Marriage and Preference Category Change

Under the Preference System of the Immigration Act of 1990, a prospective immigrant’s preference category can downgrade as a result of marriage. The family-sponsored preference categories include: 1) Unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens; 2) Spouses, children, and unmarried sons and daughters of permanent resident aliens; 3) Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, and 4) Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens. For example, an unmarried son or daughter of a U.S. citizen enjoys first preference under these categories. If the unmarried son or daughter gets married while his or her petition is still pending, he or she will automatically lower to the third preference category.

On the other hand, a divorce can raise the preference category. Under the same scenario as above, if the married son or daughter of a U.S. citizen subsequently divorces, the now unmarried son or daughter converts to first preference.

Generally, a prospective immigrant’s original visa priority date is retained when the petitioner’s preference category changes. The priority date is set and usually remains on the day the immigrant petition was filed. However, in cases of second priority, including spouses, children and unmarried sons and daughters of permanent resident aliens, death of the sponsor or marriage of the petitioner results in an automatic revocation of the pending visa petition. The original priority date of the petitioner is terminated, even if the petitioner later files for another preference category. Thus, it is essential for a petitioner to maintain a current and updated status on his or her preference category and priority date. For more information, visit

By: Ashik Jahan, Esq. & Grace Mann

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