What Is the “Preference System” For Immigrant Visas?

If you have begun the process of investigating immigrant visa options, you have likely encountered the term “preference” on a number of occasions. What exactly, however, does this mean? Here, we discuss what “preference” means with regard to obtaining an immigrant visa, commonly referred to as a “green card”.

What is the “Preference System” for Immigrant Visas?

In the United States, a preference system is in place as a method of distributing a limited number of immigrant visa numbers which are made available each fiscal year. This preference system is based on categories, or “preferences,” of visa applicants. Visa applicants are separated into different preference categories. Should their applications be approved, there is a waiting period until an immigrant visa number becomes available.

Because there are a limited number of visas granted for every preference category each year, even those approved for visas must still wait until an immigrant visa number can be assigned to them. The wait time will ultimately depend upon the number of applicants for a preference category as well as the country of origin for visa applicants. This is because U.S. law also places a limit on the number of immigrant visas made available per country of origin. Those visa applicants from countries where there is a high demand for a U.S. visa may experience longer wait times.

The exception to the limited immigrant visa numbers applies to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. This includes parents, spouses and unmarried children younger than 21 years of age. These individuals do not need to wait for an available immigrant visa number. An immigrant visa number is immediately available for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens with approved visa petitions.

There are preference categories for both family-based and employment-based visas. For family-based visas, the preference categories include:

  • First preference: unmarried, adult children (age 21 or older) of U.s citizens
  • Second preference: spouses of legal permanent U.S. residents, as well as unmarried children, regardless of age, of legal permanent U.S. residents and their children
  • Third preference: married children of U.S. citizens as well as their spouses and minor children
  • Fourth preference siblings of adult U.S. citizens, as well as their spouses and minor children

Those applying for immigrant visas based on employment must wait until a visa number becomes available in one of the following preference categories:

  • First preference: priority workers which include those of extraordinary abilities, outstanding professors and researchers, and executives and managers of particular multinational companies
  • Second: members of professions who hold advance degrees or people of exceptional ability
  • Third: skilled workers, professionals, and other qualified workers
  • Fourth: Particular special immigrants include those engaged in religious vocations
  • Fifth: immigrant investors which are creating employment opportunities in the U.S.

Immigration Law Attorneys

If you should have any questions or need more information about the ways in which the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Laws may impact you, your family, your friends or your colleagues, please contact the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Lawyers at the NPZ Law Group – VISASERVE – U.S. Immigration and Nationality Lawyers by e-mailing us at info@visaserve.com or by calling us at 201-670-0006 (x104). You can also visit our Law Firm’s website at www.visaserve.com