What Is a Petitioner?

Posted by Frank Gogol

If you wish to immigrate to the U.S., you face a long and complicated process. Before you can even submit an official visa application, you need to find a petitioner.

A petitioner is someone who submits a request to the USCIS on your behalf. This is a way of making sure when you apply for a visa, you have a good reason to be in the U.S. A petitioner must be an immediate relative or a prospective employer and must also be a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident.

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.

Let’s take a look at the role and requirements of a petitioner in more detail.

Who Is a Petitioner?

In U.S. immigration law, a petitioner is a U.S. citizen who submits a request on behalf of a foreign national to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). After the request has been submitted by the petitioner, the USCIS needs to approve. After approval has been granted, the foreign national can then submit an official visa application. The foreign national is known as the beneficiary.

In an application with the USCIS, the petitioner has to be a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident. The petitioner must also either be an immediate relative of the beneficiary or a prospective employer.

If you want to submit any visa applications, you first have to be nominated to the USCIS by a petitioner. For example, if an Indian wife wanted to live in the U.S. permanently, she would have to have a petitioner. If her husband was a U.S. citizen, he could submit a petition to the USCIS to allow his Indian wife to come to the U.S. permanently. In the application, the U.S. husband would be listed as the petitioner, and his wife would be listed as the beneficiary.

Petition Forms

The petition process is a way of making sure that you have a good reason to come to the U.S. There are two categories of petitioners – immediate relatives and prospective employers.

If your petitioner is a direct relative, they need to submit Form I-130: Petition for Alien Relative. The purpose of this form is to establish the relationship between you (the beneficiary) and your relative (the petitioner). This form asks for information about the petitioner’s parents, spouse(s), place of birth, current address, employment history, and more.

If your petitioner is your spouse, they need to also fill in Form I-130A: Supplemental Information for Spouse Beneficiary.  

If your petitioner is a current or prospective employer, they need to submit Form I-140: Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers. The purpose of this form is to establish the details of your (the beneficiary’s) job skills and your employer’s (the petitioner’s) business and proposed employment. This form asks for information about your skills, your last arrival in the U.S., place of birth, current address, and more. It also asks for details about the petitioner’s business and the proposed employment contract.

Once one of these forms have been completed, the petitioner should mail it to the appropriate address. It is important to note that there are separate filing instructions for relatives and employers. Form I-130 and Form I-140 need to be sent to different addresses.

The petitioner must also submit a filing fee of between $500-$700.


Approval Process

The approval process of petitioner requests is notoriously slow. This is an important part of the process, as approval of the petition form by the USCIS is a prerequisite to the filing of a visa.

To make matters worse, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in long delays in every part of the immigration process. Even after the situation normalizes, you can expect long delays.

Here is a summary of the process you can expect:

  • After the USCIS receives a petition, it will review it for completeness. If something is missing, the USCIS might send the entire package back to your petitioner or send a Request for Evidence letter asking for the missing information. Once this is complete, you will get a notice of receipt. This receipt notice contains a case number that you can use to check on the status of your application online.
  • Once the USCIS has determined that your petition is complete, it will be put in line for further review. The review includes the careful checking of documents to make sure the US citizen’s passport is the real thing, and the immigrant’s birth certificate is complete and accurate.
  • 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 issued every year, Form I-130 processing times vary based on the relationship between the petitioner and the beneficiary.
  • If your familial relationship is not very close – for example, the siblings and adult children of U.S. citizens – the USCIS may put your form toward the back of the line. Processing times for distant relations can take as long as 10 years – the waiting list for brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens is about 20+ years long!
  • If all goes well, the USCIS will approve the petition form. At that point, the USCIS will notify the U.S. petitioner, send an official approval notice, and transfer the file to the appropriate place. This official approval notice can then be used in any further visa applications you make.

Additional Information

It is important to note that having an approved petition does not, by itself, give you any right to come to, or remain in, the U.S. It is merely the first step in the visa application process.

If you are having trouble getting USCIS approval of your petition, you might consider consulting with a qualified and experienced U.S. immigration attorney. A lawyer is usually worth the cost and can help you speed up the process and avoid making damaging mistakes.

Another way of getting a green card is through the Green Card Lottery. The lottery has certain entry requirements; for example, you have to live in a qualifying country and need at least a high school experience and two years of work experience. But with 50,000 visas available each year through the Green Card Lottery, it is worth considering.


If you are wanting to come to the U.S. for work or based on a familial relationship, you need a petitioner to start the visa application process.  

A petitioner must be an immediate relative or a prospective employer. The USCIS also requires that the petitioner is a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident. Your petitioner backs up your claim that you have the right to immigrate.

Getting your petition approved is a long and painful process, but needs to be done before you can start any other visa application processes.  

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