The Immigrant Visa Preference System, from Life in the USA: The Complete Guide for Immigrants and Americans

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Life in the USA
Immigration and Citizenship

The Preference System
Tries to Keep Families Together. The preference system for immigrant visas is mostly family oriented, with some preferences available due to employment or special legislation regarding specific countries. A quick way to become a member of someone's family is through marriage. Don't think this is an easy way, especially if the marriage is just a trick (a “sham marriage”). Because the INS is so sensitive to possible “marriage fraud,” the first two years of permanent resident status based on marriage are “conditional.” The INS is particularly wary of marriages in which spouses have a great disparity in age, or which have been very recent. Married people should keep plenty of documentation, other than the marriage certificate, showing that they actually live together. Examples would include joint credit accounts, leases and mortgages signed by both, joint memberships in organizations-- even a wedding photo album.

Certain groups are not subject to numerical limits. These include: 1) spouses, parents and minor children of American citizens; 2) some former U.S. government employees; 3) some people who have lost their American citizenship; 4) some ministers; and 5) refugees and asylees.

Visa Lotteries. In addition, and on occasion, a certain number of visas have been offered on a lottery basis to people who cannot fit into any of the previous categories. Since the work-related preferences allow smaller percentages than the family-related preferences, and since they also require Department of Labor certification, they are more difficult and have longer waiting periods.


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