Green Card Process Steps: EB-1, EB-2, and EB-3 Visa

Posted by in Immigrants | Updated on August 9, 2023
At a Glance: There are various types of employment-based green cards, denoted by “EB” followed by a preference number. EB-1 is for individuals with extraordinary abilities or outstanding achievements, while EB-2 is for those with advanced degrees or exceptional abilities. EB-3 is for skilled workers, professionals, or other workers. Additionally, there are EB-4 for special immigrants and EB-5 for immigrant investors. The green card process involves stages such as PERM/Labor certification, I-140 immigration petition, and I-485 application to adjust status. Processing times vary depending on the category and stage, ranging from months to years.

A US green card allows immigrants to gain permanent residency in the United States, either through a family-based or employment-based sponsorship.

The process of international relocation is difficult enough — not to mention that the green card process is different with each path and the processing times vary based on your situation.

To help out, we’ve put together this guide that explains all of the various terms and steps you need to know to successfully apply for your green card!

Types of Employment-Based Green Cards

Note that the employment-based green card process steps can only be started and driven by your employer, meaning you cannot self-sponsor it. As you probably already know, there are other ways to obtain a green card, such as the green card lottery. However, in this article, we focus on Employment-Based Green Card categories and processes.

“EB” stands for “employment-based,” and each number following “EB” notes the preference of each category:

  • EB-1 is the first preference
  • EB-2 is the second preference
  • EB-3 is the third preference

There are also EB-4 and EB-5 categories, yet these do not fall under the preference system of the first three employment-based categories.

These are the different employment categories that one can gain a green card sponsorship.

EB-1 Visa for Priority Workers

EB-1 visas (first preference category) apply to individuals who have extraordinary abilities, are outstanding researchers or professors, or show evidence of some “sustained national or international acclaim.” One example of this would be a Nobel Peace Prize winner or an executive or manager of foreign companies.

Only a few applicants fall under this qualification, but if this category applies to you, then you’re in luck! Individuals under EB-1 eligibility typically experience the quickest application process for a green card.

EB-2 Visa for Advanced Degrees

This category is for those who have advanced degrees, exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business, or a National Interest Waiver.

Advanced Degrees

Advanced degrees are considered to be a U.S. master’s degree or higher (or the foreign equivalent), or a U.S. bachelor’s degree plus an additional 5 years of experience within the specialty.

Exceptional Ability

Exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business means “a degree of expertise significantly above that ordinarily encountered” within those fields. This is based on a number of criteria, of which you must meet at least three.

  • Official academic record showing that you have a degree or similar award from a college, university, school, or other institution of learning relating to your area of exceptional ability
  • Letters documenting at least 10 years of full-time experience in your occupation
  • A license to practice your profession or certification for your profession or occupation
  • Evidence that you have commanded a salary or other remuneration for services that demonstrates your exceptional ability
  • Membership in a professional association(s)
  • Recognition for your achievements and significant contributions to your industry or field by your peers, government entities, professional or business organizations
  • Other comparable evidence of eligibility is also acceptable.

National Interest Waiver

A National Interest Waiver (NIW) is for those who request that the PERM/Labor Certification (stage 1 of the green card process steps) be waived because it is in the interest of the United States. There is no defined qualification for an NIW, but they are typically granted to those who have exceptional abilities.

EB-3 Visa for Skilled Workers, Professionals, or Other Workers

Last up, is the third preference category for those who have jobs that don’t apply to the first two categories. For each of these worker categories, the work performed must be one of which there are not enough qualified workers already available in the United States.

  • Skilled workers must be able to demonstrate at least 2 years of job experience or training
  • Professionals must possess a U.S. baccalaureate degree or foreign degree equivalent
  • Other workers (unskilled workers) must be capable of performing unskilled labor that is not of a temporary or seasonal nature

Other EB Categories

In addition to the first three employment-based preference categories, there are two additional preference categories (EB-4 and EB-5).

  • EB-4 visas are for “special immigrants” such as religious workers, broadcasters, or armed forces members
  • EB-5 visas are typically for entrepreneurs who make a commercial enterprise investment and plan to create or preserve 10 permanent full-time jobs for qualified U.S. workers. This preference category is also known as the Immigrant Investor Program.

Qualifying for Multiple Categories

Typically, the smaller the reference number (excluding EB-4 and EB-5), the easier the experience you will have with attaining your green card. If you qualify for both EB-2 and EB-3 visas, you should consider what country you are applying to to determine what category to apply under.

Those who are applying from highly-populated countries, such as from China or India may want to apply for an EB-2 visa over an EB-3 visa due to the shorter wait time. Yet, the approval for an EB-2 visa can be more difficult than obtaining approval for an EB-3 visa.

3 Green Card Process Steps

These are the basic three stages of getting an employment-based green card (EB2 and EB3) in the US:

  1. Stage 1: PERM/Labor certification stage
  2. Stage 2: I-140 immigration petition
  3. Stage 3: I-485 Application to adjust status

Each of these stages is explored in more detail below.

Now that you know which employment-based category you fall under, these are the actual steps to attaining your green card status. There are three main stages in the process of getting your green card.

Stage 1: PERM/Labor Certification Stage

PERM stands for “Program for Electronic Review Management” and is the process where your employer shows proof that you (a foreign worker) are not taking away jobs from qualified US workers. This green card step can be done by showing proof, such as a newspaper advertisement, that the employer was unsuccessful in recruiting a qualified U.S. worker for the position.

For a more in-depth look at the PERM processing time, see below.

Stage 2: I-140 Immigration Petition

The I-140 Petition serves two purposes,

  1. Verifies that the job requirements on the PERM application are met by the green card applicant
  2. Verifies that the employer is able to pay the offered wages to the employee.

It is important to note that filing an I-140 petition requires a $700 filing fee for regular processing or $1,225 for premium processing.

The USCIS processing time for an I-140 petition depends on whether your employer chose regular or premium processing. Regular processing can take 6 to 9 months, whereas premium processing only takes up to 15 days. Fortunately, most employers choose premium processing for this stage.

To know the exact processing time for your I-140 Immigration Petition, you can visit the USCIS Processing Time Homepage.

Stage 3: I-485 Application to Adjust Status

After the PERM/Labor Certification and your I-140 petition have been approved by the USCIS, the last step is completing the actual green card application!

Unfortunately, since there are only a certain number of green cards available per category and per country, this process is often the longest for applicants. There are current applicants who have been waiting for over 10 years for their 1-485 applications to be processed by the USCIS.

However, once your I-485 application has been processed and approved, you’re done! You will receive a stamp on your passport and the long-awaited card granting you permanent residence in the United States.

PERM Processing Time 2023

To understand how long your PERM processing will, you must first understand the overall PERM application process. There are three steps to the PERM application:

  • Prevailing Wage Request
  • Recruitment
  • Application

Each of these steps is discussed in more detail below.

PERM Processing Step 1: Prevailing Wage Request

In this step, your employer will file a prevailing wage request to determine your pay/salary, based on where your job is located and the current economic environment.

Processing times for this step can vary from a few weeks to a couple of months, depending on the volume of requests.

PERM Processing Step 2: Recruitment

During this step, your employer must go through an extensive recruitment process. The employer will post multiple job listings and advertisements and interview any U.S. workers who apply.

This stage of the process will run for a minimum of 60 days (30 days for the job listing to run and 30 additional days for applicants to respond). In reality, this stage is likely to run over the initial 60 days, when you account for interviews and potential follow-up interviews.

PERM Processing Step 3: Application

To complete the PERM process, your employer must complete and file an ETA-9089 form.

When the application is submitted online by your employer, a decision will be sent, typically, within 6 months if the application is not audited, making this the quickest possible option.

As part of the process, the Department of Labor will send a questionnaire follow-up to the employer after the application is submitted. If this questionnaire is not completed within a week, the DOL will attempt phone call verification. The DOL will make three phone call attempts and each missed call delays the process further.

PERM Processing Time Breakdown

So, if your employer completes all of the PERM-related tasks in a timely manner the timeline might look like this:

  • Prevailing Wage Request: 2 Weeks processing time
  • Recruitment Period: 8.5 Weeks (60 days)
  • Application: 24 weeks (6 months)

In this ideal scenario, the complete PERM Processing can be complete in a little more than 34 weeks or almost 9 months. Bear in mind, though, that this is the ideal scenario and there are many factors that can extend the duration of the process.

Green Card Processing Times

So, how long does it take to get a green card? For the most part, EB green cards’ processing times will depend on the service center where your petition is processed. The total processing time also depends on the steps in the process that need to be completed.

I-140 Processing Time 2023

The I-140 is your immigration petition. With the I-140 the PERM (Program Electronic Review Management) labor certification job requirements and the employer’s ability to pay the offered wage to the employee, is verified. All EB green cards require a Form I-140.

The I-140 processing time is usually around 6 months but largely depends on the service center. Most service centers will give you an estimate but remember these are just estimates.

The USCIS also offers a premium processing service for Form I-140 which brings the processing time down to 15 calendar days. Premium processing comes at a fee of $1,225.

EB1 Green Card Processing Time 2023

EB1-A is an employment-based, first-preference immigrant visa for individuals with exceptional abilities in the fields of science, art, education, business, or athletics. When applying, you will have to show how your expertise and skill will benefit the U.S.

EB1-A visas have expedited processing times due to not having to go through the PERM labor certification process.

The processing time for your EB-1B green card will depend largely on the service center where your application is processed. Processing and receiving approval for your “Extraordinary Ability” petition via your I-140 form can sometimes take up to six months since filing with the USCIS. It might be worth considering premium processing.

Premium processing will bring processing time down to 15 calendar days. There is a premium processing fee of $1,225 that will apply.

After your I-140 has been approved, you still need to submit your Form I-485 after you have reached your priority date. The Form I-485 processing time is also around 6 months.

You can check the current month’s Visa Bulletin to see which priority dates have become current.

EB1B Green Card Processing Time 2023

The EB1-B is also a subcategory of priority workers. Individuals who have received international recognition for being outstanding in a specific academic area qualify for this category. You will need at least three years of experience in research or teaching in your academic field. This category requires an offer of employment (although no labor certification is required).

The processing time for your EB-1B green card will also depend on the service center where your application is processed. As explained above, your I-140 petition can sometimes take up to six months, unless you choose premium processing which brings this time down to 15 calendar days.

After you have waited for your priority date (which time period will depend on the country you are from) you have to file your Form I-485. The processing time for your Form I-485 is also around 6 months, depending on your service center.

EB1C Green Card Processing Time 2023

The EB-1C is also an extraordinary ability immigrant visa aimed at proficient and skilled foreign executives and managers. You can get an EB-1C green card by either filling out an Adjustment of Status application from an L-1A visa while you are in the U.S, or you can apply from outside the U.S.

The processing time for your EB-1C green card will also depend on the service center where your application is processed. As explained above, your I-140 petition can sometimes take up to six months, unless you choose premium processing which brings this time down to 15 calendar days.

After you have waited for your priority date (which time period will depend on the country you are from) you have to file your Form I-485. The processing time for your Form I-485 is also around 6 months, depending on your service center.

EB2 Green Card Processing Time 2023

The EB-2 green card is available for three categories of individuals:

  1. Advanced degrees: these are foreign nationals who have a degree beyond a bachelor’s such as a Master’s or Doctorate degree. The foreign equivalent of a bachelor’s degree with 5 years of work experience will also qualify. This category has to go through the labor certification process.
  2. Exceptional ability: this is for foreign nationals who have a specialized degree and have significant competence in either arts, science or business. This category also has to go through the labor certification process.
  3. National Interest Waiver: you can apply to have the labor certification process waived if you can prove it is in the national interest to do so.

On average, it takes about 6 months to process your Form I-140. If you have to go through PERM Labor Certification, it can even take up to 8 months to 2 years.

You can expedite your Form I-140 processing through premium processing. For a fee of $1,225, your processing time will come down from 6 months to 15 calendar days.

After receiving your approved Form I-140, you’ll have to wait for your priority date to become current, after which you can submit your Form I-485. This step takes about another 6 months, but will also depend on your service center.

EB3 Green Card Processing Time 2023

EB-3 is also an employment-based preference green card. This green card is the third preference. The EB-3 is for an individual who either has a bachelor’s degree, is a skilled worker with at least two years of experience in the relevant field, or is an unskilled worker.

The processing times for each step in the EB-3 green card application process is as follows:

  1. PERM Labour Certification – can be as little as 6 months, but remember the 30 days of recruitment and 30 days that need to pass after recruitment. If your employer has to be audited this process can take up to 18 months
  2. I-140 petition – this usually takes about six months if you don’t use premium processing. Premium processing means it will take 15 calendar days for a fee of $1,225.
  3. Waiting for your priority date – this will depend on your country. Usually, it is a few months.
  4. Form I-485 – this can also take 6 months or longer, depending on your service center.

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Final Thoughts on the Green Card Process

It goes without mentioning that the green card process can be incredibly long depending on your type of eligibility and the country you are applying from. Yet, if you are planning to live your life in the United States, then a green card is your best solution to gaining permanent resident status.

Other Green Card Resources

Sources Referenced


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Rohit Mittal

Rohit Mittal is the co-founder and CEO of Stilt. Rohit has extensive experience in credit risk analytics and data science. He spent years building credit risk and fraud models for top U.S. banks. In his current role, he defines the overall business strategy, leads debt and capital fundraising efforts, leads product development, and leads other customer-related aspects for the company. Stilt is backed by Y Combinator and has raised a total of $275M in debt and equity funding to date.