Immediate Relatives vs. Non-Immediate Relatives

Immediate Relatives vs. Non-Immediate Relatives

Immediate Relatives vs. Non Immediate Relatives (Preference Categories)

Immediate Relatives

U.S. citizens can petition for certain relatives to come and live permanently in the United States. Immediate relatives have special immigration priority and there is no limit on the number of visas for the immediate relatives. Immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen are Spouse, Unmarried child under the age of 21 and Parent (if the U.S. citizen is over the age of 21).


Preference Categories for Non-Immediate Relatives


Certain relatives of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident who are not considered immediate relatives may have to wait for a visa to become available before they can apply for permanent residency. Congress has limited the number of relatives who may immigrate under these categories each year so there is usually a waiting period before an immigrant visa number becomes available.


These categories are known as Preference Categories and include:


  • First Preference (F1): Unmarried, adult (21 years of age or older) sons and daughters of U.S. citizens
  • Second Preference A (F2A): Spouses of permanent residents and the unmarried children (under the age of 21)) of permanent residents
  • Second Preference B (F2B): Unmarried sons and daughters (21 years or age or older) of permanent residents
  • Third Preference (F3): Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, their spouses and their minor children
  • Fourth Preference (F4): Brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens, their spouses and their minor children


Immediate relatives in the United States may qualify to file Form I-485 to adjust status while preference relatives often face very long waiting times, due to strict annual limits on permanent immigration benefits.


Adjustment of Status vs. Consular Processing

Adjustment of Status/ Green Card While Inside the United States


If your relative is already in the U.S. legally, then you can simultaneously file Form I-130, along with the I-485 “adjustment of status” packet.


Once you provide the USCIS with all the required information, in most cases you will be sent a notice to attend an interview at the local USCIS office having jurisdiction over your case.


Consular Processing/ Green Card While Outside the United States

Petitions for immediate family members may take approximately eight months to a year to get processed. For other relatives, it may take several years to obtain permanent U.S. residence.


Once the I-130 relative petition is approved, your foreign relative’s case will be first transferred to the National Visa Center (NVC), and you will be required to provide all the information about your relative(s) who intend to come to the United States, as well as an affidavit of support.


After the National Visa Center is satisfied with all the documents and fees you have submitted, the petition will be forwarded to the United States Consulate having jurisdiction over your foreign relative’s residence abroad. Thereafter, the Consulate will notify you or your relative for an interview for permanent residence accordingly.


Immediate relatives:

  • A visa number will be issued right away when the petition is approved, the petition will be transferred to the National Visa Center, and then finally to the Consulate. The average time for processing cases for immediate relatives is approximately one year.


Non-immediate relatives:

  • There is a limited yearly amount of immigrant visas issued to non-immediate relatives. Based on the filing date of your petition (Priority date) the Department of State’s Visa Bulletin determines if an immigrant visa is available. Immigrant visas cannot be issued until an applicant’s priority date is current. In certain categories there may be a waiting period of several years, or more, before a priority date is reached. When your priority date becomes current, it means that you can apply for an immigrant visa. You will be notified when the NVC receives your approved petition, and also when the visa number becomes available.


To learn more about your options contact our San Francisco law firm to speak with one of our immigration attorneys.