Each year, thousands of workers are approved to enter the United States on permanent worker visas. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) section 201, there are a minimum of 140,000 visas available for employment-based preference immigrants worldwide. These visas are a special type of immigrant visa that can eventually result in lawful permanent residency and are used to allow entry for immigrants with a desirable combination of job skills, work experience, and/or education. This category of visa is known as employment-based (EB) and is broken down into five levels of preference, denoted by EB-1 through EB-5.
Data from FY2016 Annual Report Table II*
There are three categories of eligibility for first preference (EB-1) visas: extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers, and multinational managers or executives. There are specific criteria that must be met in order to qualify for an EB-1 visa, but if met, it can be easier to attain this type of visa compared to the other EB visas. One key reason is that EB-1 visas do not require a labor certification, which can be time-consuming and difficult to obtain. In the fiscal year 2016, there were 2,361 EB-1 visas issued, including priority workers as well as their spouses and children.
The second preference (EB-2) visa is available to those with an advanced degree or exceptional ability, which means “a degree of expertise significantly above that ordinarily encountered in the sciences, arts, or business.” Unlike with EB-1 visas, a labor certification is generally required for an EB-2 visa. This is a certification issued by the Secretary of Labor intended to verify the lack of availability of U.S. workers and the absence of adverse effects on U.S. workers due to hiring an immigrant in the position. However, there is an exception available to EB-2 visa applicants called a national interest waiver. Applicants seeking this waiver fall into the exceptional ability category and must show that their employment would benefit the national interest of the United States. In the fiscal year 2016, there were 2,155 EB-2 visas issued, including advanced degrees holders and immigrants of exceptional ability as well as their spouses and children.
EB-3 visas are the third preference category. This is a broad category that covers skilled workers, professionals, and other/unskilled workers. Applicants for EB-3 visas are required to have both a labor certification and a permanent, full-time job offer. Because of a lower annual limit and less stringent qualification criteria, particularly for other/unskilled workers, there is usually a backlog for these visas. In order to be considered a professional, an applicant must have a baccalaureate degree or equivalent. Skilled workers must be able to prove at least two years of job training or experience. For other/unskilled workers, the only requirement aside from the labor certification and job offer is the capability to perform unskilled labor that is not seasonal or temporary. In the fiscal year 2016, there were 10,301 EB-3 visas issued to workers and their families, including 2,340 for other/unskilled workers.
The fourth preference (EB-4) category covers a variety of narrow groups called special immigrants. Special immigrants include religious workers (ministers), broadcasters, certain juveniles, Afghan and Iraqi nationals supporting U.S. operations, and others. While employer sponsorship is usually required, there are cases where applicants may self-petition for an EB-4 visa, and a labor certification is not required. In the fiscal year 2016, there were 1,734 EB-4 visas issued, mostly in the group of employees or former employees of the U.S. Government abroad and their spouses and children (1,529).
The fifth preference is called the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program. The goal is this program is to bring entrepreneurs and foreign investors to the United States in order to create jobs and stimulate the U.S. economy. To be eligible for an EB-5 visa, an applicant must plan to create at least ten jobs for U.S. workers and have an investment in a U.S. commercial enterprise. The minimum investment is usually $1 million except for targeted employment areas where it is $500,000. It is easier than most people think – and there are smart ways to finance the program, so that you don’t have to use $500,000 cash.
Employment-based visas bring thousands of qualified immigrants into the United States every year. Each preference category is governed by specific criteria and qualifications that are crafted to help the U.S. economy and ensure a vibrant class of workers for years to come.
*For more detailed statistics about issued visas, please see the annual Report of the Visa Office published by the U.S. Department of State.