The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) provides free legal help to some refugees and displaced people.
- IRAP helps some people find services and prepare refugee and visa applications.
- IRAP is not part of any government, IOM, or UNHCR.
- IRAP cannot grant refugee status or visas or speed up cases.
- IRAP cannot provide financial help, find or pay for housing, or find jobs.
- All of IRAP’s help is free. No one affiliated with IRAP has the right to ask you for money or any other service.
IRAP decides to help people based on their need and eligibility for immigration status. IRAP does not decide to help people based on any other social or political or religious criteria.
This website provides general information about legal processes available to some refugees. It is not meant as legal advice for individual applications.
If you are in a refugee emergency, we recommend that you contact the UNHCR office in the country where you live .
U.S. Citizens (USCs) and Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs, or “green card holders”) can help certain relatives immigrate to the United States by filing a form known as the I-130 petition. This is a guide for USCs and LPRs who would like to file an I-130 for their relative.
You may be eligible for other refugee and asylee family reunification options. Information about the I-730 program is here, the P-3 program is here, and the Direct Access Program for Syrians and Iraqis is here.
What Is the Process?
The process starts by filing the Form I-130. You must also include other documents that prove that you are a USC or LPR. You must also prove your relationship with the relative who you want to help come to the United States. This is called petitioning for your relative. You are the petitioner.
When filling out the form, you should provide information about yourself for each question that asks about the petitioner.
Who Can I Petition For?
If you are an LPR, you can file for your spouse and your child of any age (but only if they are not married). If you are a USC, you can file for your spouse, your child of any age (they can be married or single), and if you are over 21, for your siblings and parents also. Your relative, or the person you are petitioning for, is the beneficiary.
Where Do I Begin?
You must file a Form I-130, available here. The form asks for biographical information about you and your family member.
If you are an LPR, you will file one petition for your relative. If they have unmarried children who are under 21 you do not need to file a separate petition. However, if you are petitioning for your spouse and children at the same time, you can file separate petitions if you want them to be processed independently.
If you are a USC, and you are filing for your adult or married children or your siblings, you do not need to file a separate petition for their spouses and unmarried children under 21. If you are a USC filing for your parents, unmarried children under 21, or spouse, you must file a separate petition for each individual.
We recommend submitting a cover letter that lists the documents you are submitting. It helps USCIS see that you met all the requirements.
When you submit the form, you must submit it with your original signature or a scan or photocopy of a handwritten signature. USCIS will not accept a typed or electronic signature. You should save the original and you may have to produce it to USCIS in the future.
How Much Does It Cost?
As of January 2023, you must pay a fee of $535.00 with the I-130 Form.
This fee must be sent as a check or money order from a U.S.-based bank or paid by credit card. The check or money order should be addressed to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security.” The department name must be written out exactly that way. You cannot pay in cash. To pay by credit card, you must submit Form G-1450, available here. The fee and how to pay it can change, so check this USCIS website that lists fees before you file.
However, as of January 2023, USCIS does not require any filing fee for U.S. citizens who are filing for their Afghan national spouse, child under 21 years old who is not married, or parent. Petitioners can write “I-130 for Afghan National with Immediately Available Visa - Fee Exempt” at the top of their cover letter. This fee exemption only applies through September 30, 2023.
What Else Must I Submit with the I-130 Petition?
FIRST: You Must Prove Your Status in the U.S.
The I-130 form will ask you, the petitioner, to prove your status in the U.S. To prove that you are a USC you must send ONE of these documents with your form I-130:
- A copy of your birth certificate showing you were born in the U.S.
- A copy of your naturalization certificate
- A copy of your certificate of citizenship
- A copy of Form FS-240, Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA)
- A copy of your unexpired U.S. passport, or
- An original statement from a U.S. consular officer verifying that you are a U.S. citizen with a valid passport.
To prove that you are an LPR, submit a copy of the front and back of your Green Card. If you do not have your card yet, you can submit copies of your passport including the page with your picture on it and the page showing entry in the U.S. as an LPR. You can also submit a copy of your I-94.
SECOND: You Must Prove the Relationship with Your Relative
The I-130 form will ask you, the petitioner, to prove the relationship with your relative, the beneficiary. Do NOT send original documents to USCIS. You should always send copies of documents.
If the document is not in English, also send a translation of the document in English. The translation must include a statement from the translator saying they are fluent in both languages.
If you want to bring your husband or wife to the U.S.:
- Send a copy of your marriage certificate.
- If you have been married before, send copies of documents showing that your past marriages ended. Usually, these are divorce or death certificates.
- Send documents that show that this is a real marriage and is not for immigration purposes. As examples:
- You can send birth certificates of your children that show that you and your spouse are their parents.
- You can send a document from a bank with both of your names on the same account.
- You can also send a lease showing both of your names.
- You can send letters from people who know you or your spouse and your marriage well. They do not need to be U.S. citizens.
- They should write their full name, address, and date and place of birth.
- They should describe how they know about your relationship, such as attending your wedding or spending time with you as a couple.
- If possible, these people should have a notary sign and stamp this letter before they send it to you.
If you want to bring your daughter or son:
- If you are the mother, send a copy of the birth certificate showing your name and your child’s name.
- If you are the father, send a birth certificate showing your name and the name of the child’s mother. Also send a marriage certificate showing you were married to the mother when the child was born or before the child turned 18. If you were not married, read the USCIS I-130 instructions for more information about how to prove your relationship.
If you want to bring your brother or sister:
- Send copies of both of your birth certificates showing that you had at least one parent in common.
- If you had different mothers but the same father, also send a copy of marriage certificates of your father to either or both of your mothers. If your father divorced one of the mothers, send a divorce certificate proving that. If your father was not married to either of your mothers, read the USCIS I-130 instructions for more information about how to prove your relationship.
If you want to bring your mother:
- Send your birth certificate with your mother’s name on it.
If you want to bring your father:
- Send a birth certificate showing the names of both of your parents.
- Also send a marriage certificate showing that your father and mother were married. If your parents were not married, read the USCIS I-130 instructions for more information about how to prove your relationship.
If you want to bring your stepparent:
- Send your birth certificate.
- Also send a marriage certificate between your natural parent and the stepparent. They must have been married before you turned 18.
- Also send documents to show that, if either one of them was married in the past, that these marriages ended. Usually, these are divorce or death certificates.
If you want to bring a parent who has adopted you:
- Send documents that show that your parent legally adopted you.
- Also send a document that shows you legally lived with your adoptive parents for at least 2 years before or after the adoption.
What If I Don’t Have Some of These Documents?
There are a few options if you do not have the required documents:
- If you do not have these documents, you should try to get them. For example, go to an embassy and ask for copies.
- See if there is another acceptable document that you can use instead of the required document. The U.S. Department of State lists alternative forms of documents on this website.
- Get a letter from a government office or embassy saying that you cannot get the document. You should also try to get other documents like:
- A religious record: A copy of a document from a religious organization like a church, mosque, temple, or synagogue. It should show that a religious ceremony happened (like a baptism) within two months after birth. It must include the date and place of birth, the date of the religious ceremony, and the names of the parents.
- A school record: A copy of a letter from an educational authority, like a school. It should show the date the child entered school, the child’s date of birth or age at that time, place of birth, and names of the parents.
- A census record: Government records showing the names, place of birth, date of birth, or the age of the person listed.
- Get two or more letters from people who were alive at the time of the event that you are trying to prove.
- They must have "personal knowledge" of the event. For example, an uncle who went to your parent’s wedding or a midwife who helped birth you, or a good friend who knows your relationship with your husband.
- The two letters do not need to be from U.S. citizens.
- The two or more people have to write their full name, address, date and place of birth, what they know about the event, and explain how they know this.
- If possible, they should have a notary sign and stamp this letter before they send it to you.
Where to Send the I-130 Form and Documents?
The filing location for a Form I-130 depends on where you live. Check this website to see where to send your Form I-130. You can also file online.
Before you send the I-130 form and its supporting documents, make sure to make a copy of the whole packet to keep for your own files. Even if you have the originals of the documents, you should always have one copy of the entire final submission you make. You may need it in the future.
After Filing the I-130, What Happens Next?
After you complete the I-130 form and send the form, supporting documents, and filing fee to USCIS, USCIS will send you, the petitioner, notices and letters in the mail. Sometimes they will also send them by email. It is important to save all of the letters.
USCIS will first send you an “I-797, Notice of Action.” This says that they received your I-130 petition. This letter is important because:
- It tells you which USCIS service center is working on the I-130. This USCIS website provides USCIS processing timelines.
- It gives you the receipt number for your case. This number has three letters such as EAC, WAC, LIN, SRC, NBC, MSC or IOE. It has 10 numbers after these letters. You can use this number to:
- It gives you a priority date for your case. This is important because it tells you when a visa will be available for your relative. You can look at the wait times for visas on this Department of State website by clicking the most recent Visa Bulletin.
Sometimes, USCIS will send a letter asking you, the petitioner, to send them more evidence. This is called a Request for Evidence (“RFE”). The RFE will tell you what document is missing and give you a date that you have to send the document by. Usually, they give you 90 to 120 days. USCIS may also suggest you get a DNA test. This is a blood test that you and your relative, the beneficiary, take. The test can prove that you and your relative are related by blood. It must be done by specific labs. You can find a list of those DNA labs by going to this website.
If your relative is an Iraqi or Syrian citizen, read IRAP’s guide on the Direct Access Program for Syrian and Iraqi nationals for more information.
Is it possible to expedite an I-130, Petition for Alien Relative?
Yes, you can ask USCIS to expedite the adjudication of an I-130 request after you have obtained a receipt notice.
How do I know if I am eligible for expedited processing?
You have to meet one or more of these criteria for expedited processing:
- Emergencies and urgent humanitarian reasons;
- Severe financial loss to a company or person, provided that the need for urgent action is not the result of the petitioner’s or applicants failure to:
- File the benefit request or the expedite request in a reasonable time frame, or
- Respond to any requests for additional evidence in a reasonably timely manner;
- Clear USCIS error; or
- Compelling US government interests (such as urgent cases for the Department of Defense of DHS, or other public safety or nationality security interests).
How do I request an expedited processing?
To request expedited processing, you cah:
- Call the USCIS’s Contact Center at 1-800-375-5283, or
- Use the “Ask Emma” chat feature on the USCIS website, at uscis.gov. You can access this tool by clicking on the “Ask Emma” icon on the top right of the page.
In order to complete your request, you must have a receipt number. USCIS will not be able to send a service request without a receipt number. The receipt number can be found on the I-797C document that USCIS sent to notify you that they have received your application.
After you call or chat with an agent to request expedited processing, the USCIS Contact Center will send the service request to the office in charge of your petition. That office may request additional information or documentation after your phone call. They may do this by email or phone.
Will the decision of an expedited processing affect the underlying application or petition?
A decision about expedited processing will not determine whether or not your underlying application or petition is approved or denied.
Once your request to expedite your petition is granted, then USCIS will issue a decision faster than normal processing time. All requests are reviewed on a case-by-case basis and USCIS has the discretion to deny or grant an expedite request.
What If I Think Something Is Wrong?
The Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman helps to resolve people’s problems with USCIS. They are not a part of USCIS, so they cannot approve or deny cases. However, they can communicate with USCIS to help you if:
- You have not received a USCIS notice or decision but the USCIS system says that they sent you one;
- The beneficiary may “age-out” of eligibility soon (which typically means that a child is about to turn 21 and will not be able to stay on his or her parents’ petition);
- There are mistakes in your documents;
- Your case is 60 days delayed past normal processing time;
- There are lost files and/or problems transferring files; or
- You think that USCIS made a serious mistake.
To get help, you can submit a case assistance request online. You can also download the form, which is available here, and submit it by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. It is sometimes easier to open the form using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser. Do not attach documents that are larger than 5 megabytes. For more detailed instructions, see the Ombudsman Office’s website here.
You can also ask your member of Congress to assist you. IRAP’s guide on asking for help from a member of Congress is here.
What Happens After a Petition is Approved?
An approved I-130 petition is the first step in the family-based immigration process. This guide is limited to this initial step. How long the rest of the process takes will depend on the type of family relationship. For some relationships, a visa is available right away and your relative can begin the visa application process as soon as the I-130 petition is approved. For other relationships, a limited number of visas are available each year, and your relative will have to wait – sometimes for years – before they can begin the actual visa application process. Information about visa wait times is available on the State Department’s visa bulletin.
When a visa is available, your next steps depend on where your relative lives. If your relative is already in the United States they may be able to adjust their status to lawful permanent resident right away. Information on adjusting status to lawful permanent residence is available on USCIS’s website. If your relative is outside the United States they can apply for an immigrant visa to come to the United States as a permanent resident. More information on the immigrant visa application process is available on the State Department website.
Additionally, if your relative is an Iraqi or Syrian citizen, read IRAP’s guide on the Direct Access Program for Syrian and Iraqi nationals. This guide gives information about how to apply for refugee resettlement.
If your relative is an Afghan citizen in Afghanistan, refer to the State Department’s Afghanistan Family Reunification page for more information on departure assistance.
If your relative is a Cuban citizen, you can find information from USCIS on Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program Operations here.
If your relative is a Haitian citizen, you can find information from USCIS on the Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program Operations here.
Asking for help
You or your relative may want to ask an immigration attorney for help with this process. Here are a few resources:
- Information about asking for help from IRAP is here.
- If you are in Jordan, you can ask for IRAP Jordan’s help using this form. If the form is closed, you can check back at a later date.
- A list of free immigration legal service providers in the United States is available here. These attorneys are not affiliated with IRAP.
- A list of private immigration attorneys in the United States is available here. Please note that private immigration attorneys may charge a fee for their services. These attorneys are not affiliated with IRAP.