EB-3 Visa for Professional, Skilled, and Unskilled Workers

The catch-all EB-3 green card category is useful for many types of foreign workers -- but can also involve long waits for an available immigrant visa.

By , Attorney · Capital University Law School

What's called the third preference category of U.S. green cards available through employment (out of five total categories) is fairly broad, and less demanding than some of the others. It makes green cards (U.S. lawful permanent residence) a possibility for people who have received U.S. job offers for positions as:

  • professional workers
  • skilled workers, and
  • unskilled workers.

(See 8 U.S.C. §1153(b)(3).)

Here, we'll discuss the eligibility criteria for each of these three subcategories and discuss some of the requirements and challenges in obtaining an EB-3 immigrant visa. (What is an "immigrant visa"? Technically speaking, it is the U.S. entry document that automatically turns into lawful permanent residence as soon as the foreign national arrives in the United States and is admitted; then the actual green card arrives by mail some weeks later. This is different than the various temporary employment visas available to foreign workers.)

How Many EB-3 Green Immigrant Visas Can Be Granted to Foreign Workers Annually?

A limited number of EB-3 immigrant visas are available each year—only 40,000 in total, of which 10,000 are allotted to unskilled workers. And demand often exceeds supply, such that a waiting list develops.

The result is that workers who are classified as unskilled often have to wait ten years or longer for approval of their visas and green cards, which is more time than faced by workers in the two other subcategories. The exact length of the wait depends on how many other people apply, but the demand for unskilled workers is high—just think about how many employers would like to sponsor their nanny or caregiver for a green card.

Per-country limits also affect the allotment of visas in this and other categories.

Job Offer and Labor Certification Prerequisites for EB-3 Visa

For starters, in order to qualify for an EB-3, the foreign national will need a permanent, full-time job offer from a U.S. employer. The employer will then need to initiate the process by obtaining an approved labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor. The purpose is to confirm that the employer attempted to recruit U.S. workers for the job, but found none who were willing and qualified.

Labor certification is required for all three EB-3 subcategories. (There is no national interest waiver, in which the applicants show that hiring the foreign national will benefit the United States so much that labor certification is not needed, available for the third preference.) For more information on the labor certification requirements and procedures, see Procedures to Sponsor a Worker for a Green Card.

Professional Worker (No Advanced Degree) Subcategory of EB-3

Who is considered a professional? Immigration law is unclear on the definition, stating only that professionals include such occupations as architects, lawyers, physicians, engineers, and teachers. Aside from these examples of "professions," U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) tends to accept workers with a university degree who are working in their field of expertise.

Keep in mind that the job being offered needs to require a fairly specific degree, and the would-be employee's degree needs to be in a corresponding field of study. For example, a civil engineer job requires, and the foreign worker needs, a bachelor's degree in civil engineering. A job that simply requires a bachelor's degree in any field will not qualify as a "professional" for EB-3 purposes.

A worker who holds nothing higher than a bachelor's degree and has fewer than five years of work experience is probably a good fit for this category, presuming the job being offered is one that normally requires a bachelor's degree. (With five years of experience, the worker might be able to qualify in a higher preference category, EB-2.) As long as the worker has the necessary degree, proving eligibility in this category is fairly straightforward.

Skilled Worker Subcategory of EB-3

Workers performing occupations that do not ordinarily require college degrees, but that do need at least two years of training or experience, fit the subcategory of skilled workers. For example, the EB-3 category may be used for certain types of computer and technical workers (not researchers or managers), chefs, construction first-line supervisors, stonemasons, reporters and journalists, graphic designers, and fashion designers. If the person has done postsecondary training in the field, that can be counted as training.

How much experience or training a worker should have for a specific job is not always clear. A local state labor department office is a good source for information on the number of years of education and experience that it views as the minimum for the job in question. It's also possible to look this up on the Department of Labor's website.

Unskilled Worker Subcategory of EB-3

Any job not falling into one of the subcategories described above would best fit the EB-3 subcategory of unskilled workers. Occupations requiring less than two years' training or experience are usually considered unskilled.

Housekeepers, nannies, janitors, garden workers, nurse's aides, and farm workers are among the likely applicants. Of course, the worker's own qualifications must satisfy whatever requirements the job does normally have, or the person will not be granted a green card under this EB-3 subcategory. For example, a worker who has been offered a job requiring a one-year vocational training program must finish this program before the sponsoring U.S. employer can even start the green card process. The employer needs to confirm on the application that the prospective employee already has the qualifications for the job.

Getting Legal Help

Most employers hoping to hire a foreign national in this category will hire an immigration attorney to help them through the technical and procedural requirements. The larger employers might have in-house attorneys dedicated to this task.

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