What Is an Immigration Petitioner?

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In U.S. immigration law, a petitioner is someone who submits a request on behalf of a foreign national to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which, upon approval, allows the foreign national to submit an official visa application. The petitioner must be either an immediate relative (a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident) or a prospective employer. The foreign national on behalf of whom the initial request is submitted is known as the beneficiary.

For example, a man, a U.S. citizen, has submitted a petition to USCIS to allow his German wife to come to the United States to live permanently. In the application, the husband is listed as the petitioner and his wife is listed as the beneficiary.

Key Takeaways: Immigration Petitioner

• A petitioner is someone who submits a request on behalf of a foreign national who wishes to immigrate to the United States. The foreign national is known as the beneficiary.

• Petitions for foreign relatives are made using Form I-130, and petitions for foreign workers are made using Form I-140.

• Because of green card quotas, petition processing can take anywhere from several months to several years.

Petition Forms

In U.S. immigration law, there are two forms used by USCIS for petitioners to submit on behalf of foreign nationals. If the petitioner is a relative of the foreign national, Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative needs to be completed. This form asks for information used to establish the relationship between the petitioner and the beneficiary, including information about the petitioner's parents, spouse(s), place of birth, current address, employment history, and more. If the petitioner is submitting a petition on behalf of a spouse, Form I-130A, Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary must be filled out.

If the petitioner is a prospective employer of the foreign national, they should complete Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers. This form asks for information about the beneficiary's skills, last arrival in the United States, place of birth, current address, and more. It also asks for information about the petitioner's business and the beneficiary's proposed employment.

Once one of these forms has been completed, the petitioner should mail it to the appropriate address (there are separate filing instructions for Form I-130 and Form I-140). To complete this process, the petitioner must also submit a filing fee (as of 2018, the fee is $535 for Form I-130 and $700 for Form I-140).

Approval Process

Once a petitioner has submitted a request, the document is a reviewed by a USCIS official known as an adjudicator. Forms are reviewed on a first-come, first served basis and can take anywhere from several months to several years to process.

Because of U.S. quotas on the number of green cards that can be granted each year, Form I-130 processing times vary based on the relationship between the petitioner and the beneficiary. Some immediate relatives, for example—including spouses, parents, and children under 21—are given preference over siblings and adult children. Processing times for the latter can last as long as 10 years.

Once a petition is approved, the qualifying foreign national may apply for permanent residency status by submitting Form I-485. This document asks for information about the place of birth, current address, recent immigration history, criminal history, and more. Immigrants who are already in the United States may apply for adjustment of status, while those outside the United States may apply for a green card through the U.S. embassy.

If a foreign national is applying for an employment-based visa, they must complete the labor certification process, which is done through the Department of Labor. Once this is complete, the foreign national may apply for a visa.

Additional Information

About 50,000 visas are available each year through the Green Card Lottery. The lottery has certain entry requirements; for example, applicants must live in a qualifying country, and they must have at least a high school education or two years of work experience.

Once a foreign national has been approved and becomes a lawful permanent resident, they have certain rights. These include the right to live and work anywhere in the United States and the guarantee of equal protection under United States law. Lawful permanent residents also have certain responsibilities, including the requirement to report their income to the IRS. Male lawful permanent residents between the ages of 18 and 25 must also register for the Selective Service.