For persons who wish to immigrate to the United States, often the first step is to file an I-130 petition, if that person is fortunate enough to have a family member who is a U.S. citizen or who has achieved permanent residence status in the U.S. This includes an I-130 form based on marriage. Once the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services approves the petition, the non-citizen or non-resident spouse can then file a petition for permanent residency. However, some immigrants are eligible to apply even before the I-130 is approved.
Who Files I-130
An American citizen or permanent resident may file Form I-130, which is the Petition for Alien Relative, to establish a familial relationship between himself and a non-citizen who wishes to immigrate to the U.S. This not only includes spouses, but also unmarried and married children, siblings and parents. For permanent residents, they can only complete Form I-130 for a spouse or unmarried child. If additional documentation or an interview is necessary, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will notify the petitioner and provide further instructions.
Once the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services approves an I-I30, the immigrant spouse may then apply for permanent residency, commonly known as a green card. This is done by completing Form I-485, which is the Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. The immigrant spouse will be required to submit various pieces of documentation, including copies of a passport and birth certificate, provide fingerprints, participate in a background check, have a medical examination and an interview with the USCIS personnel. If the immigrant spouse resides outside of the U.S., this process is handled by the National Visa Center. After an I-130 is approved, the USCIS forwards the petition to the NVC, which then contacts the immigrant spouse and collects additional forms and information from her. This includes Form DS-230, Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration, which is used by immigrants who reside outside of the U.S.
No Waiting Required
The U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services allows certain immigrants to apply for a green card before their I-130 is approved. This special immigrant category is reserved for the immediate relatives of American citizens. This can include a citizen's spouse, parents and unmarried children under 21 years of age. As a result of this special status, spouses of citizens can file Form I-485 or DS-230 immediately after an I-130 has been filed on their behalf. Unfortunately, spouses and children of permanent residents do not qualify for this preferential treatment.
After the Green Card is Approved
Once an immigrant spouse's I-485 or D-230 petition is approved and the process is complete, she will receive an immigrant visa. This will allow her to enter or reside in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident. The visa is only valid for six months, so the immigrant spouse must ensure that she is inside the U.S. before it expires. Upon arrival to the U.S., a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officer will stamp her passport with a temporary I-551. This serves as her temporary green card until her permanent one arrives in the mail.