What is the Immediate Relative Category?

What is Immediate Relative Category

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What is the “Immediate Relative” category?

In U.S. immigration, the Immediate Relative (IR) category refers to a specific group of family-sponsored immigrants who are considered close relatives of U.S. citizens. 

The IR category is distinct from other family-sponsored preference categories, and it includes the following relationships:

  • IR-1 (Spouses of U.S. Citizens): This category includes spouses of U.S. citizens.
  • IR-2 (Unmarried Children Under 21 of U.S. Citizens): This category includes unmarried children of US citizens who are under the age of 21.
  • IR-5 (Parents of U.S. Citizens): This category includes parents of U.S. citizens, provided the U.S. citizen is at least 21 years old.

Unlike other family-sponsored preference categories, immediate relatives are not subject to numerical limitations.

This means that there is no annual cap on the number of visas available for immediate relatives. 

This makes the process generally faster for individuals in the Immediate Relative category compared to other family-sponsored preference categories, where visa numbers are limited and subject to waiting periods.

Immediate relatives can apply for a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence) through a process known as consular processing if they are outside the United States or through adjustment of status if they are already in the U.S. 

The goal of this category is to facilitate the reunification of close family members in the U.S.

What is the difference between Immediate Relative and Family Preference?

The U.S. immigration system categorizes family-sponsored immigrants into two main groups: 

  • Immediate Relatives (IR)
  • Family Preference 

The key differences between the two are related to the relationships they cover, numerical limitations, and the processing times.

  • Qualifying Relationships:
      • Immediate Relatives (IR): This category includes close family members of U.S. citizens. Specifically, it includes spouses, unmarried children under 21 years old, and parents (if the U.S. citizen petitioner is at least 21 years old).
      • Family Preference Categories: These categories include more distant family relationships, and they are subject to numerical limitations. Family Preference categories include:
        • F1 (First Preference): Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their minor children.
        • F2A (Second Preference, Subcategory A): Spouses and unmarried children (under 21) of lawful permanent residents.
        • F2B (Second Preference, Subcategory B): Unmarried sons and daughters (21 years and older) of lawful permanent residents.
        • F3 (Third Preference): Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children.
        • F4 (Fourth Preference): Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children.
  • Numerical Limitations:
      • Immediate Relatives (IR): There is no numerical cap on the visas available for immediate relatives. This means there are no waiting periods based on visa availability, making the process generally faster.
      • Family Preference Categories: Each preference category has a limited number of visas available annually. As a result, individuals in these categories may face waiting periods before they can apply for a visa, especially for certain relationships with high demand.
  • Processing Times:
    • Immediate Relatives (IR): Processing times for immediate relatives are generally faster because there are no numerical limitations, and visas are immediately available.
    • Family Preference Categories: Processing times for family preference categories can be longer due to the numerical limitations and the potential for waiting periods based on visa availability.

In summary, Immediate Relatives consist of close family members of U.S. citizens and have faster processing times with no numerical limitations. 

Family Preference categories include more distant family relationships, have numerical caps, and may involve longer waiting periods.

How can Immediate Relatives apply for green cards?

Immediate Relatives (IR) of U.S. citizens can apply for green cards (lawful permanent residence) through a process known as consular processing if they are outside the U.S. or through adjustment of status if they are already in the U.S. Here’s an overview of the two processes:

  • Consular Processing (if family member is outside the U.S.):
      • Step 1: Petition Filing: The first step is for the U.S. citizen family member to file an immigrant petition (Form I-130) on behalf of the immediate relative with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
      • Step 2: Visa Availability: Unlike family preference categories, there is no waiting period for visa availability in the Immediate Relative category. Once the I-130 petition is approved, the case is forwarded to the National Visa Center (NVC).
      • Step 3: Affidavit of Support and Visa Application: The petitioner must submit an Affidavit of Support (Form I-864), and the immediate relative must complete a visa application. The NVC will provide instructions for these documents.
      • Step 4: Consular Interview: After the NVC processes the case, it is sent to the U.S. embassy or consulate in the immediate relative’s home country. The immediate relative attends a consular interview, and if approved, they receive an immigrant visa.
  • Adjustment of Status (if family member is in the U.S.):
    • Step 1: Concurrent Filing: the U.S. citizen family member files an immigrant petition (Form I-130) with USCIS on behalf of the immediate relative. Adjustment of status application (Form I-485) can be filed at the same time as Form I-130 is filed. This process is called “Concurrent filing”.
    • Step 3: Biometrics and Interview: The immediate relative will be scheduled for biometrics (fingerprinting) and, later, an adjustment of status interview with USCIS. Sometimes the interviews can be waived.
    • Step 4: Approval and Green Card Issuance: If the adjustment of status application is approved, the immediate relative receives a green card, granting them lawful permanent residence.

Related Links:

Family-Based Immigration: Immediate Relatives and the Preference System

IR-1 and CR-1 Visa, Immigrant Visa for a Spouse of U.S. Citizen

How to Apply For an IR-2 Child Visa

Green Card for Parents (IR-5 Visa)

How to Read the Visa Bulletin for Family-Based Immigrants