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Immediate Relatives and Preference Petitions

If you have a very close family member who is either a U.S. citizen or a U.S. permanent resident (i.e., has a "green card"), you may be eligible to immigrate to the U.S. based upon that relationship. An uncle or aunt, nephew or niece, or a cousin who is either a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident, will be unable to file a petition on your behalf as the relationship is too distant. There are several different categories of family-based immigration. They are as follows:

1. Immediate Relative

Spouses, children and parents of adult U.S. citizens qualify as immediate relatives. Under this category, a visa number is immediately available. Thus, there is no waiting list for beneficiaries of immediate relative petitions. Beneficiaries, however, will still have to wait for the petition and the subsequent immigrant visa application (or adjustment of status application if applying within the U.S.) to be processed, which takes a number of months.

For immigration purposes, "child" is defined as an unmarried person under 21 years of age. It includes stepchildren if the child was under 18 years of age when the marriage, which created the status, occurred. It also includes adopted children if the child was under the age of 16 at the time of adoption.

In order to petition for a parent, the U.S. citizen son or daughter must be at least 21 years old.

This category also includes widows and widowers of U.S. citizens, as long as the marriage lasted at least 2 years prior to the death of the U.S. citizen, and the spouse was not legally separated from the U.S. citizen at the time of death. In addition, the spouse of the U.S. citizen must file a petition within two years of the U.S. citizen's date of death and must remain unmarried.

2. First Preference

This category is for unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens. It differs from the immediate relative category in that the beneficiaries are not children (i.e., they are at least 21 years old).

The current wait time for a visa number to become available under this category is approximately six years for most countries.

3. Second Preference

This category is broken down into two separate categories:

2A - Spouses and children of U.S. permanent residents; and

2B - Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. permanent residents.

The current wait time for a visa number to become available under the 2A category is a little over four years for most countries. Under the 2B category, it is just over eight years for most countries.

4. Third Preference

The Third Preference category is very similar to the First Preference category. The only difference is that beneficiaries in the Third Preference category are married. Thus, it is for married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens.

The current wait time for a visa number to become available under this category is approximately eight and a half years for most countries.

5. Fourth Preference

Under this category, U.S. citizens who are at least 21 years of age may file petitions on behalf of their brothers and sisters.

The current wait time for a visa number to become available under this category is over ten years for most countries.

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