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In general, family-sponsored preference visas are limited to 226,000 visas per year and employment-based preference visas are limited to 140,000 visas per year. In addition, there are limits to the percentage of visas that can be allotted based on an immigrant’s country of birth. The priority date is used to determine an immigrant’s place in the visa queue. When the priority date becomes available or is “current,” immigrants may be able to apply for adjustment of status.

Availability of Immigrant Visas and Preference Categories

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) sets the number of immigrant visas that may be issued to foreign nationals seeking to become Lawful Permanent residents each year.  

Family Visa Preferences and Visa Allotments

PreferencePreference classificationsVisa Allotments
First Preference “immediate relatives” “F1”
  • The spouses of U.S. citizens,

  • The children (unmarried and under 21 years of age) of U.S. citizens,

  • The parents of U.S. citizens at least 21 years old, and

  • Widows or widowers of U.S. citizens if the U.S. citizen filed a petition before his or her death or if the widow(er) files a petition within 2 years of the citizen’s death.
23,400, plus any visas not used for fourth preference
Second Preference “F2A”Spouses or unmarried sons or daughters (under age 21) of a permanent resident114,200, plus the number (if any) by which the worldwide family preference level exceeds 226,000, plus any unused First Preference numbers:
  • 77% of the overall Second Preference limitation, of which 75% are exempt from the per-country limit.
Second Preference “F2B”Unmarried Sons and Daughters (21 years of age or older) of Permanent Residents114,200, plus the number (if any) by which the worldwide family preference level exceeds 226,000, plus any unused First Preference numbers:
  • 23% of the overall Second Preference limitation.
Third Preference “F3”Married Sons and Daughters (any age) of U.S. Citizens23,400, plus any numbers not required by first and second preferences.
Fourth Preference “F4”The brothers or sisters of a U.S. citizen. The citizen must be age 21 or older65,000, plus any numbers not required by the first three preferences.

Employment Preferences and Visa Allotments

PreferencePreference classificationsVisa Allotments
First PreferencePriority workers28.6% of the worldwide employment-based preference level, plus any not required for fourth and fifth preferences.
Second PreferenceMembers of the professions who hold advanced degrees, or persons of exceptional ability.28.6% of the worldwide employment-based preference level, plus any not required by first preference.
Third PreferenceSkilled workers, professionals, and other workers.28.6% of the worldwide level, plus any not required by first and second preferences, not more than 10,000 of which go to “other workers.”
Fourth PreferenceCertain special immigrants.7.1% of the worldwide level.
Fifth PreferenceInvestors in job-creating U.S. enterprises.7.1% of the worldwide level, not less than 3,000 of which are reserved for investors in a targeted rural or high-unemployment area, with 3,000 saved for investors in regional centers.

Acceptance of Applications and Visa Bulletin

USCIS will accept Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status from family-sponsored and employment-based adjustment of status preference applicants according to the monthly DOS Visa Bulletin published as a guide for issuing visas at U.S. consulates and embassies.  

Finding Your Priority Date

If you are a prospective immigrant, you can find your priority date on Form I-797, Notice of Action, for the petition filed on your behalf. The waiting time before receiving an immigrant visa or adjusting status depends on:

  • The demand for and supply of immigrant visas.
  • The per-country visa limitations.
  • The number of visas allocated for your preference category.

Priority Dates for Family-Sponsored Preference Cases

For family-sponsored immigrants, the priority date is the date that the Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, or in certain instances the Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, is properly filed with USCIS.

Priority Dates for Employment-Based Preference Cases

For employment-based immigrants, the priority date depends on the following:

Your preference category…Then your priority date is the date:
Your preference category requires a labor certification from the Department of Labor (DOL)The labor certification application is accepted for processing by DOL.
  • Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, with USCIS within 180 days of the DOL approval date on the labor certification or else the labor certification is no longer valid. To preserve the priority date, the petitioner must file
Your preference category does not require a DOL labor certificationUSCIS accepts Form I-140 for processing to classify the sponsored worker under the requested preference category.
You are a fourth preference special immigrant, including religious workersFor processing USCIS accepts:
  • Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er) or Special Immigrant
You are a fifth preference investorYou are a fifth-preference investor

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