Visa Preference Categories

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Atlanta Immigration Attorney Jameel Manji

Author: Jameel Manji, Founder, Manji Law, P.C.

Mr. Manji founded Manji Law in 2016 to follow his passion of helping people navigate the complicated immigration system. Mr. Manji graduated from Georgia State University College of Law and received Master of Taxation from the Georgia State’s J. Mack Robinson College of Business. Published on: March 09, 2023.

Manji Law is your complete immigration solution. If you are seeking assistance with the Atlanta Immigration Court, please give us a call. Manji Law can provide valuable insight, assistance, and a guiding hand to help you achieve your goals.

What Is a Visa Preference Category?


The US government uses a visa preference category to prioritize the processing of immigrant visa (green card) applications based on the individual’s relationship to a US citizen or lawful permanent resident or their job skills and employment offer in the US.

Visa preference is a complex system for determining when visas are granted to eligible applicants. Each preference category has its own eligibility criteria and priority for visa processing.

The visa categories are determined by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and the US Department of State’s Foreign Affairs Manual. Due to high demand, there may be long wait times for visas in certain categories.

There are two main types of preference categories:

  1. Family-based preference categories: For individuals related to US citizens or lawful permanent residents, such as spouses, minor children, adult children, and siblings.
  2. Employment-based preference categories: Individuals eligible for a green card based on job skills and employment offers, such as priority workers, professionals holding advanced degrees, skilled workers, and investors.

The availability of visas in each category is subject to yearly limits set by the US government. Due to high demand, there may be long wait times for visas in certain categories.

Whether you need information on visa preference categories or would like to speak with experienced immigration lawyers, Manji Law P.C. is here to help.

US Immigration Priority Dates


A US immigration priority date refers to the order in which a person’s application for a green card is processed based on their country of origin and job category. It is the filing date on which the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) received an individual’s application for permanent residency. It determines where an individual is in the visa queue.

Individuals with earlier priority dates are processed before those with later priority dates. When an individual files an application for a green card, a priority date is assigned, and the USCIS updates the priority date as the case progresses.

If the individual’s priority date is before the cut-off date listed on the U.S. Department of State’s Visa Bulletin, their green card application can move forward. If the priority date is after the cut-off date, the individual must wait until the date becomes current before their green card application can be processed.

Family-Based Immigrant Visas

Family preference immigrant visas are granted to categories of relatives of a United States citizens and permanent residents who are eligible to apply for a green card (lawful permanent residence) in the United States. The categories prioritize the processing of green card applications based on their specific family relationships.

The five family preference categories for family members are:

  1. First preference (F1): Unmarried sons and daughters (over 21 years of age) of a US citizen
  2. Second preference (F2): Spouses and minor children of permanent residents
  3. Third preference (F3): Married adult children of U.S. citizens
  4. Fourth preference (F4): Siblings of adult U.S. citizens
  5. Fifth preference (DV): Diversity Visa Lottery for individuals from countries with low immigration rates to the US.


Employment-Based Visas

Employment-based (EB) immigrant preferences apply to foreign nationals whose job skills and employment offers in the US make them eligible for a green card.

There are five employment-based preference categories:

  1. EB-1: Includes individuals with extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers, and multinational executives and managers.
  2. EB-2: Members of the professions holding advanced degrees or persons of exceptional ability in the arts, sciences, or business.
  3. EB-3: Skilled workers, professionals, and other workers.
  4. EB-4: Special immigrants – includes religious workers, US foreign service posts employees, and certain Iraqi and Afghan nationals who worked for the US government.
  5. EB-5: Investors – includes individuals who invest in a new commercial enterprise that creates or preserves at least ten full-time jobs for US workers.

What Is the Process for Applying for Preference Visas?


The process of obtaining a visa under one of the preference categories is as follows: 

  1. Determine eligibility: The first step is determining if you are eligible for a visa under one of the five preference categories.
  2. Submit a petition: Next, you’ll need to have your sponsor (employer or qualifying family member) file a petition with USCIS on your behalf.
  3. Wait for a visa number (priority date): Upon approval, your petition will be assigned a priority date based on the date it was filed. The priority date is important because it determines when you will be eligible to apply for a visa.
  4. Apply for a visa: After your priority date becomes current, you can apply for a visa. This typically involves submitting a visa application, attending an interview, and undergoing a background check and medical examination.
  5. Monitor the Visa Bulletin: Each month, the Department of State publishes the Visa Bulletin, which shows the current cut-off dates for each preference category and country of origin. You will need to monitor the Visa Bulletin to determine when your priority date becomes current.
  6. Attend an interview: The final step is to attend an interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate to determine if the foreign individual is admissible to the United States.

It is important to note that the process can take several months or even years, depending on the preference category and the foreign individual’s specific circumstances. 


Current Immigration Quota

In the US immigration system, certain groups are given special preference, including:

  1. Spouses and children of US citizens
  2. Parents of US citizens
  3. Individuals with extraordinary ability in specific fields
  4. Physicians and medical professionals serving in underserved areas
  5. Victims of human trafficking and specific crimes

It is important to note that the criteria for receiving special preference may change, and the list is not exhaustive.

How Can an Immigration Attorney Help?


Obtaining a US preference visa can be a complex and time-consuming process. Consult with an experienced immigration attorney to navigate the process and ensure your application is as strong as possible. An attorney can also prepare individuals for their visa interview and assist with any issues that may arise.

For questions about a visa preference category matter, talk to an attorney at Manji Law, P.C. Our experienced immigration attorneys are dedicated to helping individuals navigate the complex visa preference categories and all aspects of immigration law and achieve their immigration goals.


Frequently Asked Questions


What Are the Four Types of Visas?

The four types of visas in the US are:

  1. Nonimmigrant visas
  2. Immigrant visas
  3. Temporary worker visas
  4. Student visas

What Are F1, F2, F3 and F4 Visas?

The F1 visa is for individuals coming to the United States to study, while the F2 visa is for the spouse and dependents of the F1 visa holder. The F3 visa is for married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, while the F4 visa is for brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens.

What Are the F2A and F2B Visas?

The F2A visa is for the spouse and minor children of permanent residents, while the F2B visa is for unmarried adult children of permanent residents.