Family Based Immigration -

Preference Immigrant Visas



Two groups of family based immigrant visa categories, including immediate relatives and family preference categories, are provided under the provisions of United States immigration law, specifically the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).  For our section on immediate relatives immigrant visas, please click here.


Family Preference Immigrant Visas are visa types are for specific, more distant, family relationships with a U.S. citizen and some specified relationships with a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). There are fiscal year numerical limitations on family preference immigrants, shown at the end of each category.


The family preference categories are:


Family First Preference (F1)


Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their minor children, if any. (23,400)  These can have a long processing time depending upon the nationality of the foreign relative.


Family Second Preference (F2)


Spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters (age 21 and over) of LPRs.  At least seventy-seven percent of all visas available for this category will go to the spouses and children; the remainder is allocated to unmarried sons and daughters. (114,200)


Family Third Preference (F3)


Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children. (23,400)  This category usually has a very long wait time depending upon the nationality of the foreign relative. 


Family Fourth Preference (F4)


Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, and their spouses and minor children, provided the U.S. citizens are at least 21 years of age. (65,000)  This category has the longest  processing time. The wait time can vary between 10- 25 years.


Note: Grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws, and cousins cannot sponsor a relative for immigration.


Numerical Limitations for Limited Family-based Preference Categories


Whenever the number of qualified applicants for a category exceeds the available immigrant visas, there will be an immigration wait.  In this situation, the available immigrant visas will be issued in the chronological order in which the petitions were filed using their priority date.  The filing date of a petition becomes what is called the applicant's priority date. Immigrant visas cannot be issued until an applicant's priority date is reached.  In certain categories with many approved petitions compared to available visas, there may be a waiting period of several years, or more, before a priority date is reached.  Check the Visa Bulletin for the latest priority dates.



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