When applying for family immigrant visas to the United States, you might have come across two categories. These are immediate family and preference categories.
For the most part, they are fairly self-explanatory. However, digging a bit deeper reveals specific eligibility criteria that are important to understand.
Let us look at the difference between immediate and family preference categories to understand which is correct for your adjustment of status application.
The immediate relative category is the easiest to understand. The first thing is that it only applies to relatives of US citizens; LPRs can’t petition for any family members under this category.
So, providing the petitioner is a full US citizen, the immediate relative category applies to:
· Unmarried children under the age of 21
· Parents (providing the US citizen is over the age of 21)
These family members can enter the US on various visas before applying for adjustment of status using Form I-485. Generally, they must be dual intent visas, which we discussed in a previous post.
Immediate family members are always guaranteed a Green Card if they are not inadmissible. While the processing time can still be several months, there is no limit on the number of Green Cards issued to immediate family members by USCIS.
Family Preference Categories
Slightly more distant family members of US citizens fall into the family preference category. It also applies to all family adjustment of status applications for LPRs.
There are five subcategories within family preference depending on the age and relationship status of the applicant and the status of the petitioner. These are:
- F1: Unmarried sons or daughters of US citizens aged 21 or older;
- F2A: Spouses and unmarried children (under 21) of LPRs;
- F2B: Unmarried children aged 21 or older of LPRs;
- F3: Married sons or daughters of US citizens aged 21 or older;
- F4: Siblings of US citizens (aged 21 or over).
Unlike immediate family visas, which are automatically issued, there is a limit on how many preference visas are given out each year. As such, there is often a long waiting period (i.e. several years) before a Green Card can be issued.
The US Department of State issues a monthly bulletin listing current waiting times and the breakdown of visa numbers. Based on Section 203(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the preference categories are broken down as follows:
- F1: 23,400 visas plus any not required for F4;
- F2: 114,200 plus any unused in F1, split into 77% for F2A and 23% for F2B;
- F3: 23,400 plus any unused by F1 and F2;
- F4: 65,000 plus any unused from F1-3.
The total number of family preference visas issued annually is 226,000. Section 202 of the INA sets a 7% limit of this cap for each country. In other words, no country can be issued more than 25,620 family preference visas in a year.
Getting the Right Category for Your Family
The differences between immediate and preference family categories are fairly clear. It primarily depends on the petitioner’s status and their relationship to the applicant.
However, understanding preference categories and the number limits can get a bit more confusing, particularly as it often results in a wait time of several years.
So, if you need to file an adjustment of status application for a family member and don’t know where to start, get in touch with San Diego Immigration Law Office.
We are experienced in dealing with these applications and can guide you through the steps. Reach out and book an initial consultation so we can discuss your case in more detail.