Visa Category Preferences visas are for those who do not qualify as an immediate family member of a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). These visas are subject to annual limits (“visa quotas”) and per country limitations.

Once a visa number becomes available, the immigrant must file a petition and attend an interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. The process can be long and complicated.

Family First Preference (F1)

Family-based immigration law allows US citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) to sponsor relatives who live abroad for green cards. For some people, this is the first step toward citizenship. The visas available each fiscal year are limited, and some categories have wait times of 20-30 years.

To keep track of what’s happening, the State Department publishes a monthly Visa Bulletin. It shows which “priority dates”–the dates when people filed their petitions–are being processed. It also includes a chart of the waiting periods for each preference category. immigration lawyer for k1 visa

Unlike immediate relative visas, the number of visas available in each family-preference category is limited each fiscal year. As a result, some of these categories have backlogs that grow over time, especially during a pandemic like the COVID-19 one. Backlogs have also been caused by other factors, including changing immigration policies and administrative delays. This page provides a look at the wait for each of these categories, broken down by country.

Family Second Preference (F2)

The Family Second Preference category (F2) includes spouses and unmarried children under 21 of LPRs. There are 114,200 visas available each year for this subcategory.

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If you have a child who falls into this category, it is important to understand the difference between this preference category and immediate relatives. If you have a petition filed for your child in this category, it is possible to upgrade that petition to an IR once your child becomes a U.S. citizen. This will avoid the long wait times associated with this preference category.

Unfortunately, there are more people who want to immigrate to the United States than there are visas available each year. As a result, there are often significant backlogs in both the family preference and employment-based categories. We can help you to understand these backlogs and make strategic filing decisions to minimize your waiting time. Contact us today to see how we can help. We also offer a free consultation to all new clients.

Family Third Preference (F3)

The F3 visa category applies to married sons and daughters of US citizens. These individuals must be able to show that they were sponsored by a petition filed on Form I-130.

Like all family-based preference categories, the law imposes per-country limits and large backlogs. However, because of CSPA, a child’s “CSPA age” can remain frozen as long as the petitioner takes steps to pursue permanent residency through adjustment of status or consular processing (if outside the United States).

The State Department issues monthly charts displaying priority dates and wait times for different preference categories. If a priority date becomes “current,” it means the visas are available and an applicant can begin their process. However, a green card can only be issued once the case is complete and the NVC has received all required documentation. It can take years to reach this point due to large backlogs and limited numbers of visas available each year. We can help you navigate this process.

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Family Fourth Preference (F4)

Family-sponsored immigrant visas/green cards are subject to annual limits and per-country visa limitations. These limitations have resulted in huge backlogs of visas waiting to be issued. The COVID-19 pandemic, administrative policies, and other factors have exacerbated these backlogs in recent years.

Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens do not face these limitations and are able to receive their visas/green cards much more quickly than those in the preference categories. The preference categories are broken down into four levels, each with a different priority level.

Whether or not a particular visa is available depends on the priority level and the country of chargeability (CSPA Age). The Visa Bulletin lists when the priority date of an individual in a preference category becomes “current.” The CSPA age is frozen for beneficiaries whose petition was filed in the fourth preference category, brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens. This makes it easier for people to re-use their old priority dates, and move up the priority list.


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