Family Immigration

U.S. immigration law provides for family petitions. The purpose of the family petition is to reunite families. There are two types of petitions, and choosing the right petition for your family member is very important. If you have any questions on how to petition for your family member, please call or email JCS Immigration and Visa Services for a free initial consultation.

What are the two different types of immigration family petitions?

Immediate relative petitions are for spouses of U.S. citizen, parents of U.S. citizen children aged 21 years and older, and unmarried children under 21 of U.S. citizens. “Family preference" categories allow U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to file immigrant petitions on behalf of certain other relatives. Preference category petitions are for married children of U.S. citizens, unmarried children who are over 21 years old of U.S. citizens, brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, and spouses and unmarried children of lawful permanent residents. Immigration law is complex and frequently changing. If you need help filing a family petition for your family member, please contact us.

Under U.S. immigration law, what is the difference between an immediate relative petition and a preference category petition?

If you are a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR), you may petition for certain family members to receive either a green card, a fiancé(e) visa or a K-3/K-4 Visa based on your relationship. U.S. citizens may petition for their “immediate relatives.”

U.S. Citizens and LPRs Petitioning for Immediate Relatives with USCIS

The term “immediate relative(s)” is used to define certain immigrant relatives of U.S. citizens. Generally, immediate relatives include:

  • Spouses of U.S. citizens

  • Children (unmarried and under 21) of U.S. citizens

  • Parents of U.S. citizens (The petitioning citizen must be 21 or older.)

For immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, visas are always available, which means that your family member does not need to wait in line for a visa. As soon as the petition for the family member is approved by USCIS, the immigrant family member can apply for lawful permanent residence.

Preference Category Petition for Other Family Members not Considered Immediate Relatives of U.S. Citizens

U.S. citizens may also petition for unmarried children who are aged 21 years and older, married sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters. These family members are assigned to “preference categories.” These categories only apply to family members who are not immediate relatives. The visas allotted for these categories are subject to annual numerical limits. A visa becomes available to a preference category based on the priority date (the date the Form I-130 was filed). Those in a preference category must wait for their priority date to become current before they can apply to become lawful permanent residents of the U.S. The visa bulletin indicates when a priority date is current depending upon to which category the family member belongs. Family petitions need to be completed correctly and a preference category needs to be chosen carefully. For expert legal advice on your family petition, call or email JCS Immigration and Visa Services for your free initial consultation today!

Family Petition Petitioner Requirements and Eligible Beneficiaries

A U.S. citizen may file a family preference immigrant petition on behalf of his:

  • Unmarried son or daughter (over the age of 21 – those under 21 are classified as immediate relatives);

  • Married son or daughter;

  • Brother or sister (if the petitioner is 21 years or older).

A Permanent Resident may only file an immigrant petition on behalf of his:

  • Spouse;

  • Child (under the age of 21);

  • Unmarried son or daughter (over the age of 21).

Preference Categories for Family Petition Immigration Applications

Preference categories are grouped as follows:

Category Description

Family Based Preference


Unmarried Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens

First (F1)

Spouses and Children of Permanent Residents

Second (A) (F2A)

Unmarried Sons and Daughters (21 and Older)

Second (B) (F2B)

Married Sons and Daughters of U.S. Citizens

Third (F3)

Brothers and Sisters of Adult U.S. Citizens

Fourth (F4)

Since the demand for family preference visas exceeds the supply, beneficiaries are assigned priority dates and must wait until their priority date is "current" before they can apply for immigrant visas or adjustment of status. Depending on the visa preference category, the beneficiary's country of birth, and the fluctuations in visa demand, this wait may be a few years or several decades.

Derivative Beneficiaries of U.S. Visa Applications

Spouses and children of F3 and F4 beneficiaries, and children of F1 and F2B beneficiaries may be listed as derivative beneficiaries on an immigrant petition. Each principal and derivative beneficiary, however, will need to file his own visa application or adjustment of status application.

Consular Processing and Adjustment of Status

There are two ways to obtain a permanent residence or green card status for your family member: adjustment of status, and consular processing.

Adjustment of Status

This process involves filing an application for the family member of a U.S. citizen who was inspected and admitted or paroled into the U.S. It is also available for a family member of a Lawful Permanent Resident and who has maintained a lawful nonimmigrant or parole status.

Read more about Adjustment of Status applications.

Consular Processing

Is an attractive option when the foreign family member lives outside of the United States. Scheduling an interview may be more expeditious at a U.S. consulate abroad than at a USCIS office here in the U.S.