Family-based immigration is a pivotal pathway for many individuals seeking to unite with their loved ones in the United States. However, the intricacies of immediate relatives and preference category relatives often pose complexities that require thorough understanding. In this article, we shed some light on these two distinct categories, emphasizing their differences, particularly in visa availability and wait times.


Immediate Relatives in Family-Based Immigration


Who Qualifies as Immediate Relatives?

Immediate relatives, as defined by U.S. immigration law, encompass spouses, parents, and unmarried children under 21 of U.S. citizens. These individuals have the privilege of having a visa immediately available to them, contingent upon qualifying for it.


Application Process for Immediate Relatives

The application process begins with an immigrant petition filed by a U.S. citizen for their relative. Depending on the applicant’s location, the subsequent steps may involve adjustment of status processes within the U.S. or consular processing outside the U.S., the latter involves an application for an immigrant visa and is being handled by the U.S. Department of State.


Preference Category Relatives in Family-Based Immigration


Understanding Preference Categories

Preference category relatives are segmented into four primary categories:

  • F1 Category: Unmarried sons and daughters (over 21) of U.S. citizens.
  • F2 Category: Divided into F2A (spouses and unmarried children under 21 of lawful permanent residents) and F2B (unmarried sons and daughters over 21 of lawful permanent residents).
  • F3 Category: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, who are over 21.
  • F4 Category: Siblings of U.S. citizens.


The Waiting Game for Preference Categories

Unlike immediate relatives, preference category relatives encounter substantial wait times for visa availability. The U.S. Department of State’s Visa Bulletin provides monthly updates on visa availability, which is contingent on the priority date indicated in the I-130 approval notice.


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Key Differences and Practical Implications


The Crucial Role of Wait Times

The pivotal difference between immediate relatives and preference category relatives predominantly lies in wait times. Immigrant visas for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are unlimited, and they are always available, while preference category relatives navigate through potentially protracted wait times, which can be monitored via the Visa Bulletin on the Department of State website.


Strategic Planning for Family Immigration

Understanding these categories and their respective wait times is crucial for strategic planning in family-based immigration. Ensuring that applications and petitions are meticulously prepared and submitted can help mitigate potential delays and navigate through the bureaucratic intricacies more smoothly.





Family-based immigration, while offering a pathway to reunite families, demands a nuanced understanding of its categories and processes. Whether navigating through the relatively expedited process for immediate relatives or maneuvering through the wait times for preference category relatives, being well-versed with each step, and planning strategically is iso important. Engaging with seasoned immigration professionals, such as the team at McEntee Law Group can provide invaluable insights and guidance, ensuring that your journey through the family-based immigration pathway is navigated with thoughtful precision.

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