Immediate Relatives vs Non-immediate Relatives with Regards to Immigration

America has always been viewed as a beacon of hope for immigrants. Whether you and your family members are seeking better opportunities, greater freedoms, or simply reunification, it is important that anyone who is in the country legally and hoping to help their relatives join them understand how U.S. immigrations officials determine eligibility for a visa.  There are two distinct categories of family relations that are used: the immediate relative category and the family preference category.  The biggest difference between the two is that immediate relatives of the person petitioning for a visa are immediately eligible for a visa, while those in the family preference category have to wait.

Let’s look at who falls into each of the two categories.

Immediate relative category requires the applicant to be a U.S. citizen, and includes:  the applicant’s spouse; the applicant’s parents as long as the applicant is 21 or older; and the applicant’s unmarried children as long as they are 21 or younger.

There is no limit to how many immediate relatives can be accepted into the U.S. each year, and are not subject to the requirements or restrictions regarding admissibility such as accepting employment or overstaying a visa.

Family preference category includes:

  • Category 1 – Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens who are older than 21
  • Category 2 – Spouses, children, and unmarried sons and daughters of Legal Permanent Residents
  • Category 3 – Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens
  • Category 4 – Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens

The family preference category is subject to a quota regarding how many people in each category and from each country will be allowed. The waiting period to gain entry in this category can take more than 20 years depending on the U.S. eligibility requirements from the country of origin.

Beyond these categories, the United States has specific rules about what kind of relative can qualify for conditional permanent residence. This status is available to spouses of U.S. citizens who have been granted lawful permanent residence based on a marriage that occurred less than two years prior to the green card application being approved.

The U.S. also passed a law called the Child Status Protection Act which prevents a person who qualified as an immediate relative from aging out of the process prior to their visa being approved: their age is frozen to the date of the application for immigration purposes.

Family visa eligibility is a complicated subject. For information regarding the specifics of your needs, contact us today to set up an appointment.