Preference Categories for Family Petitions - What are They?


When a family relative files an I-130 family-based petition for you, the petition will fall under one of two categories:

(1) Immediate relative; or

(2) Preference based petition.

While the content of this short article explains preference-based petitions, we will briefly review immediate relative petitions.


Visas are available in limited categories except for immediate relatives such as a spouses, parents or children (over 21). Those individuals who have an immediate visa available to them are the following:

  • Spouses of US citizens
  • Unmarried children under 21 of US citizens
  • Parent of US citizens where child is over 21.
  • Widowers of US citizens when the petition was filed before the petitioner died.

If the family petition filed for you does not fall into one of the categories listed above, you are likely considered a preference petition beneficiary. Preference based petitions are different in that a visa is not immediately available to you and you must wait a period of time before there is a visa becomes current. Your visa becomes current when your priority date becomes available on the Visa Bulletin.

A priority date is a fixed date that is listed on your form I-797 Notice of Action. It’s the green form that comes in the mail stating your I-130 petition has been approved. A small box on the top left of the form will state “priority date”. 

After you find your priority date, you will want to know if it is current. This is highly important, as some immigrants may wait for years before their date becomes current. Your priority date will depend on the availability of visas, as well as country limitations and the number of visas that the government allocates for your preference category. A visa must be available to you before you can become a legal permanent resident.

Once you have located your priority date, you will want to know where you are in the visa line. You can find that information on the visa bulletin:

When you click on the current month, you will see two charts:

  • Final action dates,
  • and Dates of Filing.

It’s important that you work with your attorney and read the details of that chart before you select the chart to base your priority date on.

If you have figured out what your priority date is, and you know what your preference category is, then you will know if your priority date is current. It is current if your date exactly matches, or the date on the visa bulletin is after your priority date. If it is current, you should consult with an attorney in order to file your I-485 application to become a legal permanent resident.

For example, if the visa bulletin shows 01JUN2018 for Mexico for the F1 preference category (Children over 21 of US citizens), and your priority date is June 1, 2018 or earlier, then your visa is current. Once you know that a visa is available to you, you must capture it or risk visa retrogression or losing it.

Finally, once you know that your priority date is current, you can proceed with the next steps in your application.

It is important to remember that while you have a current visa priority date and the visa is now available, you may still need to seek a waiver for being inadmissible. For example, if you entered without inspection, you will want to file an unlawful presence waiver. It’s best that you consult with an attorney before proceeding with the next steps.

Questions? We can help.