The Immigration and Nationality Act allows U.S. Citizens and lawful permanent residents to petition for their foreign relatives to enter the United States and obtain lawful permanent residence. USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, formally known as the I.N.S.) categorizes the availability of immigrant visas for family-based petitions in either an “Immediate Relative” (IR) or “Family Preference” category.

Immediate Relative Category: This category has no limit on the number of visas issued each year. Therefore, there is no backlog. The applicant only has to wait for the time it takes USCIS to process the visa petition.

The following family relationships fall under the Immediate Relative Category:

  • Spouse or unmarried child under the age of 21 of a U.S. citizen
  • Spouse of deceased U.S. citizens, under certain circumstances
  • Parents of U.S. citizens, provided the citizen petitioner is at least 21 years of age
  • Step-children of U.S. citizens provided the child was under the age of 18 when the marriage creating the step-relationship occurred

Family Preference Category: This category places family petitions in a preference order. Persons subject to the preference category system must wait for their visa to become available. The U.S. Department of State releases a monthly Visa Bulletin which reports the availability of immigrant visas. The Visa Bulletin can be found on the U.S. Department of State’s website. For ease of reference, click here: Client Resources 

The preference order is listed below: 

  • First Preference: Unmarried sons and daughters (21 years of age or older) of U.S. citizens.
  • Second Preference: Spouses and unmarried sons and daughters (under the age of 21) of lawful permanent residents:
    • F2A: Spouse and children of lawful permanent residents 
    • F2B: Unmarried sons and daughters (over 21 years of age) of lawful permanent residents 
  • Third Preference: Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens 
  • Fourth Preference: Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens


The Cuban Adjustment Act allows for Cuban natives or citizens to become lawful permanent residents (green card holders). Certain family members, such as the spouse or unmarried children under 21 who are not Cuban, may also apply under the Cuban Adjustment Act if they meet the other statutory requirements. All applicants must be physically present in the United States, have been “admitted” or “paroled” into the U.S. by an immigration officer, and meet the other specific eligibility requirements required by the law.

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