family immigration details
The National Immigration Forum has an excellent
analysis of family
preference categories and backlogs.
There are two types of immigration: family based and employment based.
U.S. citizens (USCs) and Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) sponsoring
family members for immigrant visas falls under the category of family
Spouses and children of non-immigrants who adjust to permanent residence
are not counted against any of the family immigrant categories.
family immigration categories:
There are several categories of family immigration:
- USCs sponsoring immediate relatives (spouses, minor children, parents).
- Other categories ("preference categories"):
- USCs sponsoring their adult unmarried children.
- LPRs sponsoring their immediate families:
- Spouse and minor children.
- Adult unmarried children.
- USCs sponsoring their married children.
- USCs sponsoring their brothers and sisters.
Immediate relatives of USCs are not subject to annual numerical limits. All
other categories (called preference categories, numbered 1-4 above)
have annual numerical limits imposed by Congress in the
Immigration and Nationality Act, 1990 (Section 203).
Every fiscal year, each preference category has a minimum annual
allocation of visas. If, during a given fiscal year, more immigrant
visas are available than the minimum guaranteed, the excess is
allocated in the order shown above. If, during a fiscal year, the number
of visas used in a given category falls below the minimum, the unused visas
are allocated to the other categories in preference order.
The minimum guaranteed allocation is as follows:
Preference Category Visas available
Adult unmarried children of USC 23,400
Immediate family of LPR 114,200
Married children of USC 23,400
Siblings of USC 65,000
480,000 family immigrant visas are available every fiscal year.
Unused employment based immigrant visas from the previous fiscal year
(if any) are added to this. Visas used for immediate relatives
of USCs and visas issued to children of LPRs born during
temporary visits abroad are subtracted from this. If the total
falls below 226,000, the minimum guarantees apply.
If the total exceeds 226,000 the excess is allocated in order of
Of the visas allocated to immediate family of LPRs, 77% are reserved for
spouses and minor children of LPRs (category 2A), with the remaining
allocated for adult unmarried children (category 2B).
If, during a given fiscal year, the number of applicants under the
spouse/minor children of LPRs (category 2A) exceeds 226,000,
enough new immigrant visas are automatically created to cover the excess.
At most one quarter of the visas available per fiscal year can be used in
each of the first three quarters of the fiscal year.
per country limits:
At most 7% of immigrant visas available can be issued to citizens of
a given country. The exception is that 75% of the visas available for
category 2A are not subject to per country limits.
During the last several years, the number of immigrant visas issued to
immediate relatives of USCs has been substantial. Consequently, only
the minimum guaranteed number of preference category visas (226,000)
has been available.
The number of applicants in each preference category
has far exceeded the number of visas available.
Significant backlogs have resulted. The
State Department visa bulletin
lists the backlogs in various categories. The 2A category is backlogged 8 years
for Mexico and 4-5 years for other countries.
The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have renewed the emphasis on security checks.
During fiscal year 2002, the USCIS
fewer preference category 2 applications
(84,860) than the number of visas available (114,200).
This was due to the extensive background check that each applicant was
subjected to. By the time the checks were completed, the fiscal year
ended and unused visas were lost. The USCIS expects this situation to