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Preference System Strategies

Apply under all the categories that apply to you, not just one. Under some circumstances, you can also apply as a national of a country other than the one you were born in, since that country may have a shorter waiting list. You can use your spouse’s country of birth or either of your parents’.

Get Started. It is also important to start the process of waiting for a visa number in your category as soon as possible. You must file with the INS for the visa (or with the Labor Department in the case of a work-related visa) to get a priority date from which all your waiting time will be computed. You’ll file a preliminary visa application with the consulate which will allow you to get your visa number. Once you go through this first process and everything gets approved, you’ll receive a packet of forms from the American State Department. You’ll fill out these forms and return them to the consulate. The consulate will later schedule a personal interview for you and mail you a list of approved doctors for your medical examination.

Be Organized. At the consulate interview you’ll have to bring all relevant documents plus all family members who are included on your petition. You’ll need a sealed medical certificate from the approved doctor, your passport and birth certificates for all family members applying, police certificates showing absence of criminal activity, photographs, marriage certificates, certificate of support, letter from an American employer (for job-related preferences, though such a letter helps in all cases) and whatever else they ask you for. If you get through this process, you’ll be given your immigrant visa. You must enter the United States within four months of receiving the visa.

File Together. When you file for an immigrant visa under the preference system, your relative (or the person who you will work for in the case of the work-related preferences) must file a petition at the same time. This rule also applies to those already in the United States filing for adjustment of status.

File From Outside the U.S. In terms of paperwork, it is much easier to apply for an immigrant visa while out of the United States (through a consulate or embassy) than while in the United States through an “adjustment of status” process. For one thing, if you enter on a tourist visa you will likely become an illegal overstay before your waiting period is up, with obvious complications (such as having to hire an expensive lawyer to straighten it all out). Often it is easier to leave the country to apply for the immigrant visa than to try for adjustment of status while in the U.S.A.

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