Immediate relatives (IR) include spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens, as well as parents of U.S. citizens. They are exempt from visa quotas and can generally process their applications quickly within 4-6 months. However, U.S. citizens who wish to sponsor their immediate relatives must be at least 21 years of age before they can file an immigrant petition. IR petitions are not subject to numerical limits, making immigrant visas immediately available.
Since June 2013, the immediate relative category includes same-sex spouses.
IR spouses who have been married for less than 2 years receive a two-year conditional green card. As conditional permanent residents, they must apply to remove the conditional nature of their green card during the 90-day window prior to the expiration of the conditional green card. All other immediate relatives receive the “regular” ten-year green card.
Other relatives of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who do not qualify as immediate relatives may qualify under any of the four family-sponsored preference categories.
First preference (F-1) is for unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens regardless of age. There is generally a waiting line in excess of eight years for first preference immigrants.
Second preference (F-2) includes two sub-categories:
- F-2A is for spouses and minor children of permanent residents. The waiting line in this category is approximately in excess of two years.
- F-2B is for unmarried adult sons and daughters of permanent residents. The waiting line in this category is approximately in excess of eight years.
Third preference (F-3) is for married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. The waiting line is in excess of ten years.
Fourth preference (F-4) is for brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens who are 21 years of age or over. Applicants wait for at least ten to fifteen years for this category to become current.
These categories are subject to numerical limits, which often have long backlogs or waiting lines, known as retrogression. Applicants who are subject to retrogression may monitor the availability of immigrant visas through the State Department’s monthly Visa Bulletin, which publishes the current priority dates for each categories.
Applicants born in India, China, Mexico, and the Philippines will experience even longer backlogs because the United States receives significantly large numbers of immigrant visa applications from these countries. There are no benefits such as employment authorization or travel authorization for applicants who are subject to retrogression. Those who wish to remain in the United States during this time must maintain an underlying nonimmigrant status.