Immigrant Visas through Employment

The US government provides an yearly minimum of 140,000 employment-based immigrant visas, or "green cards", to foreign professionals and other workers who wish to live and work permanently in the US.

Employment-based green cards are divided into five general preference categories:

With the exception of the cases listed below, these applications require a definite job offer from a U.S. employer.

A green card entitles you to live and work legally inside the U.S. as a permanent resident. It provides you with proof of name and identity to enable you to apply for a driver's license, take out loans, establish a bank account, etc.

Travel Limitations and Citizenship: As a green card holder, you may travel outside the U.S. and return as long as you maintain your primary residence in the U.S. If you wish to become a U.S. citizen, you must normally wait at least 5 years from the date you receive your green card, unless you are married to a U.S. citizen. More than six months of travel outside the U.S. may erase the time counted toward your eligibility for citizenship.

Renewal: A green card is renewable after ten years.

The application process: In most cases, the prospective U.S. employer must file a labor certification with the US Department of Labor (DOL) and a petition with the US Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS). Once these have been approved, the applicant may file a visa application. Accompanying relatives of green card holders are themselves eligible for green cards.

*Exception to the above rules: Biotech professionals or other tech workers in high demand by US companies may bypass the labor certification and definite job offer requirements by filing an "extraordinary ability" petition or "national interest waiver". See "employment first preference" below to see if you may qualify.

The five main preference categories are:

Employment-Based Green Card First Preference I. Employment First Preference (EB-1):
  Quota: 28.6% of the annual total
Who is eligible: "priority workers" in three main subgroups:
  • Persons of "extraordinary ability" in the arts, sciences, business, education or athletics. *No specific job offer required. Can file own petition with the USCIS. Applicants must show extensive documentation of sustained national or international acclaim and recognition in their field of expertise. Examples of such documentation include:
    • widely recognized awards
    • membership in elite associations
    • evidence of published research papers
    • published articles about the applicant in the media

  • Outstanding professors and researchers with at least three years experience in teaching or research, who are recognized internationally.
    *No labor certification required.

  • Certain executives and managers of multinational companies who have been employed for at least one of the preceding three years.
    *No labor certification required.
Employment-Based Green Card Second Preference II. Employment Second Preference (EB-2):
  Quota: 28.6% of the annual total
Who is eligible:
  • Workers with graduate-level or professional degrees
  • Workers of "exceptional ability" in the arts, sciences or business.
    *A labor certification may not be required if your presence will have a national and substantial benefit to the US in the future deriving from your talent or skills.
Employment-Based Green Card Third Preference III. Employment Third Preference (EB-3):
  Quota: 28.6% of the annual limit (less than 1/2 for unskilled workers

Waiting Period: seven years for unskilled workers; four years for professional and skilled workers from China and three years for the Philippines
Who is eligible:

  • Professionals with a baccalaureate degree
  • Skilled or unskilled workers with at least two years' training or experience
  • Workers capable of filling positions requiring less than two years' training or experience
Employment-Based Green Card Fourth Preference IV. Employment Fourth Preference (EB-4):

Quota: 7.1% of the annual limit
Waiting Period: 8 months
Who is eligible: Religious workers and other categories of workers and individuals

Investor Visa Contact Form
V. Employment Fifth Preference (EB-5)
or Investor Immigrant Visa:

Around 10,000 green cards (which grant permanent resident status) are made available each year to anyone investing at least $1,000,000 in a new or existing US business ($500,000 if the business is in an economically-depressed or rural area).

Half of these green cards are set aside for those who apply under a pilot program involving a USCIS Regional Center.

Quota: 7.1% of the annual limit
Waiting Period: none
Who is eligible:

  • Individual investors willing to invest $1,000,000 in US business or $500,000 in businesses located in economically-depressed ("targeted employment areas") or rural areas as designated by the US Office of Management and Budget.
  • The business must employ (or create full-time employment for) at least ten full-time workers exclusive of the investor and his or her dependents.
  • In the case of an existing business, the investor must increase the business's net worth or number of employees by 140% or retain all existing jobs in a troubled business that has lost 20 percent of its net worth over the past 12 to 24 months.

Accompanying relatives: Spouses and children of investor visa applicants can apply simultaneously for the same status.

For information about non-immigrant investor visas, click here.

Do you have a question about investor visas? Let our experienced attorneys and paralegals answer your questions. Your first consultation is FREE.


Accompanying Relative:
The spouse or child under the age of 21 of the holder of an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa, who is accompanying them to the US

Targeted Employment Area:
An area that has experienced unemployment of at least 150 percent of the national average rate.

Regional Center:

  • An entity, organization or agency that has been approved as such by USCIS (US Citizen and Immigration Services);
  • Focuses on a specific geographic area with the US
  • Seeks to promote growth through increased export sales, improved regional productivity, creation of new jobs, and increased domestic capital investment.


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