American immigration breaks down familial relationships into two categories. Immediate relatives have no limits on the number of visas issued each year, and therefore have a visa “immediately” available to them. Other relationships, called preference relationships, are limited in the number of visas issued each year. In order to obtain permanent residency in the United States for a relative who falls under one of the preference relationship categories, the immigrant must file a petition and then wait for a visa to become available. The date on which this petition is filed is called the immigrant’s priority date. In order to determine whether a visa is available, the immigrant then checks to see whether his or her priority date in current on a document called the visa bulletin. The visa bulletin is issued each month by the Department of State. An immigrant can check to see if they have a visa available by finding their home country and specific category on the visa bulletin. They have a visa available if their priority date is earlier in time than the date listed on the visa bulletin.
Immediate relative relationships (i.e., a visa will be immediately available):
- Spouses of United State citizens
- Unmarried children under the age of twenty-one of United State citizens
- Parents of United State citizens
The following are the preference categories found on the visa bulletin:
- 1st: Unmarried children over the age of twenty-one of United State citizens
- 2A: Spouses and unmarried children under the age of twenty-one of lawful permanent residents
- 2B: Unmarried children over the age of twenty-one of lawful permanent residents
- 3rd: Married children over the age of twenty-one of United State citizens
- 4th: Brothers or sisters of United State citizens
Please note that having a visa number available does not mean that an immigrant is eligible to obtain lawful permanent residence.