What is the Difference Between an Immediate Relative and Family Preference?

Multi-generational Hispanic family

The opportunity to become a Lawful Permanent Resident of the United States is a dream for many. For those who already have a family member in the United States (and that relative is a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident), there are two family-based routes a noncitizen may qualify under to apply for a Green Card — an immediate relative or family preference category.

Immediate Relative Category

A U.S. citizen may file a petition on behalf of an "immediate relative."  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") only recognizes three categories of family members as "immediate relatives."  These are:

  • The spouse of a U.S. citizen;
  • A U.S. citizen's son or daughter who is unmarried and under 21 years old; or
  • The biological parent of a U.S. citizen (if that U.S. citizen is 21 years old or older).

If a noncitizen was married to a U.S. citizen and that U.S. citizen passed away, the noncitizen may go through a different process. This petition is called a Widow(er) petition and involves different forms and evidence than a typical family-based petition.

When a petition is approved for the spouse, unmarried children under 21 years old, or parents of a U.S. citizen, these persons are classified as immediate relatives, and an immigrant visa will be immediately available to them. They can continue on the process to become a legal permanent resident without delay.

Family Preference Categories

Family preference categories are for noncitizens who have a family member who is a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident, but the family member does not fall into one of the "immediate relative" categories above.

There are four preference categories based upon family relationships (the second preference category is split into two groups):

  • First preference (F1) - children of U.S. citizens who are unmarried but over the age of 21;
  • Second preference (F2A) - spouses and children (unmarried and under 21 years of age) of Lawful Permanent Residents;
  • Second preference (F2B) - unmarried children of Lawful Permanent Residents who are 21 years of age or older;
  • Third preference (F3) - married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens; and 
  • Fourth preference (F4) - brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens (if the U.S. citizen is 21 years of age or older).

Each year, a limited number of immigrant visas are available for each preference category. The visas are processed in the order in which the petitions are properly filed and accepted by USCIS. A petition is only properly filed when it is fully completed, signed, and includes the appropriate filing fee. Each month, the Department of State issues a Visa Bulletin stating which petitions are eligible to receive visas. The attorneys at Murray Osorio can help you determine which family preference category applies to your or a loved one's immigration case.  

What if my relative isn't in the United States?

If the U.S. citizen or Legal Permanent Resident's family member is not currently in the United States and wants to apply for a Green Card, the U.S. citizen or Legal Permanent Resident must first file a family-based immigration petition with USCIS. If the petition is approved, the noncitizen-relative must then complete a process called consular processing. During consular processing, the noncitizen-relative will attend an interview at the United States embassy or consulate abroad (typically in the noncitizen-relative's country of residence). If the visa petition is approved after the interview, the noncitizen-relative will receive an immigrant visa and will enter the United States as a Lawful Permanent Resident.  

Questions About Getting a Green Card?

These are several ways to obtain a  green card through one's family. The attorneys at Murray Osorio PLLC can determine which petition best fits your loved one’s needs.

You do not need to complete this complicated process by yourself. Reach out to Murray Osorio PLLC online or by phone (800) 929-7142.

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