to confirm.
  2. Additional Documentation:
  • Proof of Bona Fide Marriage: Include evidence that the marriage is genuine, such as joint bank account statements, lease agreements, or affidavits from friends and family.
  • Form I-130A: If the beneficiary is a spouse, the petitioner must also submit Form I-130A, Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary.

Requirements for Spouse Petitions

If the petition is for the petitioner’s spouse, the following additional documents must be submitted:

  • Two photographs of the beneficiary spouse 
  • Completed and signed Form I-130A, Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary 

Requirements for Adopted Child Petitions

If the petition is for an adopted child, the following additional evidence must be provided:

  • Copy of the adoption decree showing the adoption occurred before the child’s 16th birthday (or 18th birthday if the sibling exception applies) 
  • Evidence of legal custody and joint residence with the adopted child for at least 2 years 
  • Evidence that the Hague Adoption Convention process does not apply if the child is from a Hague Convention country and the petitioner or spouse is a U.S. citizen 

Avoidance of Offenses Listed Under the Adam Walsh Act

The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 includes provisions that can impact the eligibility of a petitioner to file an I-130 petition. Specifically, petitioners must not have been convicted of certain offenses against minors. These offenses include but are not limited to:

  • Sexual abuse of minors.
  • Possession, production, or distribution of child pornography.
  • Kidnapping or false imprisonment of a minor.

If a petitioner has been convicted of an offense covered by the Adam Walsh Act, they may be barred from filing an I-130 petition unless they can demonstrate that they pose no risk to the beneficiary​.

Notification of Naturalization

If the petitioner becomes a U.S. citizen while the petition is pending, they should notify USCIS or the Department of State to upgrade the visa classification, as the spouse and unmarried children under 21 will then have immediately available immigrant visas.

Outcomes of I-130 Petition Submission

Filing an I-130 petition is a significant step for U.S. citizens and Green Card holders seeking to bring their spouses to the United States. Understanding the outcomes, including the distinctions between conditional and permanent residency, and the subsequent procedures for adjusting status, is essential.

Understanding Conditional Versus Permanent Residency and Their Implications

Conditional Residency: Conditional residency is granted if the marriage is less than two years old when the spouse is admitted to the U.S. as a permanent resident.

  • Duration and Renewal:
    • Validity: This status is valid for two years.
    • Form I-751: Before the two-year period ends, the couple must file Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence, to obtain a permanent Green Card.
    • Evidence: Provide proof that the marriage is bona fide, such as joint bank accounts, leases, and affidavits from friends and family.
    • Consequences of Non-Filing: Failure to file Form I-751 on time can result in the termination of residency and possible deportation​​.

Permanent Residency: Permanent residency without conditions is granted if the marriage is more than two years old at the time of the spouse’s admission to the U.S. as a permanent resident.

  • Duration and Benefits:
    • Validity: This status is valid for ten years.
    • Rights: Permanent residents can live and work in the U.S. indefinitely and can apply for U.S. citizenship after meeting residency requirements.
    • Renewal: They must renew their Green Card every ten years, using Form I-90, Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card​​.

Procedures to Change or Adjust the Spouse’s Status Post-Approval

Adjustment of Status (AOS):

  • For Spouses Residing in the U.S.:
    • Eligibility: Spouses already in the U.S. on a temporary visa can apply for AOS to become permanent residents.
    • Form I-485: File Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, along with Form I-130.
    • Concurrent Filing: If eligible, Form I-485 can be filed concurrently with Form I-130, expediting the process.
    • Supporting Documents: Include evidence of lawful entry, proof of bona fide marriage, medical examination results (Form I-693), and other relevant documents​ (USCIS)​.
    • Biometrics and Interview: The applicant will attend a biometrics appointment and may be required to attend an interview.

Consular Processing:

  • For Spouses Residing Overseas:
    • NVC Role: After USCIS approves the I-130 petition, it is sent to the National Visa Center (NVC) for further processing.
    • Case Number Assignment: The NVC assigns a case number and provides instructions for submitting additional documents and forms.
    • Form DS-260: The spouse must complete Form DS-260, Online Immigrant Visa Application.
    • Document Submission: Submit civil documents, financial support forms, and police certificates to the NVC.
    • Interview Scheduling: The NVC schedules an interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate where the spouse will present original documents and answer questions.
    • Visa Issuance: Upon approval, the spouse receives an immigrant visa to enter the U.S. as a permanent resident​ (USCIS)​.

Post-Entry Procedures:

  • Receiving the Green Card: After entering the U.S. with an immigrant visa, the spouse will receive their Green Card by mail.
  • Conditional Residency Removal: If admitted as a conditional resident, file Form I-751 within the 90-day period before the expiration date to remove conditions on residency​.

Special Provisions and Considerations for I-130 Petition Filing

When filing an I-130 petition, there are special provisions and considerations for certain groups, such as U.S. military members and specific beneficiaries. Understanding these nuances can significantly affect the processing and approval of the petition.

1. Special Considerations for U.S. Military Members in the I-130 Filing Process

  • Deployment and Assignments: U.S. military members often receive expedited processing for their I-130 petitions due to the unique demands of their service, such as deployments and overseas assignments. This helps in quicker family reunification, allowing the service members to focus on their duties without prolonged separation from their families.
  • For Family Members in the U.S.: The Department of Homeland Security offers a program called Parole in Place (PIP) for immediate family members (spouses, parents, and children) of U.S. military members who are in the U.S. without legal status. PIP allows these family members to apply for legal status without leaving the country, which can be crucial in maintaining family unity during service​​.
  • Immigration Relief: Family members of U.S. military personnel may also be eligible for deferred action, a form of immigration relief that can prevent deportation and allow for work authorization. This provides additional stability and support for military families.

What Are Follow-to-Join Benefits for Children Without a Separate I-130?

Eligibility for Follow-to-Join:

  • Derivative Beneficiaries: Certain family members of U.S. citizens and Green Card holders, such as spouses and minor children, can benefit from follow-to-join provisions. If the principal beneficiary of an approved I-130 petition is granted an immigrant visa or adjusts status, their eligible children can follow to join them in the U.S. without the need for a separate I-130 petition.
  • Principal Beneficiary: This provision applies when the principal beneficiary has already been granted an immigrant visa or adjusted status and the family member (child) is eligible to receive the visa based on the principal’s status​ (USCIS)​​ (USCIS)​.

Application Process:

  • Consular Processing: For children residing outside the U.S., they can apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy using the principal beneficiary’s approved I-130 petition.
  • Adjustment of Status: For children already in the U.S., they can apply for adjustment of status based on the principal beneficiary’s approved petition without needing a separate I-130​.


  • Streamlined Process: This provision simplifies the immigration process by eliminating the need for additional petitions and fees, thereby speeding up family reunification.
  • Reduced Costs: Follow-to-join reduces the financial burden on families by avoiding multiple petition filing fees and related expenses.

Navigating the Appeal Process for Denied I-130 Petition

If your I-130 petition has been denied, it’s important to understand the steps you can take to appeal the decision. Here’s a comprehensive guide on what to do next and how to navigate the appeal process.

1. Steps to Take if an I-130 Petition is Denied

Review the Denial Notice:

  • Understand the Reasons: Carefully read the denial notice from USCIS to understand the specific reasons for the denial. This will help you address any issues or deficiencies in your appeal.
  • Common Reasons: Common reasons for denial include insufficient evidence of a bona fide marriage, lack of proper documentation, or discrepancies in the information provided.

Gather Additional Evidence:

  • Supplemental Documents: Collect any additional evidence or documentation that addresses the reasons for the denial. This might include more detailed affidavits, financial records, or other proof of the marital relationship.
  • Legal Assistance: Consider consulting with an immigration attorney to help you understand the denial reasons and to assist in gathering the necessary evidence for your appeal.

2. The Process of Appealing a Visa Petition Denial

File Form I-290B, Notice of Appeal or Motion:

  • Purpose: Form I-290B is used to file an appeal or a motion to reopen or reconsider a decision made by USCIS.
  • Deadline: You must file Form I-290B within 30 days of receiving the denial notice (33 days if the notice was received by mail)​​.
  • Filing Fee: As of the latest update, the fee for filing Form I-290B is $675, but you should check the current fee on the USCIS website.

Types of Appeals and Motions:

  • Appeal: If you believe the denial was incorrect based on the evidence submitted, you can file an appeal with the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO).
    • AAO Review: The AAO will review the case and issue a new decision. They may request additional evidence or information during the review process.
  • Motion to Reopen: File this motion if you have new evidence that was not available at the time of the initial filing. This evidence must be material and relevant to the case.
  • Motion to Reconsider: File this motion if you believe the denial was incorrect based on an incorrect application of law or policy. You must provide a detailed explanation of why the decision was incorrect and support it with relevant legal arguments.

Preparing the Appeal:

  • Comprehensive Brief: Prepare a detailed brief explaining why the denial was incorrect and include any new evidence or legal arguments that support your case.
  • Supporting Documents: Attach all relevant supporting documents, including additional affidavits, financial records, or other evidence that addresses the denial reasons​​.

Submit the Appeal:

  • Filing Location: Submit Form I-290B and all supporting documents to the address specified in the denial notice or the instructions for Form I-290B.
  • Tracking and Confirmation: Keep copies of all documents submitted and track the delivery to confirm receipt by USCIS.

Awaiting a Decision:

  • Processing Time: The processing time for appeals can vary, so be prepared for a potentially lengthy wait. You can check the status of your appeal through the USCIS website or by contacting their customer service.

For more detailed information on the appeal process and to access the necessary forms, refer to the USCIS official guide and the Administrative Appeals Office page.

Legal Representation and Support for I-130 Petition Filing

Navigating the I-130 petition process can be challenging. Hiring an immigration attorney can significantly ease this journey. Here’s how legal expertise can help:

The Role and Importance of Hiring an Immigration Attorney

Expert Guidance:

  • In-Depth Knowledge: Immigration attorneys have comprehensive knowledge of U.S. immigration laws and can guide you through the complex requirements and procedures of the I-130 petition.
  • Regulation Updates: They stay updated on frequent changes in immigration laws, ensuring your petition complies with the latest regulations.

Strategic Planning:

  • Personalized Advice: Attorneys provide tailored advice based on your unique situation, helping you understand the best course of action.
  • Detailed Evaluation: They assess your case, identify potential challenges, and create a strategic plan to address any issues that may arise​.

Document Preparation:

  • Accuracy and Completeness: Ensures all forms are accurately filled out and all required documents are included, reducing the risk of errors and delays.
  • Organized Submission: An attorney organizes your submission clearly, making it easier for USCIS to process​.

How Legal Expertise Can Assist in Navigating Complexities of the I-130 Filing Process

Addressing Specific Issues:

  • Complex Cases: Attorneys handle intricate cases involving previous immigration violations, criminal records, or complex family situations, providing effective solutions.
  • Evidence Gathering: They assist in gathering robust evidence to prove the bona fide nature of your marriage, addressing USCIS concerns​​.

Representation and Communication:

  • Direct Communication: Attorneys communicate directly with USCIS, addressing requests for additional information or evidence.
  • Appeals and Motions: They handle appeals by filing Form I-290B and can prepare motions to reopen or reconsider your case if new evidence arises or there was a legal error​.

Peace of Mind:

  • Reduced Stress: Having an attorney reduces the stress and uncertainty of the immigration process, allowing you to focus on other important aspects of your life.
  • Informed Decisions: You can make informed decisions based on professional advice, increasing the likelihood of a successful outcome.

For more information and to find a qualified immigration attorney, refer to the Sweta Khandewal Firm and the USCIS official site.

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Sweta Khandelwal

Sweta completed her Masters in Law from the University of California, Los Angeles and her JD from the Faculty of Law, Delhi University in India and has been practicing law for 15+ years getting visas, green cards, and citizenship for 1000+ clients, 100+ companies across 50+ nationalities.

Sweta has been recognized as a ” Super Lawyer, Rising Star,” and as amongst the ” Top 40 under 40″ immigration attorneys in California (American Society of Legal Advocates). She is also the recipient of the Advocacy Award by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Sweta is also a chartered accountant — the equivalent of a CPA. This makes her uniquely positioned to understand the immigration needs of her business clients in the broader context of their corporate objectives.

Sweta is actively involved with immigration issues and immigrant communities in various capacities. She has assumed key roles at the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), both at the local and national level. She has been a past chair at the Santa Clara Valley Chapter at AILA and has also been involved in various practice area committees at AILA National. Sweta has addressed multiple conferences/forums in the United States and worldwide on immigration and business issues.

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