How to Get an Employment Green Card in San Diego

If you have an advanced degree in a STEM field, it will help

The process to obtain an employment-based green card is competitive. Every year since the turn of the century, the U.S. has admitted its annual limit of 140,000 immigrants for employment-based (EB) green cards. Many immigrants hoping to obtain their EB green cards are denied, told they have little chance, or wait in line for several years.

“Usually the economy doubles in size every seven years,” says Robert Nadalin, an immigration attorney in San Diego. “What that’s meant is that as the economy has grown the number of employment-based green cards hasn’t. A long line has developed for people to complete this process.”

Exacerbating that problem is the 7 percent per-country limit, which restricts citizens of any country to no more than 7 percent of the total green cards available. “Because one-third of the world lives in India or China, persons born in those countries have a much longer wait due to that quota restriction,” Nadalin says. “It seems unfair or counterintuitive to people in the U.S., where we’re used to everyone having an equal opportunity or equal chance.”

What will increase the chances of getting a green card?

“In general, it’s higher education,” Nadalin says. “Anyone with a masters or PhD in a STEM field, if they’re committed to staying here, they’re probably going to be able to find an employer that’s happy to have them here and is willing to support their immigration paperwork.”

For many green card applicants, the process begins years in advance by obtaining a non-immigrant visa. Many people from abroad come to the U.S. temporarily to study under the F-1 student visa or work under a H-1B visa, and some people obtain both.

“In some ways, it’s like building a house. The foundation oftentimes is the F-1 student visa, then they may move onto a work visa, like the H-1B or other work visas,” adds Nadalin. “If the employer and employee begin to think of a longer-term solution, that second story of the house may be moving onto a green card.”

In over 95 percent of cases, applicants are living in the U.S. at the time they file the green card application. “The employer isn’t going to want to go through all the time and expense unless the person is already on board and productively working for them under a nonimmigrant visa,” Nadalin says. “Why would the employer spend $20,000 to $30,000 to go through the process and then the person says, ‘Ah, nevermind; I’ve decided I’m not coming.’ … Or they come and it’s not a good fit. The employer or employee is unhappy.”

Lower priority workers will struggle

Employment-based preference categories are titled EB-1 through EB-3. EB-1 are first preference “priority workers” who must meet strict criteria, like having an advanced degree. Checking the latest USCIS visa bulletin shows these applicants have the quickest path to a green card. On the other hand, EB-3 applicants have the least stringent requirements but will have the longest wait, and some may struggle to find an employer-sponsor.

“No plumbing business is going to pay $10,000 to $20,000 to wait eight years for [a plumber] who might show up to work for them,” Nadalin says. “Sometimes an employer will call. It might be a landscaper, a restaurant, maybe somebody who wants a nanny for their kids. They say they’ve found this person who’s a great worker and want to sponsor them. But often there is no path for that person under the current law. … That’s one reason why there are 10 million people here who don’t have papers. I don’t think they are illegal by choice, it’s just that under the current law there’s no path for them.”

Talk to an immigration attorney

Nadalin cautions potential applicants and employers that “sometimes people think that just because there is an application form they just need to fill out the form and check some boxes and they’re going to get their green card, but there is a whole complicated body of law behind those processes and it’s important to have a qualified attorney help with the process.” Applicants (and employers) should contact an experienced California immigration attorney before starting the green card application process.

For more information on this area of law, see our immigration overview.

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