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The unity of the family is a core national value of the United States. Thomas Jefferson, the Third President of the United States, and primary author of the Declaration of Independence, once stated “The happiest moments of my life have been the few which I have passed at home in the bosom of my family.” The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) enshrines this inherent value into law, requiring that most intending immigrants to the United States demonstrate that they possess either close familial ties to the United States or hold employment-based skills that are sought after by a U.S. employer. The family is the nucleus that drives business creation and ingenuity, ensures the maintenance of strong community support systems, and strengthens our nation.
Overview of the Family-Based Immigration System
U.S. immigration laws permit U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) to sponsor close family members for immigrant visas, or permanent residence. Prospective immigrants must be either an “immediate relative” of a U.S. citizen or a qualifying family member under the family-sponsored preference system. Immediate relatives are: (1) spouses of U.S. citizens; (2) unmarried minor children (under 21 years of age) of U.S. citizens; and (3) parents of adult (21+ years) U.S. citizens. The family- sponsored preference system is limited to close family members of U.S. citizens or LPRs as follows:
- First: Unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens;
- Second (A): Spouses and minor children of LPRs;
- Second (B): Unmarried adult children of LPRs;
- Third: Married adult children of U.S citizens; and
- Fourth: Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens.
Cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, and other extended family members are not eligible to immigrate to the United States under the family-based immigration system.
The Number of Family-Based Immigrants Admitted Each Year
Congress has established a worldwide limit of 480,000 family-based visas that can be issued each fiscal year. There is no limitation on the number of visas that may be issued to immediate relatives; however, the number of visas issued to immediate relatives is subtracted from the 480,000 cap on family-based immigration to determine the total number of other family-based immigrants to be admitted. To ensure that all family-based visas are not used by immediate relatives, Congress set a “floor” of at least 226,000 visas that must be allocated through the preference system. In addition to the numerical limitations on visas, the law also prohibits any single country from receiving more than 7% of the total number of visas that are issued each year.
|Numerical Limitation on Family-Based Visa Applications|
|Visa Category||Sponsor||Relationship||Annual Numerical Limit|
|Immediate Relatives||U.S. Citizens||Spouse,unmarried minor child, parent||Unlimited|
|Family Preference Allocation|
|First Preference||U.S. Citizen||Unmarried adult child||23,400|
|Second Preference A||Spouse / minor child||87,900|
|Second Preference B||Unmarried adult child||26,300|
|Third Preference||U.S. Citizen||Married adult child||23,400|
|Fourth Preference||U.S. Citizen||Brother / Sister||65,000|