USCIS issues green cards based on eligibility categories defined by US immigration law. In order for an immigrant to qualify for a family-based green card, the family member who is a green card holder (permanent resident) will need to file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative.

Successful processing of this form allows USCIS to validate and recognize the qualifying family relationship and opens the door for the immigrant family member to apply for a green card. 

Based on current data from the USCIS Processing Times website, a green card holder who files Form I-130 on behalf of a spouse or child (under 21) can expect the following wait times:

  • California Service Center – 18 months to 23.5 months
  • Nebraska Service Center – 7 months to 9.5 months
  • Texas Service Center – 7 months to 9 months
  • Vermont Service Center – 5.5 months to 7.5 months

When you file Form I-130, USCIS should issue a receipt within 2 – 3 weeks to acknowledge successful submission. The receipt should indicate which service center has been assigned your petition (which will impact the estimated processing time), along with information on how to track your case status. In most situations, you’ll need the receipt number to access the case status online.

How to file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative

The purpose of Form I-130 is to petition USCIS to recognize a qualifying family relationship with a US citizen or permanent resident, so it makes sense that the required supplementary documents primarily relate to the petitioner’s citizenship status and proof of the relationship. If you are a green card holder petitioning on behalf of your spouse, you’ll need to gather the following evidence to prove your case:

  • A copy of your marriage certificate
  • Documentation of a legal name change (if applicable)
  • Proof of a bona fide marriage (children’s birth certificates, joint property titles, joint property leases, proof of cohabitation, joint bank account statements, joint credit card statements, joint investment accounts, and sworn affidavits from third parties with a personal knowledge of the marital relationship)
  • Proof of your lawful permanent resident status (a copy of your US passport or green card will suffice)
  • Proof that any prior marriages have been terminated (in the form of a divorce decree, annulment order, or death certificate, if applicable)
  • Two passport-style photographs

When it comes to evidence that your marriage is bona fide (i.e. you married for love, not just immigration benefits), it’s best to include as much documentation as possible. If the initial evidence that you provide is insufficient, you’ll get a Request for Evidence (RFE) that will slow down processing on your case. 

When you’re ready to file the petition packet, you’ll need to determine which USCIS Lockbox Facility to mail it to. Generally speaking, residents in Western states will file with the Phoenix Lockbox and residents in the Eastern states will file with the Chicago Lockbox (for a breakdown by state, see Direct Filing Addresses for Form I-130).

Petitioners who are currently outside of the United States should file with the Chicago Lockbox. Individuals who are filing Form I-130 concurrently with Form I-485 should file with the Chicago Lockbox. 

There is a $535 filing fee for Form I-130. You can pay with a personal check, cashier’s check, money order, or credit card authorization by attaching Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions.

What Happens After Form I-130 is Approved?

When USCIS approves your Petition for Alien Relative, you will receive a Notice of Action in the mail. At that point, what happens next depends on whether the foreign spouse is already in the United States with a valid immigrant/nonimmigrant visa, or outside the United States in need of an immigrant visa. 

In either case, it will likely take 1 – 2 years for USCIS to approve a green card for the spouse of a green card holder. After that, the foreign spouse will need to wait until a family-based visa becomes available, as USCIS cannot issue a green card until it can attach a new visa number.

Due to annual caps on visas for family members of green card holders and a long waiting list, it may be several years until a visa number is available.

Consular Processing

For spouses who are outside of the United States and need an immigrant visa to enter the country, USCIS will forward the approved Petition for Alien Relative to the US State Department’s National Visa Center (NVC). The NVC will then forward the approved petition to the US Embassy or consulate nearest to the foreign spouse.

At that point, a consular officer will reach out with further instructions, and the foreign spouse will need to apply for an immigrant visa online. 

Once the visa application is complete, the foreign spouse will need to complete a green card medical examination, as well as a drug test, with an authorized doctor. The doctor will need to complete and sign Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record.

When a visa number is available, the foreign spouse will be asked to complete a visa interview with a consular officer at the US Embassy or Consulate. After the interview, the consular officer will collect his or her fingerprints, photograph, and signature, and deliver the approved visa packet.

At that point, the foreign spouse can travel to a US Port of Entry to be inspected and admitted into the United States. Once they’re in the country, they can file an application for a green card.

Getting a Green Card Through Adjustment of Status

An immigrant can only petition for a green card once they are in the United States. While this unfortunately delays the process significantly for those who are outside the country, it means a spouse who is already in the United States can speed up the process by filing Forms I-130 and I-485 concurrently. 

While Form I-130 is relatively straightforward and can often be handled individually, you should strongly consider consulting an immigration attorney before filing Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.

The latter requires significantly more attention to detail and evidence and may require separate USCIS waivers and requests depending on the foreign spouse’s current and past immigration status.

An experienced immigration attorney can screen your application for mistakes, help you compile additional compelling evidence, position your application for faster processing, and significantly improve your chances of success.

Receive Help Processing Your I-30 Form in Arizona

As a law firm based out of Arizona, JacksonWhite offers a wide array of immigration services to Arizona families. Lead by immigration attorney  Pace Rawlins, our immigration team can screen your application for mistakes, help you compile additional compelling evidence, position your application for faster processing, and significantly improve your chances of success.

Call our Immigration team at (480) 626-2388 to discuss your case today.

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