If you are a U.S. citizen, you can sponsor certain family members for a green card. There are two categories of family members you can sponsor: your immediate relatives (Eg. Spouse of a U.S. Citizen) and certain other members of your family (called family preference categories). This blog post will focus on the family preference categories.

If you are a U.S. citizen, you can sponsor the following members of your family:

  • First Preference (F1): your unmarried sons and daughters, 21 years of age or older
  • Third Preference (F3): your married sons and daughters
  • Fourth Preference (F4): your brothers and sisters (if you are 21 years of age or older)

What is the Preference System?

Green cards for the family preference categories are limited, meaning that the U.S. government sets the number of immigrant visas that can be issued every year. Preference categories F1-F5 are limited to 226,000 visas per year. For family sponsored preference visas, each of the preference categories receive a certain percentage from the overall visas available. The F1 preference category gets 23,400 visas per year, F3 preference category gets 23,400 visas per year and the F4 preference category gets 65,000 visas per year. Moreover, there are also limits within each category as to the percent of the overall visas in that category that can be allotted to individual countries. Due to the fact that far more than 226,000 applications are filed every year, the system is backlogged. For certain countries, such as Mexico and the Philippines, there are extensive backlogs in most family-based preference categories

What do I have to do to sponsor a family members in a preference category?

You will have to file Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative) along with supporting documents, such as evidence of your U.S. citizenship and evidence of the qualifying family relationship with the person you are sponsoring. The purpose of this petition is to establish the family relationship between you and the relative you want to sponsor for a green card. Once you file this petition, you will receive Form I-797 (Notice of Action) that will contain your filing date (the filing date is your family member’s priority date). The priority date is very important as this date will determine your family member’s place in line for the green card. Please note that the purpose of Form I-130 is to establish the qualifying relationship, and an approved I-130 petition does not grant your family member any immigration benefit.

How do I know when my family member’s visa will be available? What is Final Action Date and what is Date for Filing?

The Department of State issues a Visa Bulletin every month that summarizes the availability of immigrant visas for each green card category. If a category is marked as “Current” this means there are immigrant visas immediately available and your family member can file their green card application right away. More often in family preference categories, the visa bulletin will list a past date (for example January 1, 2013). If your family member’s priority date is on or earlier than the date listed in their preference category, that means they are able to file their application for a green card. The priority date will be listed on the I-797 form you received from USCIS when you filed the I-130. Please see our blog post that describes how to read the Visa Bulletin when you click here.

There are 2 charts in the Visa Bulletin:

Final Action date – This chart determines when you can file the Adjustment of status application with USCIS — you can file the Adjustment of Status Application if your priority date is earlier than the final action date listed. When USCIS determines that there are more immigrant visas available than there are known applications, they may indicate that applicants can use the dates on the Date for Filing chart to file the Adjustment of Status Application, but unless otherwise indicated on the USCIS website you should always use the Final Action Date to determine whether you can file the Adjustment of Status application with USCIS.

Date for Filing: This date determines when you can submit the required documents to the National Visa Center (“NVC”).  In case your family member is applying for Immigrant Visa through Consular Processing abroad and has a priority date earlier than the Date for Filing and has received a Notification from the NVC with detailed instructions, he/she can submit the required documents to the NVC.

The procedure if your Family Member is Adjusting the Status in the U.S.

If your Family Member will be Adjusting Status in the U.S., he/she can file the Adjustment of Status application once the priority date becomes available. USCIS processing times for Adjustment of Status applications vary based on how busy the local field office is and many field offices are currently backlogged and are reporting processing times of 1-2 years. Once USCIS reviews the application, your interview will be scheduled. Generally, both the U.S. petitioner (the U.S family member sponsoring for green card) and the Beneficiary will have to appear for the interview.

The Procedure if your family member is applying for Immigrant Visa through Consular Processing

If your family member lives outside the U.S., he/she will have to apply for an immigrant visa through Consular Processing. The NVC will notify the family member when his/her immigrant visa number is about to become available and he/she will be required to submit the visa processing fee and supporting documentation to the NVC. The NVC will then schedule your appointment at the Consulate abroad and if your immigrant visa is approved, you will be able to come to the U.S. You will then receive your green card in the mail. Please see more details about how to apply for the green card when you click here.

Please see our blog post on how to maintain your Green Card when you click here.

Please also see our blog post discussing what family members you can sponsor if you are a Green Card Holder when you click here.

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