How to Prepare When Petitioning a Relative for a Green Card

U.S. citizens and green card holders are allowed to petition different relatives. But if you’re considering petitioning a relative for a green card, the process can be daunting. While there are a few ways to get a green card, petitioning a relative typically involves filing USCIS Form I-130.

Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, is the form used by U.S. citizens and green card holders to establish a relationship between them and a relative. What does that mean? Essentially, it means you will prove the relationship to the USCIS with various types of evidence.

family portrait of happy immigrants
A family portrait of happy immigrants. Learn what you need when preparing to petition your relative for a green card.

Documents for U.S. Citizens

If you’re a U.S. citizen and you want to petition a relative, you’ll first need to prove your citizenship status. There are several ways to do this. You can present:

  • A copy of your birth certificate, or other official birth record that shows you were born in the United States
  • A copy of your naturalization certificate or certificate of citizenship issued by the USCIS, or formerly Immigration and Naturalization Services
  • Form FS-240, Consular Report of Birth Abroad, issued by a U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate.
  • A copy of your unexpired U.S. passport
  • An original statement from a U.S. consular officer verifying that you are a U.S. citizen with a valid passport

Documents for Green Card Holders

If you’re petitioning a relative as a green card holder you will have to provide a copy of the front and back of your green card (Form I-551). If you have not received your card, the USCIS requires you to submit copies of your passport’s biographic page and the page showing you were admitted as a lawful permanent resident. 

You can also send other evidence of permanent resident status issued by the USCIS or INS.

Documents Needed to Prove Family Relationship

Form I-130 proves that you are related to the person you are petitioning. You will have to prove those relationships with the following evidence, depending on your relationship to the person you are petitioning.

Petitioning a Child

There are several ways that you can petition a child, depending on your relationship with that person. Different relationships require different forms of proof.

  • If you are petitioning a child and you are the mother: Submit a copy of the child’s birth certificate showing both your name and the name of the child.
  • If you are petitioning a child and you are the father: Submit a copy of the child’s birth certificate showing both parents’ names, your marriage certificate to the child’s mother, and proof of legal termination of the parents’ prior marriages, if any, issued by civil authorities.
  • If you’re petitioning a child who is your brother or sister: You must prove the relationship with your sibling by providing a copy of both birth certificates that show at least one parent in common. If you have the same father but different mothers, you must submit a copy of the marriage certificate showing your father was married to each mother, as well as copies of documents showing any prior marriages were legally terminated.

Petitioning a Parent

Again, you will need different documents depending on your specific relationship to the parent you are petitioning.

  • Petitioning a mother: Submit a copy of your birth certificate showing your name and your mother’s name.
  • Petitioning a father: Submit a copy of your birth certificate showing the names of both parents. You may also need a copy of your parents’ marriage certificate establishing your father was married to your mother.

Petitioning a Spouse

When petitioning a spouse, you can use several types of evidence to prove this relationship to government officials. You’ll need to provide forms of documentation including:

  • A copy of your marriage certificate
  • Proof of marriage nullification if either of you were in a previous marriage
  • Two identical color passport-style photos of yourself and your spouse (if your spouse is in the United States). 

The photos must have been taken within 30 days of filing the petition. The background must be white to off-white, printed on thin paper with a glossy finish, and be unmounted and unretouched.

Also, your photos must be two inches by two inches, in color, with a full face/frontal view. Head height should measure 1 to 1 3/8 inches from top of hair to bottom of chin, and eye height must be between 1 1/8 to 1 3/8 inches from the bottom of the photo. 

Your head must be bare unless you are wearing headwear as required by your religious denomination. Using a pencil or felt pen, lightly print your name and A-Number (if any) on the back of the photo.

Additional Evidence Required to Prove Your Marriage Relationship

The USCIS is always battling immigration fraud. One way to combat the problem is to require you to submit one or more of the following types of documents to prove a bona fide marriage.

  • Documents showing joint ownership of property, such as a home
  • A lease that shows joint tenancy of a residence
  • Birth certificates of children who were born to you and your spouse together
  • Affidavits sworn to or affirmed by third parties who have personal knowledge of the legitimacy of your marriage.

Each affidavit must contain the name and address of the person making the affidavit, their birthdate and place of birth, and complete details about how the person acquired the knowledge of your marriage.

You can also submit any other relevant documentation to establish that there is an ongoing marriage.

Conditional Permanent Resident Card

The USCIS will issue your spouse a two-year conditional permanent resident card if you have been married for less than two years on the day your spouse obtains permanent resident status.

You and your spouse will be required to complete Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence, during the 90-day period immediately before your spouse’s conditional permanent resident card and status expires.

Documents Needed if a Name Has Changed

The USCIS states that if you or the person you are petitioning has a different name than the name on official documents, you must provide copies of the legal documents that reflect the name change. Those could be marriage certificates, adoption decrees, or other court orders.

What if Official Documents are Not Available?

The USCIS has clear guidelines on what you can do if official documents for your applications are not available. The first step is to get a written statement from the appropriate civil or government office stating the official documents are not available. You will then be required to submit one or more of the following secondary evidence.

  • Religious record: Copies of a document bearing the seal of a religious organization showing a baptism, dedication, or comparable event occurred within two months after birth. The document must show the date and place the child’s birth, date of the religious ceremony, and the names of the child’s parents.

School record: The USCIS will accept a letter showing the date of admission to school (preferably the first school attended) showing the child’s date of birth or age at the time, place of birth, and names of the parents.

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