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

Updated on April 24, 2024

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!

At a Glance

  • Employment-based green cards (EB) have categories like EB-1, EB-2, EB-3, EB-4, and EB-5.
  • EB-1 is for extraordinary abilities, EB-2 for advanced degrees, and EB-3 for skilled workers.
  • The process involves PERM/Labor certification, I-140 petition, and I-485 application for adjustment of status.
  • Processing times vary, spanning from months to years based on category and stage.

What is a Green Card?

A green card, formally known as a permanent resident card, provides non-U.S. citizens with permanent residency in the United States. This status permits them to live and work legally throughout the country. Furthermore, after three or five years of holding this status, they become eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.

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 Green Card Visa (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 Green Card Visa (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.

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EB-3 Green Card Visa (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

EB-4 and EB-5 Green Card Visas

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 employment-based green card application (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.

Employment-Based Green Card Processing Times 2024

Each year, 140,000 employment visas are granted. These are split across five distinct employment-based green card categories. The green cards are provided on a first-come, first-serve basis, and individuals cannot self-sponsor; they need to be sponsored by employers.

Below is a summary of the processing times for each category:

Green Card TypeWait Time
EB-18 months (processing) + 6 months (visa issuance)
EB-218 months
EB-312 to 36 months
EB-4A few months to 4 years (demand-based)
EB-529.5 to 61 months

EB-1 Visa Processing Time

EB-1, known as the Employment-Based Extraordinary Ability Green Card, is tailored for immigrants with significant achievements in arts, sciences, business, etc. To qualify, one must display extraordinary ability by meeting at least 3 out of 10 listed criteria by the USCIS. After filing form I-140, the processing time is about 8 months, with an additional 6 months for visa issuance.

EB-2 Visa Processing Time

The EB-2 visa, a second-preference category, is for individuals with Advanced Degrees or Exceptional Abilities. One must fulfill at least 3 out of specific criteria to demonstrate this exceptional ability. Generally, the processing period for this visa is around 18 months, though this can vary based on the applicant’s nationality.

EB-3 Visa Processing Time

EB-3 visas are designated for skilled and professional workers, with a more lenient requirement set than the EB-1 and EB-2 categories. With around 40,000 EB-3 visas available annually, the processing time can range from 12 to 36 months.

EB-4 Visa Processing Time

The EB-4 visa is designated for special foreign nationals. Each year, fewer than 10,000 EB-4 visas are issued. The processing timeline for this visa fluctuates based on application timing and yearly demand, ranging from a few months to up to 4 years.

EB-5 Visa Processing Time

EB-5 visas are unique and aren’t categorized by preference. Introduced in 1990, these were aimed at stimulating the U.S. economy. The processing duration varies widely, typically between 29.5 to 61 months.

I-140 Processing Time 2024

The I-140 processing time is usually around 6 months but is averaging longer than one year at present 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.

PERM Processing Time 2024

The processing time for a PERM typically ranges from six to twelve months, depending on the priority date associated with each case. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) provides monthly updates on PERM application processing times.

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.

PERM Processing Steps Explained

To understand how long your individual PERM processing will take, 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.

Green Card Cost

The cost for obtaining a family-based green card comprises both government filing fees and additional charges, such as those for medical examinations. Typically, if the applicant resides within the United States, the fee stands at $1760. On the other hand, it drops to $1200 for those living outside the U.S. Note that these figures do not cover the medical examination fees, which differ according to the medical service provider.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of the fees:

Green Card Expenses Breakdown

Below, you will find a break down of the various costs, and potential costs, involved with getting a green card.

Government-mandated Fees:

Fee DescriptionCost (For U.S. Residents)Cost (For Non-U.S. Residents)
Family Sponsorship Form (I-130)$535$535
Green Card Application Form (I-485)$1140N/A
Financial Support Form (I-864)No charge$120
Work Permit Application Form (I-765) (optional)No chargeN/A
Travel Permit Application Form (I-131) (optional)No chargeN/A
Biometrics (Includes Fingerprints & Photo)$85No charge
State Department ProcessingN/A$325
USCIS Immigrant FeeN/A$220
Medical ExaminationVaries*Varies*

Other Costs to Consider:

  • Vaccination Fees: If required during the medical examination, updating vaccinations can lead to additional costs. These fees fluctuate based on the provider.
  • Translation Fees: Non-English documents must be accompanied by certified translations. Costs for translations can differ, e.g., a birth certificate’s certified translation may cost between $20 and $40.
  • Documentary Fees: Certain official documents, such as birth or marriage certificates, might be chargeable when obtained from government agencies.
  • Photography Charges: For identity verification, the government requires two recent 2-inch-by-2-inch photos. The fees can vary, and it’s advisable to opt for professional services, available at most drug stores at a reasonable price.
  • Travel Expenditures: The government does not compensate for travel to biometrics, interviews, medical exams, or document procurement.
  • Mailing Costs: Different stages of the application process may involve minor postage and shipping fees for documentation.

Other Green Card Resources

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.

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Green Card FAQs

Below, you will find some commonly asked questions about the green card process, and related topics, and their answers.

What does it mean to be a permanent resident?

A permanent resident is an individual from another country who has been granted the right to live and work legally within the United States.

Who is eligible to apply for a green card?

Various categories of green cards come with distinct eligibility criteria. For example, family members of U.S. citizens or existing green card holders might qualify for a family-based green card.

What are the costs associated with obtaining a green card?

The expense of getting a green card varies depending on its type. As an illustration, a family-based green card application from within the U.S. incurs a government filing fee of $1760, whereas it’s $1200 for those applying from abroad. It’s noteworthy that visa application costs might see an increase in 2023. Boundless has aggregated anticipated fee augmentations, including the latest government propositions.

Once I have a green card, how long before I can seek citizenship?

Holders of a green card for five years can apply for U.S. citizenship. This duration shortens to three years if it’s a marriage-based green card.

Sources Referenced


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