What is the Family Preference Category?

What is the Family Preference Category

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What is the Family Preference Category?

The Family Preference Category refers to a set of family-based immigrant visa categories that allow U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (green card holders) to petition for certain family members to immigrate to the U.S.

The family preference system is divided into several categories, each with its own eligibility criteria and allocation of visas:

  • F1 – Unmarried Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens
  • F2A – Spouses and Unmarried Children under 21 of Permanent Residents
  • F2B – Unmarried Sons and Daughters (21 years of age or older) of Permanent Residents
  • F3 – Married Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens
  • F4 – Brothers and Sisters of Adult U.S. Citizens

Each of these categories has a numerical limit on the number of visas that can be issued in a fiscal year. 

This numerical limitation often leads to waiting periods for visa processing.

In family-based immigration applications, a US citizen or permanent resident sponsoring a family member is called “Petitioner”.

The family member being sponsored is called “Beneficiary”.

What is the difference between Family Preference and Immediate Relative?

In the context of U.S. immigration, both Family Preference and Immediate Relative categories are classifications used to determine the eligibility of family members to immigrate to the U.S.

The main difference between the two lies in the nature of the relationship and the availability of visas.

  • Immediate Relative Categories:
      • Immediate Relative categories are reserved for close family members of U.S. citizens, and there is no numerical limit on the number of visas available each fiscal year.
      • The Immediate Relative categories include:
        • IR-1: Spouse of a U.S. citizen
        • IR-2: Unmarried child under 21 years of age of a U.S. citizen
        • IR-3: Orphan adopted abroad by a U.S. citizen
        • IR-4: Orphan to be adopted in the U.S. by a U.S. citizen
        • IR-5: Parent of a U.S. citizen who is at least 21 years old
      • Immediate Relative petitions generally have faster processing times, and there is no waiting period for visa numbers to become available.
  • Family Preference Categories:
    • Family Preference categories, on the other hand, are for more distant family relationships and certain family members of lawful permanent residents (green card holders).
    • These categories are subject to annual numerical limits, and there is often a waiting period for visa numbers to become available. The waiting period can vary depending on the category and the demand for visas.
    • The Family Preference categories include F1, F2A, F2B, F3, and F4.

In summary, Immediate Relative categories are for very close family members of U.S. citizens and have more favorable immigration conditions, for example the immediate availability of visa and leniency towards visa overstay and unauthorized employment.

Family Preference categories include a broader range of family relationships and are subject to numerical limitations, leading to waiting periods for visa availability.

For example, brothers and sisters of US citizens have to wait anywhere from 16 years to 23 years before they can actually apply for an immigrant visa or green card.

How to determine the Family Preference waiting time: How to Read the Visa Bulletin for Family-Based Immigrants 

How can Family Preference beneficiaries apply for green cards?

Family Preference beneficiaries can apply for green cards through a multi-step process. Here are the general steps:

  • Step 1. Form I-130 Filing:
      • A U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (petitioner) must file Form I-130 on behalf of the family member (beneficiary). Spouses and unmarried children under 21 of green card holders who are present in the US might be eligible for concurrent filing of Forms I-130 and I-485 if their priority date is current. It means that the beneficiaries can file Forms I-130 and I-485 at the same time. Learn more: What is Concurrent Filing
  • Step 2. Approval of the Petition:
      • Once Form I-130 is approved, USCIS issues an approval notice. If the family preference category has a numerical limit and the petition is approved but visas are not immediately available (priority date is not “current”), the beneficiary will be placed on a waiting list.
  • Step 3. Waiting Period (if applicable):
  • Step 4. National Visa Center (NVC) Processing:
      • Family Preference beneficiaries who are outside the United States go through consular processing. This involves attending an interview at a U.S. consulate or embassy in their home country to obtain an immigrant visa.
      • If the beneficiary is already in the U.S. and eligible to adjust status, they can file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, with USCIS. 
  • Step 6. Immigrant Visa or Green Card Issuance:
    • After a successful consular processing or adjustment of status, the beneficiary is issued an immigrant visa (if outside the US) or a green card (if in the U.S.)

How long do I need to wait before I can apply for a green card or visa in the Family Preference category?

The waiting time before you can actually apply for a green card or visa in the Family Preference category can vary widely and depends on several factors:

  • Specific family preference category 
  • Demand for visas in that category. 

The waiting time is primarily influenced by the availability of visa numbers as shown in the most recent U.S. Visa Bulletin.

  • Family Preference Categories and Waiting Times:
      • Each Family Preference category (F1, F2A, F2B, F3, F4) has its own numerical limit on the number of visas available each fiscal year.
      • The demand for visas in each category can fluctuate, and the waiting times can get updated every month.
  • Priority Date:
      • The key factor in determining when you can apply for a green card is your priority date. The priority date is the date USCIS receives the I-130 petition filed on your behalf.
      • The Visa Bulletin, published monthly by the U.S. Department of State, indicates the current priority dates being processed for each preference category and country of chargeability. Your priority date must be earlier than the date listed in the Visa Bulletin for your category to move forward in the process.
  • Waiting for Visa Availability:
      • If the demand for visas in your category is high and exceeds the numerical limit, you may need to wait until a visa becomes available. This waiting period can vary, and sometimes the waiting time can be several years.
  • Checking the Visa Bulletin:
  • Consular Processing or Adjustment of Status:
    • Once your priority date is current, you can proceed with either consular processing (if you are outside the U.S.) or adjustment of status (if you are already in the U.S.) This involves additional steps and may incur additional processing times.

Related Links:

Family-Based Immigration: Immediate Relatives and the Preference System

Unmarried Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens (F1) Visa

Spouses and Children of Green Card Holders (F2A)

Unmarried Sons and Daughters of Green Card Holders (F2B)

Married Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens (F3)

Brothers and Sisters of Adult U.S. Citizens (F4)

How to Read the Visa Bulletin for Family-Based Immigrants