Preference Categories for U.S. Immigrant Relative Visas

If you are looking for information regarding spouses, parents, and children under 21 of U.S. citizens, please see our information page on Immediate Relatives. All other relatives for whom U.S. citizens and permanent residents may apply fall into the following "Preference Categories":

  • F1: Unmarried sons and daughters (children 21 and over) of U.S. citizens
  • F2A: Spouses and children under 21 of permanent residents
  • F2B: Unmarried sons and daughters (over 21) of permanent residents
  • F3: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens
  • F4: Siblings of U.S. citizens

These categories are subject to annual numerical quotas on immigrant visas, and therefore due to there being more applications than available visas, people in these categories must "wait in line" for a visa. Furthermore, certain countries (China, India, Mexico, and Philippines) have their own separate wait times. For several categories the wait time is many years.

The wait times for visas are updated each month in the U.S. Department of State Visa Bulletin.

For relatives who are outside of the U.S., the general application process is as follows:

  1. U.S. citizen petitioner submits Form I-130 with fees and supporting documentation to USCIS.
  2. Upon approval by USCIS, the application is transferred to the National Visa Center, which is part of the U.S. Department of State.
  3. If a visa is not yet available, the file is then placed on hold.
  4. When a visa becomes available, the National Visa Center collects additional fees and documentation from the petitioner and relative.
  5. Once the National Visa Center has received all necessary documentation, the application is sent abroad to the appropriate U.S. consulate/embassy.
  6. The relative is scheduled for an interview, and if there are no issues, the relative's visa is approved and they can travel to the U.S. to join their family member.

In some situations a preference category beneficiary might be eligible to apply for their green card in the U.S. instead of applying abroad at a consulate if they happen to be in the U.S. pursuant to a lawful admission at the time a visa becomes available.

Affidavit of Support

In family-based cases, an affidavit of support from the petitioner is required. There is a narrow exception for cases involving minor children who will derive U.S. citizenship from their parent upon admission as a permanent resident. The petitioner must demonstrate that he or she is able to support the intending immigrant at or above 125% of the federal poverty guideline for their household size. If the petitioner is unable to meet this requirement, a joint sponsor will be necessary to fulfill this requirement. The joint sponsor must be 18 or older, a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and domiciled in the United States.

Regarding Marriage-Based Cases

The immigration laws take marriage fraud very seriously. Therefore if you have a marriage-based case, you will need to provide substantial evidence that your marriage is "bonafide." Such evidence includes, but is not limited to: children, joint assets, joint insurance, photos together, and affidavits from family and friends. If you are called for an adjustment interview at USCIS, you will be questioned about your relationship. In some circumstances, you and your spouse may be questioned separately. Also, USCIS will sometimes conduct a home visit to investigate whether or not you are residing together as a bonafide couple. There are severe penalties, both civil and criminal, that could potentially be imposed if you and/or your spouse are found to have committed marriage fraud.

How We Can Help

  • For family members who are outside the U.S., we assist with completing and filing the petition with USCIS, managing the case with the National Visa Center, and communicating with the embassy/consulate through the final stages for the visa interview.
  • For family members who are in the U.S. and who are eligible to apply directly for their green cards, we assist with completing and filing the petition and representation at the interview with USCIS.

We welcome you to contact the Brian M. Wang | Whiteman Osterman & Hanna LLP to schedule a consultation about how we may be of service in your immigration matter. Based in the Albany, NY Capital District area, we assist clients throughout New York, in all 50 states, and worldwide with United States immigration law.

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