family preference category family

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 for spouse and child

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:

  • Connector.

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

  • Connector.

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

  • Connector.

    Unmarried adult sons and daughters of permanent residents

  • Connector.

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

  • Connector.

    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.

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 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.

To immigrate through the family preference category, there are several requirements:
The sponsoring U.S. citizen or permanent resident relative must file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, on behalf of the foreign national relative. The petition is used to establish a valid family preference relationship between the petitioner and the foreign family member.
The qualifying relationship (e.g. spouse, son/daughter, etc.) must be documented with evidence. When filing Form I-130, you’ll send birth records (i.e. official birth certificate) to establish biological relationships or a marriage certificate to establish a marital relationship. Spouses must also provide proof that the marriage is bona fide (not entered into primarily for purposes of getting a green card).
The U.S. citizen is responsible for filing the I-130 petition to start the process, but your relative is responsible for actually applying for the green card. A family preference immigrant visa applicant will most likely apply through 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. If the family member is physically outside the United States, this is the only available option. Learn more about consular processing >>
  • In some rare circumstances, a family preference applicant can apply through adjustment of status. Adjustment of status is the process that a non-immigrant visitor (e.g. student, tourist, etc.) uses to change status to a permanent resident from inside the United States. In other words, if the intending immigrant is already in the U.S. with a temporary visa, he or she may be able to “adjust status” to permanent resident. However, it’s very uncommon for a family preference applicant to adjust status. This option is typically available only to immediate relative applicants. Learn more about adjustment of status >>

There are additional requirements for adjustment of status applicants. For example, the immigrant generally must have a lawful entry into the United States.

When intending immigrant applies for the green card, the U.S. petitioner will also need to file Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. The Affidavit of Support is required for most family-based immigrants to show that they have adequate means of financial support and are not likely to rely on the U.S. government for financial support.

If the immigrant family member is not able to support himself or herself financially, the U.S. sponsor promises to provide financial support. To do this, the U.S. sponsor must generally have an income that is at least 125% of the Federal poverty level. If you the sponsor’s income does not meet the requirement, assets such as checking and savings accounts, stocks, bonds, or property may be considered in determining the sponsor’s financial ability. You can check Federal poverty levels on Form I-864P.

If you are preparing your adjustment of status application packet through CitizenPath, we’ll provide the Form I-864, Affidavit of Support, for you. Get started now >>

Even with a valid family preference relationship, the intending immigrant must demonstrate that he or she is not inadmissible to the United States. In other words, they’ll need to demonstrate that they don’t pose a danger to U.S. society on health, security, immigration violation, or criminal grounds.

  • Health
    The intending immigrant will be required to have a medical examination conducted by a USCIS designated physician. The examination is required to establish that an applicant is not a public health risk such as a carrier of a disease that presents a public health risk, or having a dangerous physical or mental disorder.
  • Immigration Violations
    The intending immigrant’s immigration history will be reviewed. The application will likely be denied if the intending immigrant has overstayed a visa by six months or more, or if you he/she has ever entered the country unlawfully. The government will also seek to determine if a visa (if applicable) has ever been misused.
  • Criminal Record
    The intending immigrant will certainly run into problems if he or she has committed certain crimes, like aggravated felonies, drug crimes, or acts of terrorism.

If there’s a reason that any of the above requirements could be an issue, we recommend that you contact an experienced immigration attorney before filing any USCIS form. In some cases and in certain situations, if you are found inadmissible to the United States you may be eligible to file a waiver on Form I-601, Application for Waiver of Ground of Inadmissibility.

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Nearly 9% of Form I-130 petitions are rejected, and thousands more are denied. A poorly prepared petition can also delay the approval process and even create significant immigration problems. But when you prepare your I-130 on CitizenPath, we provide simple, step-by-step instructions and alerts to help you avoid costly delays. We even guarantee USCIS will accept your petition. No credit card is required to try it.