In a previous post, we discussed who can file an immigrant petition (petitioners) and who an immigrant petition can be filed for (beneficiaries).

In this post, we will give an overview of the various classifications of beneficiaries. Beneficiaries fall into one of two groups: immediate relatives or preference categories. What do these classifications mean? Essentially, they determine how long the beneficiary must wait before he or she can immigrate to the United States.

Immediate Relatives

Immediate relatives include the following family members of U.S. citizens:

  • Spouses
  • Parents
  • Unmarried children under the age of 21

Because there is no limit on the number of visas available to immediate relatives, they are eligible to immigrate immediately after their immigrant petition is approved.

Preference Categories

Anyone who is not considered an immediate relative falls into a preference category. The categories include the following family members of U.S. citizens:

  • Unmarried children over the age of 21 (F1 category)
  • Married children over the age of 21 (F3 category)
  • Siblings (F4 category)

The preference categories also include the following family members of lawful permanent residents:

  • Spouses (F2A category)
  • Unmarried children under the age of 21 (F2A category)
  • Unmarried children over the age of 21 (F2B category)

Each preference category has a limited number of visas available for immigrants each year. Once all of the visas are issued for any given year, the individuals who were not issued a visa must continue waiting. The amount of time they must wait depends on the country they are from and their preference category. The U.S. Department of State publishes a Visa Bulletin monthly, which gives beneficiaries an idea of when a visa will become available for them.

Below is the December 2016 Visa Bulletin:

All Other Countries China India Mexico Philippines
F1 01DEC09 01DEC09 01DEC09 15APR95 15SEP05
F2A 22FEB15 22FEB15 22FEB15 15FEB15 22FEB15
F2B 08MAY10 08MAY10 08MAY10 15OCT95 01MAR06
F3 15FEB05 15FEB05 15FEB05 08DEC94 15AUG94
F4 22DEC03 01OCT03 01APR03 15MAY97 22MAY93


As an example, a U.S. citizen filed an immigrant petition for his sister, who lives in Mexico. The petition was approved in 2005. However, because siblings of U.S. citizens’ fall into a preference category, the sister must wait until the priority date listed on the approval notice is “current” before she can begin consular processing and come to the United States. The priority date is typically around the time the petition if filed, so sometime in 2005, in this case.

Siblings of U.S. citizens fall under the F4 category of the visa bulletin. Given the information in the December 2016 bulletin, visas are currently being issued to individuals in the F4 category who have a priority date of May 15, 1997 or before that date. In this case, this means the sibling in Mexico must continue to wait until F4 category of the visa bulletin reaches 2005. Although the National Visa Center informs the petitioner when a visa is available for their relative, it is wise to check the visa bulletin regularly.

You can find the most recent visa bulletin on the U.S. Department of State’s website or on the link located on our Resources page.

Once the immigrant petition is approved and the immigrant visa is available, the immigrant must either consular process or adjust his or her status. We will discuss those two processes in future posts, so be sure to check our blog often.

For information on your specific situation, we recommend you use our contact form to schedule an appointment with our office. We would be glad to help you determine the best option for you.

We’d love to hear from you. Please leave us your comments and let us know what else you’d like us to post about!