Family Preference Categories

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The United States immigration processing is based on a quota and preference system. There is an overall cap of 480,000 family sponsored immigrant visas available every year. Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens may be admitted in unlimited amounts every year but the numbers used will reduce the overall cap of 480,000 visa. However the amount of available visas available for the other preference categories cannot be reduce to below 226,000 visas.

Immediate relatives are the spouse, parents (if U.S. Citizen is over 21 years old) and unmarried children (under the age of 21) of the petitioning U.S Citizen. The term children also includes the step-children under the age of 18 at the time of the U.S. citizen’s marriage to the step-child’s parent and children adopted prior to the age of 16.

The remaining family visas are separated and allocated through a tiered system of preference categories. Only a limited amount immigrant visas are available to each preference category. The first preference category is for unmarried children of U.S. citizens who are over the age of 21. The children in this category must have qualified as “children” of the U.S. citizen when they were under 21. The minor children of the first preference immigrant can immigrate with them. An example is if the adult child of a U.S. citizen is married and has a child. If the adult child divorces, the adult child can bring their minor child with them when the first preference category date is reached.

The second family preference category is separated into two subsections, (2A) the immediate family members of U.S. Permanent Residents and (2B) unmarried adult children of U.S. Permanent Residents. The entire preference category is allocated 114,200 annual visa with 77% going to the 2A subcategory and 23% going to the 2B subcategory. Like the first preference category, the minor children of second preference immigrants can immigrate with them. Spouses of permanent residents whose marriage was created within two years prior are granted only a conditional permanent resident status.

The third family preference category are for married children of U.S. citizens. As with the first and second preference category, the adult child must have qualified as an immediate relative prior to turning 21. The spouse and minor children of third preference immigrants can immigrate with them. The entry of the derivative immigrants (spouse and children) are charged against the 23,400 immigrant visas allotted to this preference category.

The fourth family preference category are for siblings of a U.S. citizen. The U.S. citizen must be at least 21 years old before applying and the siblings must have the same parent. There are 65,000 visa allotted to this category. The sibling immigrant can bring their spouse and minor children with them. The entry of the derivative immigrants are charged against the visa allocation.

When the visa allotments are exhausted, the existing cases will have to wait until the following year’s visa allotments are released. The visa allotments have consistently been exhausted every year. As a result, all non-immediate family preference categories have waits of several years. The wait for the fourth preference category of siblings of U.S. citizens are routinely over 12 years. The current wait processing dates can be located on the U.S. State Department’s Visa Bulletin. (http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/law-and-policy/bulletin.html)