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Counting the Costs: A Guide to I-130 Petitioning for Family Members

Form I-130, officially known as the “Petition for Alien Relative,” is a form issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The primary purpose of Form I-130 is to establish the qualifying relationship between a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (the petitioner) and a foreign national relative who wishes to immigrate to the United States (the beneficiary).

The form is typically used by U.S. citizens or permanent residents to sponsor the following family members for immigration to the United States:

  • Spouses
  • Unmarried children under the age of 21
  • Unmarried sons and daughters who are 21 years old or older
  • Married sons and daughters of any age
  • Brothers and sisters (if the petitioner is at least 21 years old)

By filing Form I-130, the petitioner is essentially requesting that the USCIS recognizes the familial relationship and approves the foreign national relative for immigrant visa processing. Once the petition is approved, the foreign national relative can then apply for an immigrant visa or, if eligible, adjust their status to that of a permanent resident in the United States.

Who can file Form I-130?

Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, can be filed by a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) on behalf of certain family members. The person filing the petition is known as the petitioner, and the family member seeking immigration benefits is the beneficiary.

Here’s a breakdown of who can file Form I-130:

  • U.S. Citizens:
    • U.S. citizens can file Form I-130 for the following family members:
      • Spouse
      • Unmarried children under 21 years old
      • Unmarried sons and daughters 21 years old or older
      • Married sons and daughters of any age
      • Brothers and sisters (if the U.S. citizen petitioner is at least 21 years old)
  • Lawful Permanent Residents (Green Card Holders):
    • Lawful permanent residents can file Form I-130 for the following family members:
      • Spouse
      • Unmarried children under 21 years old

It’s important to note that the preference categories for family-sponsored immigration differ for U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. U.S. citizens generally have more options and shorter waiting times for certain categories.

The petitioning process involves submitting Form I-130 along with supporting documentation to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Once the petition is approved, the case may proceed to the next steps, such as consular processing or adjustment of status, depending on the beneficiary’s location and immigration status.

Before filing Form I-130, it’s crucial to carefully review the instructions provided by USCIS and ensure that the petitioner meets the eligibility criteria for sponsoring the specified family member. Additionally, the petitioner must establish the qualifying relationship with the beneficiary and provide the required evidence to support the petition.

Cost to Petition a Relative, I-130 Form

The cost to petition a relative (filing Form I-130) is currently $535. However, it’s essential to note that USCIS fees are subject to change, and it’s advisable to check the official USCIS website or contact USCIS directly for the most up-to-date information on filing fees.

The fees can vary depending on the relationship between the petitioner and the beneficiary, and there may be additional fees for related processes, such as adjustment of status or consular processing. Always refer to the USCIS website or contact USCIS for the latest fee schedule and instructions before submitting any forms.

How to decrease the cost of petitioning a relative?

While certain costs associated with petitioning a relative for immigration to the United States are non-negotiable, there are a few strategies to manage and potentially decrease some associated costs. Here are some suggestions:

  • Research Fee Waivers:
    • USCIS may offer fee waivers for certain applicants who demonstrate financial hardship. Eligibility criteria are specific, so review the USCIS guidelines to see if you qualify.
  • Bundle Petitions:
    • If you are petitioning for multiple family members, you may be able to save on costs by bundling the petitions together. USCIS has specific forms for various family relationships, so check which ones are applicable to your situation.
  • DIY vs. Attorney Assistance:
    • While it’s generally recommended to seek legal advice for immigration matters, some individuals choose to complete the process on their own to save on attorney fees. If the case is straightforward and you are comfortable navigating the process, this could be a cost-saving option.
  • Carefully Review Filing Requirements:
    • Ensure that you provide all necessary documentation and information with your initial petition to avoid Request for Evidence (RFE) responses. RFEs can lead to additional costs and delays.
  • Consular Processing vs. Adjustment of Status:
    • Depending on the circumstances, consular processing may be more cost-effective than adjusting status within the U.S. Be sure to evaluate the pros and cons of each option based on your specific situation.
  • Avoid Delays:
    • Timely submission of accurate and complete documentation can prevent delays and additional costs associated with case processing.
  • Stay Informed:
    • Regularly check the USCIS website for updates on fees and processes. USCIS occasionally adjusts fees, and staying informed can help you plan accordingly.

Additional costs of sponsoring a foreign relative for permanent residence

In addition to the filing fee for Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative), there are several other potential costs associated with sponsoring a relative for a green card in the United States. These costs can vary depending on factors such as the family relationship, the specific immigration process, and whether the beneficiary is already in the U.S. or abroad. Some additional costs may include:

  • Filing Fees for Other Forms:
    • Depending on the specific circumstances, there may be additional forms to file, each with its own filing fee. For example, if the relative is adjusting status in the U.S., there will be fees associated with Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status).
  • Medical Examination:
    • Applicants for a green card are generally required to undergo a medical examination by a USCIS-approved civil surgeon. The cost of the medical examination is typically borne by the applicant.
  • Biometric Fees:
    • If applicable, USCIS may require biometric (fingerprinting) fees, especially for those filing Form I-485 for adjustment of status.
  • Travel Costs:
    • If the beneficiary is outside the U.S., there may be travel costs associated with attending visa interviews or medical examinations.
  • Translation and Documentation Costs:
    • Documents not in English must be accompanied by certified translations, which may incur additional costs. Additionally, obtaining necessary documents, such as birth certificates or marriage certificates, might involve fees.
  • Affidavit of Support Fees:
    • If the sponsoring U.S. citizen or permanent resident does not meet the income requirements, a joint sponsor may be needed. The affidavit of support forms (e.g., Form I-864) could involve additional fees.
  • Legal Fees:
    • While it’s possible to navigate the immigration process without an attorney, some individuals choose to seek legal advice. Legal fees can vary, so it’s important to inquire about costs upfront.
  • Consular Processing Fees:
    • If the beneficiary is processing the immigrant visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad, there may be fees associated with that process.
  • Miscellaneous Costs:
    • There could be other miscellaneous costs, such as passport fees, photos, or mailing costs.

It’s essential to carefully review the requirements for your specific situation and budget for potential costs. Consulting with an immigration attorney or a reputable immigration assistance organization can provide guidance tailored to your circumstances and help you navigate the process more effectively.

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