When petitioning for a loved one to obtain their Green Card, it’s important to understand the family classification that applies to your family relationship so that you know what to expect in the process. There are key differences between “immediate” and “non-immediate” family members in U.S. immigration law, as well as specific preference categories that can affect wait times and quotas for getting a visa and soon after, a Green Card. Read on to learn more about how family preference categories work when applying for a Green Card!
Immediate vs. Nonimmediate Family Members
There are many different types of family relationships that allow noncitizens to obtain Green Cards. However, there is a difference in the application process for relationships considered “immediate” and those not. An immediate family relationship is defined in U.S. immigration law as being the spouse, minor child (under the age of 21 and unmarried), or parent of a U.S. citizen. Immediate relationships do not have a wait time after USCIS approval of their petitions. Once approved, the petition will be sent to the National Visa Center. As soon as it is processed, the family member being petitioned for can come to the U.S. and get a Green Card. All other family relationships that do not fall into the definition of an immediate family relationship are not considered to be immediate. Therefore, for example, the spouse and children of a Green Card holder, married children, children over the age of 21, and brothers and sisters of U.S. Citizens are non-immediate relationships.
Non-immediate relationships are subject to quotas and wait times that immediate relationships are not. There is an annual cap on the number of total family petitions, which has in recent years been 480,000. The “immediate relatives” category has no limit beyond this, and the number of immediate relative petitions granted is subtracted from the total cap every year to determine how many non-immediate relatives can be admitted in the following year. Because of the limit, there is a system of preference categories to determine the priority level of admission for non-immediate relationships. These categories are important to be aware of so that you understand the wait time and likelihood of being able to successfully bring your loved one to the United States.
A Detailed Look at the Preference Categories
The Green Card family petition preference categories are as follows:
- 1. First Preference (F1): Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens who are at least 21 years old;
- 2. Second Preference (F2A): Children (unmarried and under 21 years old) and spouses of Lawful Permanent Residents;
- 3. Second Preference (F2B): Unmarried sons and daughters of Lawful Permanent Residents who are at least 21 years old;
- 4. Third Preference (F3): Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens who are at least 21 years old; and
- 5. Fourth Preference (F4): Brothers and sisters of a U.S. citizen who is at least 21 years old.
How Can the Family Preference Categories Affect my Green Card Application?
Although U.S. family petitions are issued in chronological order based on filing date, the family preference categories can still have an impact on your ability to be approved. The family preference categories each have their own specific quotas within the total number of applicants allowed. If there are leftover numbers from some of the higher preference categories, they can be transferred to the lower preference categories to create more spaces. Additionally, if a family member starts off single and then gets married, or if they start off married and then get divorced, it can alter the category that they fall into and subsequently, the wait time and priority level. In years with a high number of applicants, it is especially important to understand these categories and how they can alter your ability and the time it takes to get a visa and Green Card.