Family Immigration Preferences

Here we will look at the family-based immigration options currently available.  There are four family-based immigration visa categories:

  1. First Preference: US citizens can petition (or sponsor) for their parents, spouses, and unmarried children. For spouses and parents, there is no long wait.  As quickly as a petition can be processed, your spouse or parent can be with you immediately. Unfortunately, there is a wait – quite a long one depending on the country your children are citizens of.  This is called the first preference family-based category.
  2. Second Preference: If you hold a green card, you are a lawful permanent resident (LPRs) and you can petition for your spouse and your children. LPRs cannot sponsor their parents.  Spouses and unmarried children under age 21 are treated differently than unmarried children over age 21.  For the first group (spouses and unmarried children under age 21) , there is a wait, but as of today, that is just a few years – which for immigration is pretty good, sadly.  This is commonly called the second preference family-based category.
  3. Third Preference: US citizens also have the ability to sponsor their married children. There is an extensive wait with this type of family petition but, if it is the only way to immigrate to the US, it is useful.  This is the third preference family-based category.
  4. Fourth Preference: Lastly, US citizens can petition for their siblings. As with the third preference, there is an extraordinary wait.  This last category is called fourth preference family-based.

While these four preference categories may seem straightforward enough, there are several other issues that can complicate petitioning for a family member outside of the US. This process is called consular processing. It becomes more complicated because two different government departments are involved: Department of State and Department of Homeland Security. With the Citizenship and Immigration Service, there are standardized methods for evaluating an application. The purpose for this is to provide uniform treatment to applicants. With consular processing, the type of evidence required can be different from consulate to consulate. This creates a moving-target atmosphere and can cause delays or denial if not handled correctly the first time.

If your family member entered the US without permission, then he may need waiver. The relatively new provisional waiver program may be available to you and your family member but there are requirements. To read more about the types of waivers available, please read more on the waiver’s page.