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 will fall 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
The immediate relative categories are for an exclusive group of relationships with a U.S. citizen. However, the family preference categories are all other eligible family relationships with a U.S. citizen and some specified relationships with a lawful permanent resident. The family preference categories include:
Unmarried, adult sons and daughters (age 21 or over) of U.S. citizens
Spouses and unmarried children (under age 21) of permanent residents
Unmarried adult sons and daughters of permanent residents
Married sons and daughters (any age) of U.S. 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.
Establishing a Family Preference Relationship
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 an eligible relationship and is a request for a visa number.
There is an exception. U.S. citizens can 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. If approved, the foreign fiancé receives a non-immigrant fiancé visa (K-1).
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. In most cases, a family preference immigrant will need to use consular processing.
Using the Visa Bulletin
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 filing date of an I-130 petition is also known as the applicant’s priority date. Immigrant visas cannot be issued until an applicant’s priority date is reached. To determine your wait, you’ll need to monitor the visa bulletin.