The majority of green cards that people receive are family-based or employment-based. Despite how common it is, getting an employment-based green card is a long and complex process.
This brief overview of the process should answer some of the most basic questions about employment-based green cards.
Job Offers & Labor Certification
A common starting point is for an immigrant who already has a temporary job in the US and a visa that allows him or her to work (like the H-1B or L-1 visa, for example). If the immigrant is offered a permanent job, however, then the green card process begins.
Labor certification is often the first step in the employment-based green card process. It is a process of proving to the US government that no US citizen or legal permanent resident is qualified to take the job, which is why the employer is hiring the immigrant. It allows an immigrant to work in the US and is the prerequisite for a green card.
Categories of Employment-Based Green Cards
After an immigrant has obtained labor certification, the next step is the immigrant visa petition stage. At this stage, immigrants are divided into categories.
There are five categories of employment-based green cards: EB-1, EB-2, EB-3, EB-4 and EB-5. The “EB” stands for “employment-based” and the categories are ranked according to education, skill level or job type. They are also referred to as “first preference,” “second preference” and so on.
EB-1 Priority Workers
- Individuals of extraordinary ability in arts, athletics, business, education or sciences
- Outstanding professors or researchers
- Executives and managers subject to international transfer to the US
The applications in EB-1 are highly scrutinized; very few people fit into this category. Those who do qualify for EB-1 do not have to go through the labor certification process.
EB-2 Professionals with Advanced Degrees or Persons with Exceptional Ability
- Individuals of exceptional ability in arts, business or sciences
- Professionals with advanced degrees
- Qualified physicians who will practice medicine in an underserved area of the US
“Advanced degrees” typically means master’s degrees or higher, or a bachelor’s degree with five years of post-baccalaureate experience.
EB-3 Skilled or Professional Workers
- Professionals with bachelor’s degrees that do not qualify for EB-1 or EB-2
- Skilled workers with two years of training and experience
- Unskilled workers
EB-4 Special Immigrants
- Religious workers
- Employees and former employees of the US government abroad
- Immigrants able to invest a certain amount of money and create 10 new full-time jobs
Wait Times for Employment-Based Green Cards
Unlike family-based green cards, there is a quota on how many employment-based green cards can be given out per year. The limit is 140,000 and is broken up among the five categories: 40,000 each for EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3; 10,000 each for EB-4 and EB-5.
To give workers from all countries a fair shot at processing times, each country is only allowed a percentage (about 7 percent) of the total from each category. That means that workers from highly populated countries like India and China will almost always have to wait a few years before their application is processed and they receive their green cards.
There are a few immigrants whose qualifications could land them in either the EB-2 or EB-3 categories, and it can be easier to be approved in EB-3, since EB-2 is more carefully scrutinized. However, the EB-3 wait times are almost always five years or longer.
The rigorous process of obtaining an employment-based green card takes years and is understandably confusing. If you have questions, it’s best to speak to your employer or a lawyer about the complexities of the situation!