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Employment-based visa types to the USA: each category explained

Each year, the USA opens around 140,000 slots for employment-based immigrant visas that allow foreigners to obtain Green Cards. These visas are categorised into 5 types, and the allocation of slots is based on the priority level assigned to each type.

Permits for highly skilled professionals and recognised academics get the highest priority with the EB-1 and EB-2 visas.

The EB-5 visa for foreign investors is the 5th priority, with a share of 7.1% in the pool of all employment visas to the USA.

Employment-based visa types to the USA

What is an employment-based immigrant visa, and who qualifies for it

Employment-based immigrant visas to the USA allow moving to the country for permanent residence and work. Employment visas are intended for highly-qualified professionals, foreign employees of companies in the USA, and investors willing to make a financial contribution to a local business

A holder of an employment-based visa obtains a Conditional Green Card, which is a 2‑year residence permit. After living in the country for 2 years, residents can apply for a regular Green Card that allows living in the USA permanently. A Green Card is valid for 10 years. 

Around 140,000 employment-based immigrant visas are made available to foreign applicants every fiscal year.  The visas are divided into five categories, each intended for a specific group of workers.

The distribution of visas among these categories is not uniform and is determined by the priority level assigned to each group. The higher priority categories of EB visas receive a greater number of visas annually.

There are 5 types of visas:

  1. EB-1 visa for people with extraordinary skills in sciences, arts, education, business or athletics. This group receives 28.6% of the yearly limit of employment-based visas. 
  2. EB-2 visa for professionals with advanced degrees who have a job offer from an employer from the USA — 28.6%.
  3. EB-3 visa for professionals, skilled and unskilled workers for permanent jobs in the USA — 28.6%. 
  4. EB-4 visa for special immigrants. This category includes broadcasters, ministers of religion, employees of the US Government abroad, etc. — 7.1%. 
  5. EB-5 visa for immigrant investors willing to invest at least $800,000 in a business in the USA — 7.1%. 

Close family members of immigrants to the USA, such as spouses and children, can obtain visas as well.

How to get a US immigrant visa as an investor and move a step closer to a Green Card

US EB-5 visa for foreign investors

The EB-5 Visa Program is intended for foreigners looking to invest in a business in the USA and obtain residency. 

Requirements. To participate in the program, applicants must be over 18 years old, have no criminal record and be able to prove the legality of their income. 

The program implies investing in a business in the USA and creating at least 10  jobs for locals. The investment can be made independently or in cooperation with a Regional Center.

The minimal amount of the investment depends on the region where the investment-receiving business is located: 

  • $800,000 if the investment is made into a Targeted Employment Area project located in a rural or high-unemployment area;
  • $1,050,000 for investments into non-Targeted Employment Area projects. 

Aside from the investment itself, applicants also pay $80,000+ in fees and purchase health insurance.

EB-5 targeted employment areas | California wineries
California is one of the most popular states among EB-5 investors. Foreigners looking to obtain residency in the US and move to California can invest in local wineries, hotels, entertainment facilities, and more

Documents to submit with the application: 

  1. Copies of the investor’s and their family members’ passports.
  2. Birth, marriage, and divorce certificates, if applicable.
  3. Evidence that the investor has made the required financial contribution.
  4. Certified copies of any judgement pending civil or criminal action against the petitioner from any court outside the USA within the past 15 years, if any. 
  5. Business ownership papers.
  6. Copies of all business licences.
  7. Tax returns for the last 7 years — both personal and business.
  8. Bank statements for the last 7 years.
  9. Financial statements for each business.
  10. Evidence that the investment money was acquired legally.
  11. Project investment documentation: proof of investment in a designated Regional Centre, evidence of creating at least 10 full-time jobs, and, if applicable, evidence that the business is established in a targeted employment area. 

Obtainment timeframe. The EB-5 visa applications are reviewed for 3—4 years. Until their visas are approved, applicants can stay in the USA with non-immigrant visas for work or study, such as an L-1 or F-1 visa.

How to obtain an EB-5 visa to the US

It takes over 5 years to obtain a Green Card with an EB-5 visa.

Immigrant Invest lawyers provide EB-5 visa candidates with valuable advice and ensure all documents and forms are up to standard. This reduces the risk of delays in the application processing and rejection.

Here’s how the process goes.

1 day
Preliminary Due Diligence
Preliminary Due Diligence

Before starting the preparations for application, Immigrant Invest lawyers run a background check on a potential participant in the EB-5 visa program to identify risks and minimise them. For this step, the investor needs only to provide their passport copy.

2+ weeks
Collecting the documents
Collecting the documents

Immigrant Invest experts provide the list of documents required for filing a petition for an EB-5 visa. After the original papers are gathered, the lawyers translate them and notarise the copies.

2+ weeks
Choosing the investment project and fulfilling investment conditions
Choosing the investment project and fulfilling investment conditions

The investor chooses a project from specialised EB-5 businesses and completes a transaction through an EB-5 Regional Center.

1 week
Submitting documents for the EB-5 visa
Submitting documents for the EB-5 visa

The investor files an I-526E petition along with all the documents to the USA consulate or, if the applicant is already in the country, to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, USCIS.

3+ years
Processing of the application
Processing of the application

The USCIS reviews EB-5 visa applications within 3—4 years. Until they get their approval, the investor and their family members can stay in the USA with non-immigrant visas.

6+ months
Obtaining a Conditional Green Card
Obtaining a Conditional Green Card

Once the visa is approved, investors can file a petition for a Conditional Green Card. If they are already in the USA, they submit the I-485 form to USCIS. Investors file the DS-260 form to the US Embassy if they are outside of the country.

The Conditional Green Card is issued for 2 years.

5+ years
Obtaining a Green Card
Obtaining a Green Card

After residing in the USA with a Conditional Green Card for 24 months, the investor can apply for permanent residency, US Green Card. For that, they need to file an I-829 petition to the USCIS.

EB-1 visa to the USA for priority workers and people with extraordinary ability

Eligibility. The EB-1 visa is granted to individuals who show outstanding skills or professionals who have international recognition. This applies to: 

  • professionals with extraordinary ability in sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, which is supported by national or international recognition; 
  • outstanding professors and researchers with outstanding achievements in their academic field;
  • multinational managers or executives who have been employed by an overseas branch or affiliate of a US company for at least one year within the last three years.

Exceptional talents, skills and experience must be proven by corresponding documentation, such as evidence of holding international prizes and awards, membership in professional associations that demand outstanding achievements, publications written by others about the applicant, work history, etc. 

Application. For an EB-1 visa, a participant needs to file an I-140 form. Professionals with extraordinary ability do it themselves to a US embassy or the USCIS. An employer should submit the form to the USCIS for outstanding professors and researchers, and multinational managers of US companies.

Form I-140 for US visas EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3
Applicants for visas EB-1, EB-2 and EB-3 file the I-140 petition form; it consists of 9 pages and includes the petitioner’s personal information, their employment state, and questions about their family members

Obtainment timeframe. The processing of an EB-1 visa application takes up to 12 months. Requesting premium processing and having the application reviewed within 15—45 calendar days is possible. 

To request premium processing, a participant needs to file an I-907 form along with the rest of the documents during the initial application or separately if the rest of the papers are already at the service centre. The I-907 form has to be submitted to the same service centre where the application is currently pending. It also can be done online via the USCIS online account. 

The filing fee is $700; for premium processing, you would need to pay $1,500. It is non-refundable, regardless of the application processing outcome. 

Visa EB-2 for professionals holding advanced degrees

Eligibility. An EB-2 visa is available to professionals who have an advanced degree or show exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business. 

Applicants for this visa must have a job offer from a US employer. The position must require an advanced degree — a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent plus at least 5 years of post-bachelor’s progressive work experience in the field. 

A person applying for an EB-2 visa on the grounds of exceptional ability must show evidence. This includes official academic records, letters from current and former employees documenting at least 10 years of full-time experience in the field, recognition for an applicant’s achievements by government entities and professional associations, etc. 

Application. A candidate for an EB-2 visa must have a job offer, and the employer must file a Form I-140 on the applicant’s behalf. Above that, the employer must submit a labour certification from the Department of Labor and prove their ability to pay the offered wage to the visa candidate until they obtain their permanent residency. 

The employers provide annual reports, federal income tax returns, or audited financial statements to demonstrate their ability to pay.

In some cases, EB-2 visa candidates can apply for an exemption from the job offer and labour certification requirements. For that, they need to apply for the National Interest Waiver. It is granted to workers whose transfer to the country has national importance and is beneficial to the USA. 

Obtainment timeframe. The processing of EB-2 visa applications takes from a few months to two years. It is possible to apply for premium processing and get the decision on the visa within 45 calendar days for those who seek the National Interest Waiver and 14 calendar days for those who don’t. 

To apply for fast processing, the applicant or their employer submit an I-907 form and pay a $1,500 fee. 

Visa EB-3 for skilled individuals, professionals, and other workers

Eligibility. The EB-3 visa is available to workers employed by American companies. There are three subcategories of such professionals: 

  • skilled workers whose job requires at least 2 years of training or experience, as well as relevant training or postsecondary education; 
  • professionals whose job in the USA requires at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent;
  • other workers whose job requires less than 2 years of training or experience. 

Applicants for this type of visa must be performing work for which there are no available qualified professionals in the United States. 

Application. The candidate’s employer in the USA applies for the EB-3 visa on their behalf. For that, they submit a Form I-140 and an individual labour certification from the Department of Labor. 

Obtainment timeframe. Processing of EB-3 visa applications can take from 1 to 3 years. There is an option to expedite the process through premium processing. In this case, the decision on the visa will be made within 15 calendar days. To apply for the fast processing, either the applicant or their employer submit an I-907 form along with a fee of $1,500.

EB-4 visa for special groups of immigrants

Eligibility. EB-4 visa is available to certain special immigrants. This includes: 

  • religious workers;
  • broadcasters in the USA employed by the International Broadcasting Bureau or a grantee of such organisation;
  • certain retired officers or employees of a G-4 international organisation or NATO-6 civilian employees; 
  • certain physicians licensed and practising medicine in the USA;
  • members of the US armed forces; 
  • Panama Canal company or Canal Zone government employees; 
  • individuals who have provided information concerning a criminal or terrorist organisation or enterprise. 

Application. Depending on each case, the petition for an EB-4 visa should be filed by either the candidate or their employer. The required form for this visa is I-360. 

Obtainment timeframe. The processing time for each candidate for an EB-4 visa depends on their circumstances — it could take from a few months up to 2+ years. Premium processing is not available for this category of employment-based visa applicants. 

Family members to join the application

Immigrants with employment-based visas can provide their spouses and unmarried children under 21 with Green Cards in the USA as well. For that, they need to submit their documentation and the Form-485 to the USCIS or the US Embassy. 

The Form-485 can be submitted with the main candidate’s initial application while their application is pending or after it has been approved. Aside from that, family members provide civil documentation, such as passports and birth certificates, as well as evidence of their relation to the main applicant. 

General requirements for applicants

Aside from the specific eligibility criteria for each type of EB visa, there are some general requirements for applicants as well. These include having a clean criminal record and no history of overstaying previous visas. 

Medical requirements. Candidates for any immigrant visa to the USA must meet the vaccination requirements. The applicant undergoes a medical examination during which panel physicians review their vaccination records and determine vaccinations to be done. 

An applicant must have the following vaccinations: 

  1. COVID-19.
  2. Hepatitis A.
  3. Hepatitis B.
  4. Influenza.
  5. Influenza type b (Hib).
  6. Measles.
  7. Meningococcal.
  8. Mumps.
  9. Pneumococcal.
  10. Pertussis.
  11. Polio.
  12. Rotavirus.
  13. Rubella.
  14. Tetanus and diphtheria toxoids.
  15. Varicella.

Documents to provide for an employment-based visa to the USA. Aside from proofs of eligibility for certain visa types, such as job offers and university degrees, and petition forms, applicants are also required to provide the following papers: 

  • a passport that is valid for at least 6 months;
  • two 51x51 mm photographs in colour;
  • civil documents, such as birth and marriage certificates; 
  • proof of adequate means of financial support; 
  • completed medical examination forms. 

Application fees. Visa candidates pay processing fees: $345 for the Form I-140 and $205 for the Form I-360. Some categories of applicants for the EB-4 visa don’t pay a processing fee. 

Aside from that, applicants whose visa was approved must pay the USCIS immigrant fee, which is $220. This fee must be paid before entering the USA. 

Other expenses on an employment-based visa to the USA include medical examination, vaccination, and healthcare coverage.

Visa interview. Once the National Visa Center determines that an applicant’s file has all the required documents and fees, they schedule an interview appointment for the candidate. The applicant receives the interview invitation by email. 

The National Visa Center sends the applicant’s file to the US Embassy or Consulate, where the interview will be held. Visa candidates may be requested to bring additional documents for the interview, as well as their valid passports.

At the embassy, the consular officer will interview the applicant and ask them to submit their biometric data. Typically, the applicant receives their original documents and translations back during the interview.

After the visa is approved: important things to remember

Once the application is approved, visa holders can start planning their move to the United States. There are a few important rules to follow during planning:

  • applicants must enter the country before the visa expires;
  • along with their passports, successful applicants receive a sealed envelope with all the documents they had submitted earlier — it has to remain sealed until the visa holder travels to the US, and only an immigration official can open it;
  • if an EB visa holder relocates to the United States with their family members, it is necessary for the accompanying family members to either enter the country simultaneously with the primary applicant or follow them at a later time;
  • the USCIS immigrant fee of $220 must be paid before the trip to the United States.

Key takeaways

  1. There are different types of EB visas to the USA. Each of them is intended for a specific group of applicants.
  2. There is a limited amount of employment-based visas issued every year. The processing of an application can take up to 3—4 years. 
  3. Foreigners willing to invest in a business in the USA can also obtain an employment-based visa. The EB-5 visa requires an investment of at least $800,000
  4. Other employment-based visas require specific skills, talents, experience, and, in some cases, international recognition. EB-2 and EB-3 visas also require the applicant to have an employer in the USA who will submit the visa application on their behalf. 
  5. Foreigners with employment-based immigrant visas to the USA can invite their spouses and unmarried children under 21 to the country as well. 

Frequently asked questions

What categories of EB visas allow you to work in the US?

Five categories of employment-based immigrant visas to the USA are intended for professionals of different backgrounds. 

The EB-1 visa is available to individuals with exceptional skills with international recognition. The EB-2 and EB-3 visas provide residency for professionals who already have a job offer from a US employer. The EB-4 visa is intended for special immigrants like religious workers or international broadcasters. 

The EB-5 visa allows foreign investors to obtain a Conditional Green Card after financially contributing to an American business. The minimum investment required for the EB-5 visa is $800,000. 

What is an EB-5 visa?

The EB-5 visa is an employment-based immigrant visa to the USA  for foreign investors. To join the program, one needs to invest at least $800,000 in a special targeted employment area project or $1,050,000 in a project in any other region. The investment must provide at least 10 full‑time jobs. 

What is an EB-2 visa?

The EB-2 visa is available to professionals with advanced degrees or those showing extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, or business. To obtain such a visa, a candidate must have a job offer from an employer in the USA and proof of their skills and qualifications.

How much do employment visas to the USA cost?

Application processing fees for non-investment options range from $0 to $345, depending on the visa type.

How much does an EB-2 visa cost?

The processing fee for an EB-2 visa is $345. Additional costs include healthcare coverage and medical examination, and vaccination payment.

How hard is it to get an EB-1 visa?

It can be hard to obtain an EB-1 visa as it requires the fulfilment of many conditions. The applicant must have exceptional skills and prove it by holding, for example, international awards.

Is a US EB visa the same as a Green Card?

An EB visa is not the same as a Green Card, but it can lead to one. With an Employment-based visa, individuals obtain a Conditional Green Card. After 2 years of holding it and living in the United States, they can apply for a regular Green Card.

How long is an EB Green Card valid?

The Conditional Green Card issued under the EB visa program is valid for 2 years. Then a person can apply for a 10-year Green Card.

How much does an EB-1 visa cost?

The fee for filing a petition for an EB-1 visa is $700. Obtaining it faster when paying $1,500 for premium processing is possible.

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Employment-based visa types to the USA: each category explained