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Employment-Based Immigration

Each year 140,000 permanent employment-based green cards are available. These visas are reserved for professionals, skilled workers, and unskilled workers who can obtain foreign labor certification through the PERM process. Learn more.

Almost all work visa cases require a PERM application, which tests the job market to ensure that hiring a foreign worker will not negatively affect the jobs and wages of U.S. workers. However, nationals of “exceptional ability” and certain investors can bypass the labor certification requirement.

Professionals Holding Advanced Degrees

Hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world seek employment-based green cards. The overwhelming majority of them are professionals holding advanced degrees. Unlike the highly competitive EB-1 priority workers category, a professional need not have a specific job offer to apply for an EB-2 visa.

The EB-2 category applies to foreign nationals who have an advanced degree or exceptional ability in sciences, arts, education or business. This group includes researchers, professors and Ph.D. students, but it also includes artists, architects, culinary chefs and software developers.

USCIS only grants EB-2 immigrant visas to those who can show that their work in the United States will benefit the nation. Typically, an employer must file a petition for the EB-2 professional with USCIS on behalf of the non-citizen. However, individuals who can successfully demonstrate that their work in the United States is in the national interest may self-petition their EB-2 petitions. This is known as a national interest waiver (NIW). NIWs are granted to individuals who can prove that their employment in the United States would greatly benefit the nation.

Priority Workers

The first employment-based preference category is reserved for “priority workers.” These include professionals holding advanced degrees (any academic or professional degree above a baccalaureate degree) and skilled workers filling positions that require at least two years of training or experience. Also included are outstanding professors and researchers, and multinational executives and managers. No labor certification is required for these categories, but an offer of employment must be made and a petition filed with USCIS. Spouses and children of priority workers may receive Green Cards as well.

Each year, 140,000 visas are available to employment-based immigrants. These are distributed among the different preference categories. Some of these categories, such as EB-2 and EB-3, require an approved labor certification from the Department of Labor before a petition can be filed with USCIS. As a result, these categories are often oversubscribed. This results in backlogs of several years for those born in countries such as India and mainland China.

Qualified Professionals

Those who are members of professions holding advanced degrees or who have exceptional ability in the sciences, arts or business can apply for permanent residency through employer sponsorship. They must have a job offer in the United States and qualify for a visa under the second preference category of employment-based immigration. This requires that the sponsoring company obtain a labor certification from the Department of Labor, also known as PERM (Permanent Labor Certification).

The process involves testing the U.S. workforce to see if there are qualified workers to perform the job being offered. The employer must show that the job requirements are consistent with what is customary in the profession and that there is a shortage of qualified US workers available to do the work.

In addition, if the professional qualifies for the National Interest Waiver, the labor certification requirement may be waived. In this category, the job performed must benefit the national economy, cultural or educational interests or welfare of the country.

National Interest Waivers

A national interest waiver (NIW) allows a foreign national of exceptional ability to self-petition for permanent residence in the employment-based second preference category without having a US employer sponsor their petition. The NIW process is typically faster than the labor certification process.

To qualify for a national interest waiver, you must show that your work has both substantial merit and national importance. Substantial merit means that your work is significant and will provide a tangible benefit to the United States. National importance refers to the impact of your work beyond the specific field in which you operate.

For example, if you are a physician who can demonstrate that your work in a designated Health Professional Shortage Area or at a Virginia facility will benefit the country, your national interest may be sufficient to waive the requirement of filing for a labor certification. This is a more difficult standard than the merit requirement. However, it is an excellent option for physicians who would otherwise have to wait for years to become permanent residents.

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