Family reunification is an important goal of current immigration legislation. Immigration visas that are family based are divided into four categories (or preferences).

  • First preference is for unmarried sons and daughters of citizens
  • Second preference (2A) is for spouses or children (under 21 and unmarried) of permanent residents
  • Second preference (2B) is for children over 21 (but unmarried) of permanent residents
  • Third preference is for married sons and daughters of citizens
  • Fourth preference is for adult brothers and sisters of citizens

The different categories can be confusing so we provide the following helpful chart. Please always consult an attorney and never rely on a chart such as this.

Prospective sponsors or beneficiaries should be cautioned that waiting times for sponsorship can be extreme. Each category (with the exception of Immediate Relatives (IR)) has numerical caps per year, resulting in backlogs. These backlogs are exacerbated for foreign nationals from certain countries, which can result in waiting times of about 20 years!  

Once you find your visa category in the table above, you can see your approximate waiting times using the table below. Note that the waiting time depends on your visa category AND the country from which the beneficiary is from. Other factors including the availability of visa numbers may vary the date. The dates in this table should be used as an approximate guide only. Contact our office for the current dates.

The general process for sponsoring a family member is to file an I-130 petition for an alien relative. Once the petition is approved, the next step is to adjust status. If the alien is in the country, the adjustment may be able to be done within the USA. Aliens outside the country will need to do consular processing. Note that adjustment within the USA is preferred, but there are many factors at play to determine if this will be possible. The most important being whether the alien entered the United States legally in the first place (even if currently illegal). People who entered illegally (known as entering without inspection, or EWI), will likely need to adjust outside the USA. This can pose problems given that many illegal immigrants will face a 3 or 10 year bar on reentering the USA.

There is a potential to get a waiver to this bar (I-601). If one can show extreme hardship to the US sponsor, the bar may be waived. You should be aware that this is defined as extreme hardship, not just general hardship, and mere emotional distress of the separation is not sufficient. Additionally, this waiver is applied for once the applicant is interviewed, with the resulting risk that the alien may be separated for many years. There is currently a recommendation being considered to allow the filing of a I-601A waiver inside the USA. This will be a significant improvement for many law abiding aliens who wish to remain with their family while being sponsored.