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Types of U.S. Immigrant Visas

The USCIS Issues Various Types of Immigrant Visas to Foreign Nationals

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issues immigrant visas to foreign nationals who desire permanent resident status in the United States and meet certain requirements. Immigrants granted permanent resident status are issued green cards, and they can live and work in the United States.

Foreign nationals can apply for various kinds of immigrant visas, including immediate relative visas, family preference visas, diversity visas, and employment-based visas.

Immediate Relative Immigrant Visas

Foreign nationals with immediate relatives who are U.S. citizens can apply for immediate relative immigrant visas. Unlike other immigrant visas, the number of immediate relative visas issued each year is unlimited.

An immediate family member is defined as a spouse, unmarried child under age 21, or parent. The following visa types are for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens:

  • IR-1: Spouse of U.S. citizen
  • IR-2: Unmarried child of U.S. citizen
  • IR-3: Orphan adopted abroad by U.S. citizen
  • IR-4: Orphan to be adopted in the United States by U.S. citizen
  • IR-5: Parent of U.S. citizen

To start the process of obtaining a green card for a foreign relative (the beneficiary), the immediate relative who is a U.S. citizen (the petitioner) must file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, to the USCIS.

Beneficiaries living in the U.S. under a different legal status must file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. Once the application is reviewed, the applicant may be required to appear for biometrics collection and/or an interview.

Beneficiaries living outside the U.S. must file for an immigrant visa through the consulate in their home country. Upon the approval of Form I-130, the USCIS forwards the petition to the National Visa Center, who will review the documentation and forward it to the U.S. embassy or consulate of the beneficiary’s home country. The embassy or consulate will set an interview date, and upon successfully interviewing and passing a medical exam, the beneficiary will receive his or her immigrant visa.

Family Preference Immigrant Visas

Distant relatives of U.S. citizens and specific relatives of lawful permanent residents may be able to apply for family preference visas. The relationship between the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident and the relative determines the family preference category. These categories, followed in parentheses by the annual limit of visas issued, are as follows:

  • Family First Preference (F-1): Unmarried child of U.S. citizen and his or her minor children (23,400)
  • Family Second Preference (F-2): Spouse, minor child, and unmarried child (over age 21) of lawful permanent resident (114,200)
  • Family Third Preference (F-3): Married child of U.S. citizen, his or her spouse, and their minor children (23,400)
  • Family Fourth Preference (F-4): Sibling of U.S. citizen, his or her spouse, and their minor children (65,000)

The process of applying for a family preference visa is the same as applying for the immediate relative visa—Form I-130 is filed with the USCIS by the petitioner, and then the beneficiary either submits Form I-485 (for those living in the United States) or applies for an immigrant visa through the embassy or consulate in his or her home country (for those outside the United States).

Diversity Immigrant Visas

Through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, foreign nationals from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States can apply for permanent resident status.

The number of visas issued through this program is limited to 50,000, and applicants are selected randomly based on the number of visas available per region or country. Eligibility requirements apply, and so selection through this process does not guarantee an applicant will be granted a visa.

Employment-based Immigrant Visas

For qualified foreign nationals, the USCIS makes available approximately 140,000 employment-based visas each year. These visas are divided into five preference categories as follows:

  • Employment-based First Preference (EB-1): Priority workers
  • Employment-based Second Preference (EB-2): Professionals who hold advanced degrees or who possess exceptional ability
  • Employment-based Third Preference (EB-3): Skilled workers, professionals, and unskilled workers
  • Employment-based Fourth Preference (EB-4): Certain special immigrants
  • Employment-based Fifth Preference (EB-5): Immigrant investors

Each of these employment-based preference categories has its own set of requirements that must be met before an applicant will receive his or her permanent resident status.