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Employment-Based Green Card Types and How to Apply for Them

If you want to become a United States permanent resident, you’ll need to explore employment-based green cards. There are several different pathways to a green card for professionals. This article describes the different types of employment-based green cards, and how to apply for them.

Employment-Based Green Card Types and How to Apply for Them

If you want to become a United States permanent resident, you’ll need to explore employment-based green cards. There are several different pathways to a green card for professionals. This article describes the different types of employment-based green cards, and how to apply for them.

Overview of Employment-Based Green Cards

There are several ways that foreign nationals can become green card holders (also called permanent residents). Examples include marrying a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, applying for a green card for humanitarian reasons, and employment-based immigration.

Within the broad category of employment-based immigration, there are several employment-based green card pathways for different types of immigrants. What makes them all similar is that they are all green cards based on an immigrant's professional accomplishments or aspirations. However, each immigrant category has unique criteria, requirements, benefits, and advantages.

Some employment-based green card paths require an employer sponsor, while others can be filed without a sponsoring U.S. company. Some evaluate applicants based on their past accomplishments, whereas others are focused on an immigrant's future professional plans in the U.S. 

Understanding the Difference Between Immigrant Visas and the U.S. Green Card

Before comparing employment-based green cards, we’ll define a few immigration terms. Most importantly, we must distinguish immigrant visas from green cards.

Although its the focus of this article, the term 'employment-based green cards' can be a little misleading. The reason is: all U.S. green cards are the same. Whether you pursue a green card through employment or because of refugee status or marriage to a U.S. citizen, you will receive the same green card. All green cards allow a foreign national to become a permanent resident who can live and work in the U.S. for an extended period of time.

So the term 'employment-based green card' does not refer to the actual green card, since a green card received through employment is no different than another green card. Instead, the term refers to the processes that an immigrant goes through before applying for a U.S. green card.

Before applying for a green card through the Form I-485 adjustment of status application (also called the green card application), an immigrant must get a qualifying petition (also called an immigrant visa petition) approved by the U.S. government.

Qualifying petitions are essential applications for immigrant visas and the application requirements vary greatly depending on the visa category.

Understanding Green Card Preference Categories

Each employment-based green card path has a preference category. The preference category is based on the immigrant’s qualifications, such as their job skills, education, and work experience. The categories include:

  • 1st Preference: The employment first preference category includes the three EB-1 subcategories. The EB-1A for individuals with extraordinary ability, the EB-1B for outstanding professors and researchers, and the EB-1C for multinational managers and executives. 
  • 2nd Preference: The employment second preference category includes the EB-2 PERM, which is one of the most common immigrant visas. It also includes the EB-2 National Interest Waiver (NIW), an often overlooked immigrant visa that can be self-petitioned.
  • 3rd Preference: The employment third preference category includes EB-3 petitions for skilled workers and professionals.
  • 4th Preference: There are many subgroups within the employment fourth preference category. Refer to USCIS's website for a full list. 
  • 5th Preference: The employment fifth category includes the EB-5 immigrant investment visa
  • Other Workers and Certain Religious Workers: These additional categories include unskilled worker immigrant petitions and the SR visa category.  

Preference categories are important because they impact how quickly an immigrant can obtain a green card. To understand preference categories, the visa bulletin, and priority dates, read our article on the visa bulletin.

Common Employment-Based Green Card Categories: Criteria + Requirements

EB-1A Immigrant Visa

The EB-1A is considered the most challenging visa in all of U.S. immigration. However, it's not impossible. To qualify, you must submit evidence that you have received a major international award such as a Nobel Prize. If you have not won a major international award (most applicants haven't), you can apply by submitting evidence that you satisfy three or more extraordinary ability criteria.

The extraordinary ability criteria are fairly flexible and range from judging professional events in your field to being featured in the press. In addition to satisfying these requirements, the immigration officer reviewing your petition must be convinced that you have 'sustained national or international acclaim' in your field. 

The EB-1A is unique because it can be self-petitioned or filed by a sponsoring employer. This makes it a good choice for self-employed entrepreneurs and highly skilled immigrants without a U.S. job offer.

EB-1B Immigrant Visa

Like the EB-1A, the EB-1B is in the first preference category, but with very different criteria and requirements. The EB-1B must be sponsored by a qualifying U.S. employer for immigrant employees that qualify as outstanding professors and researchers.

To qualify, employees must satisfy three main requirements related to their background as a researcher or professor. In addition, the sponsoring employer must employ at least full-time researchers before sponsoring an EB-1B petition.

EB-1C Immigrant Visa

The EB-1C enables managers and executives at foreign companies to transfer to a U.S. office and qualify for a green card. It has similar requirements to the L-1A work visa, and many L-1A holders apply for the EB-1C after moving to the U.S. on L-1 status.

The EB-1C must be sponsored by a U.S. company, and the employee must have worked for a related entity abroad for one year within the past three years. In addition, the employee must have been employed in a manager or executive capacity. For example, an engineering manager who worked at Microsoft India for two years might qualify for a green card if their EB-1C is sponsored by Microsoft's U.S. entity.

EB-2: National Interest Waiver and PERM

There are two types of EB-2 petitions, but both have similar basic requirements (as well as different requirements). The main difference between the two is that EB-2 NIW can be self-petitioned, and the EB-2 PERM must be sponsored by an employer. In addition, EB-2 PERM sponsoring employers must undergo the PERM labor certification process with the U.S. Department of Labor.

All EB-2 applicants must have an Advanced Degree or Exceptional Ability.

An Advanced Degree could include a U.S. Master's degree, the foreign equivalent of a Master's degree, a U.S. Bachelor's degree plus five years of progressive work experience, or the foreign equivalent of a U.S. Bachelor's degree plus five years of progressive work experience.

If an immigrant has no Advanced Degree, they can qualify for the EB-2 by satisfying three or more Exceptional Ability criteria.

EB-2 NIW Specific Requirements: In addition to the general requirements, EB-2 NIW applicants must satisfy the NIW three-prong test.

How to Apply for an Employment-Based Green Card

To apply for an employment-based green card from within the U.S., the petitioner (either an employer or the individual applying) must file Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Companies sponsoring a green card can prepare the application with in-house counsel, or they can work with an immigration service provider such as Deel Immigration. Likewise, individuals self-sponsoring their green card can partner with an immigration attorney, law firm, or immigration provider.

Start the green card conversation today with a global mobility expert. Our team can help you identify the best green card path for your particular situation and offer full-service immigration support.

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