Family Preference System

Family immigration overview:Happy Family

Under the Family Preference System, visa numbers (known as “green cards”) are allocated to the family members based on their relationship to the petitioner. Preference categories typically require a long waiting time before a relative can immigrate to the U.S. because demand for visas exceeds the number of visas that may be approved by the United States.

Under this system United States citizens have a significant advantage over Lawful Permanent Residents (green card holders).

The following are the preference categories of family immigration:

  1. Immediate Relatives:

Spouses, parents and unmarried children under 21 years of U.S. citizens.

In the Immediate relatives category there are no annual quotas so visas are always available and waiting times are not long.

  1. Categories subject to annual quotas:

First Preference: Unmarried adult sons and daughters of US citizens.

Second Preference: Sub-Category A. Spouses and unmarried sons and daughters under 21 of legal permanent residents.

Sub-Category B. Unmarried sons and daughters over 21 years of age of legal permanent residents.

Third Preference: Married sons and daughters of US citizens.

Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters of US citizens.

Determination of Priority for Case Processing:

Visas are issued based on the date of filing of the  petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The date of filing is known as the “priority” date and is very important for the case. Petitions for immediate relatives are not subject to this preference system, and visas (green cards) are immediately available upon approval of the petition.

Other preference categories are subject to visa quotas and typically require longer waiting periods. U.S. Department of State calculates available visas and published the “Visa Bulletin” every month, which shows movement in visa availability based on the priority dates.

Change in Priority and Conversions:

Certain immigrant visa petitions in family immigration automatically convert to other preference categories upon occurrence of certain events. These include:

  1. First to third preference upon marriage of son or daughter of US citizen.
  2. Immediate relative to third preference upon child of US citizen marrying.
  3. Third preference to immediate relative upon the divorce of a child under 21.
  4. Third preference to first preference upon divorce of a son or daughter over 21 of US citizen.
  5. Second preference to immediate relative upon naturalization of parent of minor, unmarried child.
  6. Second preference to first upon naturalization of parent of a son or daughter over 21.

Automatic Revocation of Family Petitions:

There are situations when a change in circumstances invalidates the petition. Most notably, a petition for a second preference son or daughter of a legal permanent resident becomes invalid upon son or daughter’s marriage because no category exists for married children of permanent residents.

Petitioner may withdraw the petition at any time prior to relative’s arrival to the U.S. or prior to adjustment of status if person is in the United States. Visa will be automatically revoked.

USCIS may revoke an approved petition if fraud is discovered.

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