Waiting Periods and Quotas for Family-Based Visas
What is a Family-Based Immigration Visa?
A U.S. citizen may petition their foreign relatives to immigrate to the U.S. through a Family-Based Immigration Visa. The family-based visa category is divided into two basic categories: Immediate Relatives and Family Preferences. The Family Preference category is further divided into 5 different sub-categories.
Family-based visas are distributed according to a quota system. This means that only a limited amount of family-based visas may be issued every year. For this reason, there can be a significant waiting period involved once the visa application is submitted.
What is the Waiting Period for the “Immediate Relatives” category?
Waiting periods and quotas for each category may vary according to several factors, including the year of application and the alien’s country of origin. In general the following information applies to applicants under the Immediate Relatives category:
- Waiting Period: Approximately 6-12 months
- Quota (number of visas that may be issued per year): There is no quota applied to immediate relative visas- an unlimited number of visas may be issued each year under this category
- Who Qualifies as an “Immediate Relative”:
- Spouse of a U.S. citizen
- Widows or widowers of U.S. citizens (must have been married to the deceased citizen for at least 2 years, and be widowed within 2 years of applying)
- Unmarried persons under the age of 21 who have at least one U.S. citizen parent
- Parents of U.S. citizens, so long as the citizen child is at least 21 years old
- The adopted children of U.S. citizens, where adoption was formalized before the child turned 16
- Stepchildren/stepparents of U.S. citizens, as long as the formal relationship began before the 18th birthday of the stepchild
In addition, aliens who qualify under the immediate relative category may submit their documents through a streamlined process which allows for quicker filing. For example, both the petition and the visa application may be submitted at the same time under this category.
What are the Waiting Periods and Yearly Quotas for the “Family Preference” categories?
Again, the specific details for the Family Preference categories may vary. Also, quotas for the Preference categories are different each year, since unused visas from one category (if any) may rollover into another category.
The following information is generally applicable to the Family Preference categories:
Family 1st Preference:
- Waiting Period: About 2 years for all countries, except Mexico (about 5 years) and the Philippines (11 years)
- Quota: 23,400 visas per year, plus any unused visas leftover from 4th Preference
- Eligible Persons: unmarried foreigners who have at least one U.S. citizen parent
Family 2nd Preference:
- Wait Period: 4 years for 2A applicants and 6 years for 2B
- Quota: 114,200 per year, plus unused 1st Preference visas
- 2A- Spouses of holders of green cards; unmarried children (under 21 years old) of green card holders
- 2B- Unmarried children (over 21 years old) of green card holders
- Note: 2A visas can only comprise up to 77% of all visas issued under 2nd preference
Family 3rd Preference:
- Wait Period: Minimum of 3 years except Mexico (about 5 years) and the Philippines (11 years)
- Quota: 23,400, plus unused visas from 2nd Preference category
- Eligibility: Married children of citizens
Family 4th Preference:
- Wait Period: 10 years for most countries except the Philippines (19 years)
- Quota: 65,000 and any unused 3rd Preference visas
- Eligibility: Siblings of U.S. citizen (the citizen must be at least 21 years old)
Family 5th Preference (“Fiance Visa”):
- Waiting Period: up to 8 or 12 months
- Quota: None
- Eligibility: Fiancés of U.S. citizens (this is a temporary visa lasting only 90 days)
Do I Need a Lawyer for Family-Based Immigration Visas?
Immigration law can sometimes be complex, and they are often subject to change every year. More specific details and charts can be viewed at the website for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website.
If you have further questions or need representation in a court of law, an immigration lawyer can provide advice. Your attorney can assist you in filing the necessary documents in a timely manner so as to avoid delays.
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Last Modified: 03-09-2011 11:49 AM PST