Family preference categories in US immigration

Family Preference Categories


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 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

    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.

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 a qualifying relationship and is a request for a visa number.

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.

Consular Processing

Consular processing is the process of obtaining an immigrant visa (green card) from outside the United States at a U.S. embassy or consulate.

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Adjustment of Status

Adjustment of status is the process that a nonimmigrant visitor (student, tourist, etc.) uses to change status to a permanent resident from inside the U.S.

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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 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.

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

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. 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*

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