How to Sponsor an Immigrant Spouse or Relative

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By: Bill Henry
PublishedMay 25, 2022
7 minute read

The bonds of love and family can stretch over vast distances. That doesn’t mean they have to. If you are a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident, you can use Form I-130 to sponsor an immigrant spouse or relative to come and live in America.

Covered in this Guide:

Contact a Colorado Immigration Attorney

While the steps for filing a proper and effective Form I-130 are explained in detail, there is no substitute for knowing you’ll get it right the first time. If you are filing a petition to sponsor an immigrant spouse or relative, you don’t want any unnecessary delays. An experienced immigration attorney gives you the best chance of a smooth process. Call 303-688-0944 for your case assessment. Si gustarÍa hablar con nosotros en español, por favor llámenos al 720-359-2442.

What Is Form I-130?

Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative is the paperwork a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident submits to sponsor a family member who wants to immigrate to the United States.

The U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident asks the U.S. government to recognize a family member and make a visa available for the person they are sponsoring. This is the first step in a two-step process.

It’s important to know that filing Form I-130 does not, by itself, give the sponsored spouse or relative immigrant status.

The second step is for the spouse or relative to file their own immigration petition. That process depends on the relative’s relationship to the U.S. sponsor and whether they are already in the United States or in their country of origin.

For the purposes of this guide, we will concentrate on Form I-130 because nothing can happen until this paperwork is approved by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).

Who’s Who? 

It’s important to understand the following terms, as they are commonly referred to in the application form and on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) website.

Petitioner/Sponsor: The U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident who files the I-130 on behalf of their immigrant relative or spouse.

Beneficiary: The relative who wants to immigrate the U.S.

Adjudicator: The USCIS officer who reviews the I-130

Requirements for the Petitioner 

Before filing a petition to sponsor family member(s), the petitioner must meet a few requirements:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident. A lawful permanent resident can be a non-citizen who holds a current and valid green card.
  • Maintain the U.S. as their primary residence.
  • U.S. citizens must be 21 years of age or older if they are petitioning for a parent or sibling. There is no minimum age to sponsor all other categories.

Which Family Members Can I Sponsor?

This depends on the status of the petitioner. For example, a U.S. citizen can file for their siblings and parents, while a legal permanent resident cannot.

If the petitioner is a U.S. citizen, they can file an I-130 for the following family members:

  • Spouse
  • Children (married and unmarried)
  • Siblings
  • Parents

If the petitioner is a lawful permanent resident, they can file an I-130 for the following family members:

  • Spouse
  • Unmarried child

Which family members cannot be sponsored? 

Family members who are not eligible under the I-130 include:

  • Grandparents and grandchildren
  • Nephews and nieces
  • Uncles, aunts, and cousins
  • Parents-in-law

Fiancés are not considered family for the purposes of form I-130. Instead, fiancés living in the U.S. must file form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé. This form works much the same as the I-130, except that it’s used by engaged couples not married couples and relatives.

Some Special Situations Are Also Ineligible 

Other specific factors can make a family member ineligible, such as:

  • Adoptive Children – if the adoption took place after the child turned 16 years of age or if the child has not been in the legal custody of the parents for at least two years before filing the petition.
  • Unmarried Children – if they become married before an I-130 is approved.
  • Biological Parents – if the petitioner obtained citizenship through adoption or as a special immigrant juvenile.
  • Stepchildren – if the marriage took place after the child turned 18 years of age.
  • Spouses – if the petitioner and their spouse were not both physically present at the marriage ceremony.
  • If the petitioner gained lawful permanent resident status through a prior marriage to a U.S. citizen.
  • If the spouse is the subject of an exclusion, deportation, removal, or rescission proceeding.

Required Documents

You must file an I-130 form for each family member you intend to sponsor in the U.S. Each individual petition must also include the following supporting documents:

Proof of Petitioner’s Citizenship or Lawful Permanent Residence

This can be satisfied by providing (front and back) copies of a birth certificate, unexpired passport, naturalization certificate or permanent resident card.

Proof of Familial Relationship 

The evidence required will depend on which relative the U.S. petitioner is trying to sponsor:

  • Spouse – a marriage certificate
  • Child – birth certificate with the petitioner’s named as a biological parent
  • Parent – the petitioner’s birth certificate
  • Sibling – a combination of a both to show common parentage
Filing Fee

The filing fee for form I-130 is $535. Only a check or money order can be submitted with your I-130.


This applies only to spousal petitions. The USCIS requires two photographs of the petitioner, two photographs of the spouse, and a completed and signed Form I-130A.

An Affidavit of Support Form I-864

Every I-130 must include an affidavit of support. To sign the affidavit, the petitioner must be at least 18 years of age, hold a permanent U.S. residence, and have a provable household income that is equal to, or higher than, 125 percent of the U.S. poverty level.

Additional Documentation for Spouse Petitioners

Anyone petitioning for their spouse will need to submit form I-130A, as well as additional documentation with their I-130 to prove the marriage is valid in order to help a noncitizen gain U.S. benefits.

Examples of additional documentation are:

  • A lease showing joint tenancy of a common residence
  • Proof of joint ownership of property
  • Birth certificates of children born to the petitioner and their spouse
  • Sworn affidavits of third parties testifying to the validity of the marriage
  • Bank statements showing the commingling of funds
  • Items of mail showing both spouses live at the same residence
  • Taxes showing joint filing
  • Pictures with dates, phone records and email chains showing an actual relationship exists between the parties
Keep an Evidence Folder

Put together an evidence folder containing proof of a valid marriage between the U.S. Petitioner and the beneficiary spouse. Use many different forms of legal and financial evidence, such as all those listed above.

Also include proof of a shared social life, such as photos, phone records, emails, text messages, and social media posts. The more evidence a couple can provide, the better.

Make Copies of Everything

Make at least one extra copy of the entire application: from the I-130 form itself to every additional page of evidence, including the check or money order for the filing fee.

The USCIS makes mistakes, too, so always make sure to retain proof of what they should have received. It’s also an excellent way to keep track of what’s already been sent should the USCIS ask for additional information.

What Happens After Filing Form I-130?

While it can take months or even years to get final approval of an I-130 petition, there will be feedback from USCIS at different stages in the process.

Generally, things happen in this order:

Receipt Notice and Form I-797C

Within a few weeks of filing the I-130, the petitioner will receive written notification that the application package has been received by USCIS. This receipt of notice will come with Form I-797C, Notice of Action which includes the receipt number.

This receipt number is important. The petitioner and the relative/spouse can use it to track the application’s progress at the USCIS website.

Rejection or Request for Evidence 

If the I-130 paperwork is messy or incomplete, the USCIS could simply refuse to process it. This is not a denial of the request, but a rejection of the application packet as it was received. The petitioner must start over and send a more thorough form.

If the paperwork is generally in good order but still incomplete or unconvincing, the USCIS adjudicator could ask for additional evidence before beginning to process the I-130. Additional evidence could include more written testimonies, additional financial documents, or a birth certificate or marriage license.

Schedule a Biometrics Scan 

On the form I-797C, Notice of Action received with the receipt notice, the USCIS will request that the petitioner (and spouse or relative, if available) appear at a determined time and place to be fingerprinted and photographed. This is standard procedure.

Schedule an Interview 

The USCIS adjudicator might want to conduct an in-person, face-to-face review of the I-130 application and supporting documents with the petitioner and the spouse or relative, if available. This is not requested in every I-130 case, but when it is, it’s so the adjudicator can be certain of the validity of the relationship.

Official Notice of Decision 

At the end of the process, the USCIS will mail to the petitioner a written notice of its decision. If the I-130 petition is approved, then the beneficiary can begin to file for a green card (if they are already in the U.S.) or an immigrant visa (if they have been waiting for approval in their home country).

If the I-130 petition is denied, it’s a definite setback, but it is not necessarily the end of the dream. After a denial, the petitioner has two options:

  • Appeal the decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA): If the USCIS denied the I-130 because the adjudicator suspected fraud, then such a charge could prevent the spouse or relative from ever receiving a U.S. green card. Only a successful appeal to the BIA can remove that charge from the record.
  • File a New I-130: If the adjudicator feels the application simply lacked enough evidence to get approved, it’s best to wait and file a new I-130 after more evidence of a valid marriage or family relationship has had time to accumulate.

How Long Does the Processing Take?

The current processing time for an I-130 depends on if the petitioner’s relative is an immediate family member as well as the family member’s nationality.

USCIS gives greater priority to immediate family members such as unmarried children under 21 years of age, spouses, and the parents of U.S. citizens.

Widows and Widowers 

Widows or widowers of U.S. citizens also receive high priority, so long as their sponsor filed the I-130 petition before they died or if the widow or widower filed a petition within two years after the citizen sponsor’s death.

Six to 12 Months 

Immediate family members of U.S. citizens can expect to wait six to 12 months for the I-130 filed on their behalf to get processed. The spouses and unmarried children of green card holders (lawful permanent residents) get the same priority.

Preference visas and country quotas 

A relative not considered an immediate family member goes into the USCIS’ preference visa line. Unfortunately, it’s a longer, slower line because only a set number of these visas are available each year.

In general, the number of family-based preference visas is 226,000 per year, but that is divided into specific quotas for more than 200 different countries. Some countries get more slots than others, but that has little impact on wait times.

Be Prepared to Wait 

The demand for preferred family member visas is always higher than the supply in certain nations. As a result, non-immediate relatives from Mexico, China, India, and the Philippines can wait several years or even decades to finally have their I-130s processed.

Then again, if the family member comes from a nation that does not typically have great demand for U.S. immigration visas, the wait could be relatively short, as in only a few months or a year.

Get Help to Sponsor an Immigrant Relative

Our attorneys can help and guide you through the immigration process from start to finish. Whether you’re sponsoring a relative, processing a green card, or appealing an unsatisfactory USCIS decision, it always helps to have legal representation or at least some good advice. Call 303-688-0944 for your case assessment, o lláme al 720-359-2442 para hablar con alguien en español.

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