Can I Get a Green Card Through Employment?

Yes, but it could be a lengthy process

By Doug Mentes, Esq. | Last updated on January 26, 2023

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Green cards are awarded to about 140,000 applicants each year through U.S. employment-based immigration. That total is the cap—the most allowed by law—which was set in 1990, through the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), and hasn’t been changed since. Another cap, a 7 percent limit of employment-based green cards available to citizens of each country, also affects the award of work visas. This cap has led to long waits for citizens from some countries, especially those hoping to emigrate from India, China and the Philippines.

How To Start the Process

The first step in the application process for many employment-based (EB) green card holders is the responsibility of the employer: obtaining permanent labor certification (PERM). The employer is required to recruit U.S. workers for the applicant’s position to test the labor market, the purpose of which is to confirm that:
  • there is not a U.S. citizen able, qualified and willing to accept the job offer for the prevailing wage for that position in the local area
  • the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers will not be adversely affected
Following certification, the employer files the immigration form I-140 (Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker) with the USCIS. If there is not a waiting list for the particular employment-based green card, the applicant moves on to the final step: filing immigration form I-485Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.

Which Foreign Workers Qualify?

There are five employment-based preference categories that an applicant can qualify under: EB-1 through EB-5. Most applicants, approximately 120,000 of the 140,000, apply under green card categories EB-1 through EB-3—as EB-4 pertains to religious workers, and the EB-5 category allows immigrant investors to obtain a green card if investing $500,000 to $1 million in a business that employs others. Within each EB category there are subcategories. To obtain a green card under the first employment-based preference category, EB-1, the applicant must be able to demonstrate either:
  • extraordinary ability and work experience in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics
  • international recognition for outstanding achievements in an academic field as a professor or researcher
  • that they’re a multinational manager or executive
Those that demonstrate extraordinary ability can self-petition for a green card without an U.S. employer sponsor, and skip the labor certification process. The same goes for those that qualify through the national interest waiver under category EB-2. To be eligible under the EB-2 category, the applicant must demonstrate either:
  • that they’re a member of a profession that requires an advanced degree, and the applicant possesses such a degree or its equivalent
  • exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business
  • that it’s in the national interest the applicant be granted a green card, because their employment would greatly benefit the nation
Applicants under the third preference category, EB-3, must demonstrate either:
  • that they possess a U.S. bachelor’s degree (or foreign degree-equivalent), and that a bachelor’s degree is the normal requirement for the job
  • two years of job experience or training as a skilled worker
  • Unskilled workers with less than two years job experience performing work that is not of a temporary or seasonal nature
Specific criteria for determining qualification under the EB-1, EB-2  and EB-3 categories can be found on the USCIS website.

How Long Is the Process?

The U.S. Department of State publishes a visa bulletin, updated monthly, which shows wait times for applicants. Because the EB-3 category contains the least-stringent requirements to obtain a green card, it’s the most competitive. The EB-1 category has the strictest requirements, and is less competitive. The 7 percent per-country cap also has a huge effect on wait times. For example, the August 2018 bulletin shows that applicants from India and China under the EB-3 category have been waiting in line nearly ten years to receive an U.S. visa—while applicants from most other countries, across all EB categories, have no wait times. Obtaining a green card through the employment-based process can be competitive. Applicants and employers should consult with an experienced Maryland immigration attorney to give them the best chance of success. For more information on this area of law, see our immigration overview.

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