The majority of paths to a U.S. green card require the submission of an immigrant petition by either a U.S. citizen or Legal Permanent Resident on behalf of the immigrant. To immigrate, a family member of any category must have the I-130 Petition for Alien Relative submitted for them by a qualified petitioner for the immigration process to begin.
During the completion stage, the I-130 petition is in the hands of the petitioner. A qualified petitioner must be a direct family member who is at least 21 years old if petitioning for a parent or sibling. U.S. citizens are qualified to petition for their husband or wife, mother or father, unmarried children, married children and their brother or sister. U.S. Legal Permanent Residents (green card holders) are qualified to petition for their husband or wife and unmarried child. The completion of the petition must be done and signed by the petitioner. All required documents must be included with the petition when it is submitted to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Petition forms containing errors or a lack of documentation will be automatically rejected. Forms should be double checked for accuracy multiple times.
Once the USCIS receives the petition, it is thoroughly checked for completeness. During this stage the USCIS will either accept the petition as filed, request additional information or documents, or deny the petition based on incompleteness or ineligibility. Whatever the decision, the petitioner will be notified in writing as to the status of the petition. If the petition is accepted, it is forwarded to the National Visa Center for further processing.
When the NVC receives the petition, a priority date is assigned to it. The priority date depends on the class of the family. Petitioned immigrants in the IR (immediate relative of a U.S. citizen, excluding children above the age of 21) category do not have to wait for a visa to become available. When the NVC receives an IR petition, it is processed without wait time. All other categories, including the spouses and children of Legal Permanent Residents, must wait for a visa to become available. Depending on the category, the wait time could be three to five years. When the priority date becomes current, the NVC will contact the petitioned immigrant in writing as to what forms to send and how to pay the NVC application fees.
Once the NVC receives all requested forms and payment, the application is reviewed and either denied or accepted. If accepted, the petition and all forms are forwarded to the U.S. Consulate General indicated on the petition (consulate nearest to the resident of the petitioned immigrant). Once the consulate receives the petition and application, the immigrant applicant is contacted and instructed on where and when to obtain a medical exam, when to appear for an interview and what additional documents and payments are required.