Immigration Topics Explained:

Family Preference Categories

There are two major groups of family-based immigrants: immediate relative categories and family preference categories. When a U.S. citizen or permanent resident petitions a foreign family member, the immigrant falls into one of these two categories. The categories define the type of relationship that the immigrant has with the U.S. sponsor, and to a large extent, the priority that the immigrant will receive in obtaining a green card.

Family Preference Categories Available

What are the qualifying relationships?

The immediate relative categories are for an exclusive group of relationships with a U.S. citizen. However, the family preference categories include all other qualifying family relationships with a U.S. citizen and some specified relationships with a lawful permanent resident. The family preference categories include:

  • F1 family preference category for sons and daughters of US citizens

    Unmarried, adult sons and daughters (age 21 or over) of U.S. citizens

  • F2A family preference categories for spouse and children of LPR

    Spouses and unmarried children (under age 21) of permanent residents

  • F2B category for immigrant visa

    Unmarried adult sons and daughters of permanent residents

  • F3 category for sons and daughters of US citizens

    Married sons and daughters (any age) of U.S. citizens

  • F4 category for brothers and sisters of US citizens

    Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens

If you do not fit one of these categories, you may fit into the immediate relative categories. Immediate relative immigrant visas are available for the spouse, unmarried children, and parents of U.S. citizens. Grandparents, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts, cousins and in-laws cannot be directly petitioned.

Grounds of Inadmissibility

Can a green card be denied?

To be admitted into the United States as a lawful permanent resident (green card holder), a foreign national must meet several requirements in the family-based immigration system. In addition to having an eligible relationship with a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (as described above), the applicant must not be inadmissible under Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). INA 212 lists several grounds of inadmissibility that can prevent foreign nationals from gaining permission to enter or remain in the U.S. There are numerous grounds of inadmissibility. Some of the most commonly applied grounds of inadmissibility include:

  • Current or past employment in the United States without authorization;
  • Unlawful presence in the United States for certain periods of time; or
  • Violating the terms of a current or past nonimmigrant status.
Waivers are available for certain violations but not types of violations. That's why individuals who believe they may have a problem with any of the grounds of inadmissibility should speak to an immigration attorney before applying for an immigrant visa (green card).


What are the requirements for a green card?

The family-based immigration process generally begins with the U.S. citizen or permanent resident sponsor filing Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. The I-130 petition establishes a qualifying relationship and is a request for a visa number.

To immigrate through the family preference categories, there are several requirements:

Note: U.S. citizens may also sponsor a foreign fiancé to come to the United States for the purpose of marriage. The U.S. citizen starts this process by filing Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé. The foreign fiancé eventually enters the U.S. with a non-immigrant K-1 visa.

The I-130 petition is just the beginning of the process. The intending immigrant must apply for a green card via consular processing or adjustment of status.

Green Card Application Process

How does the preference category apply for a green card?

Once USCIS approves the I-130 petition and a visa number is available, the foreign family member may apply for a green card. There are two basic paths to apply for the green card: consular processing and adjustment of status. Consular processing is a means for applying for an immigrant visa (green card) through the U.S. embassy or consulate in a country outside the United States. Consular processing is the most common path to obtain a green card. In some cases, an immigrant that is already inside the United States in a nonimmigrant status (e.g. F-1 student, B-2 visitor, H-1B worker, etc.) may be able to adjust status to permanent resident. Adjustment of status is the process of changing immigration status to permanent residence (green card holder). Adjustment of status is only available to a small group of applicants. Applicants eligible for adjustment status can sometimes file Form I-130 concurrently with the adjustment application (Form I-485).

Consular Processing
Consular processing is a path for obtaining an immigrant visa (green card) from outside the United States at a U.S. embassy or consulate.
Adjustment of Status
Adjustment of status is a path of changing status from a nonimmigrant visitor to permanent resident from inside the U.S.

Using the Visa Bulletin

When will I know when the petition is current?

There is a limited number of family preference immigrant visas (green cards) available each year. Typically, this means most people have to wait for an immigrant visa. The process is first-in, first-out. For example, the first Form I-130 filed will be the petition to provide an immigrant visa number. Therefore, the petitioner should file Form I-130 as soon as possible.

The U.S. Department of State will use the I-130 petition filing date as the applicant's priority date. The State Department uses a visa bulletin to communicate when an intending immigrant's priority date is reached. To determine your wait, you’ll need to monitor the visa bulletin.

Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative

Use Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) to start the immigration process for a family member. Each year, USCIS rejects or denies thousands of I-130 petitions. Rejections and denials delay the process and can cost you money. Therefore, it's important to get it right.

each year an average of
I-130 petitions are filed*
out of these
get rejected*
and another
get denied*

How CitizenPath Helps You Prepare the I-130 Petition

How do I prepare Form I-130?

CitizenPath's affordable, online service makes it easy to prepare Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. Designed by immigration lawyers, the Immigrant Visa Petition Package helps you eliminate the common errors that create delays, rejections and even denials. That's because the service alerts you when your answer to a question may be a problem. You'll also get customized filing instructions based on your situation. It's a powerful, do-it-yourself tool that puts you in control. And we've got your back -- CitizenPath provides live customer support and provides a money-back guarantee that USCIS will approve the petition. Get started >>

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