EB-4 Visa: Who Qualifies?

Overview of eligibility in the special immigrant catch-all category of visas,

By , Attorney · University of Miami School of Law

What are "special immigrants" and what is an EB-4 visa? You certainly can't tell who the EB-4 "special immigrant" visa is meant to cover by its name. It's technically the fourth category of employment-based immigrant visas. That means they lead to lawful permanent resident status and green cards upon arrival in the United States.

Of the five different categories of immigrant visas, the EB-4 is an odd one. It was created by Congress for various visas that don't seem to fit anywhere else, and it has numerous subcategories (described below). They can be found under Section 101(a)(27) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.).

How Many EB-4 Visas Are Available Each Year?

There is a limit on visas in this category: Fewer than 10,000 EB-4 green card visas in total are available annually for all the EB-4 special immigrant categories combined. A maximum of 5,000 of these can be given to religious workers who are not ministers or members of the clergy. A maximum of 1,500 can be given to Afghan nationals who worked for the U.S. government while in their country. Only a maximum of 5,000 per year can be given to nationals of Iraq who worked for or with the U.S. government there.

Who Qualifies for an EB-4 Visa?

Special immigrants who might be eligible for an EB-4 visa include the following:

  • Religious workers: clergy and other professional and vocational workers with bona fide nonprofit religious organizations (as discussed in the article, EB-4 Visa for Religious Workers: Who Qualifies?).
  • Panama Canal Treaty employees who provided faithful service for at least 1 year or whose safety was endangered by treaty ratification after at least 5 years' faithful service, as well as Panamanian nationals who honorably retired from U.S. government employment after at least 15 years (these categories are not often used).
  • Afghan nationals who worked for or on behalf of the U.S. government in Afghanistan for at least one year between 2001 and 2023 and are under threat as a result. Although this program is temporary, it has been extended several times. As of early 2024, the deadline to apply for this visa is December 31, 2024. This special visa category involves an unusual application process, meaning it must be submitted to the Department of State instead of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
  • Iraqi nationals who provided faithful service working for or on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq and who experienced an ongoing serious threat as a result. The service must have taken place between 2003 and 2013 and an application for approval by the Chief of Mission submitted by 2014.
  • Afghan and Iraqi interpreters and translators who worked for the U.S. armed forces for at least a year (limited to only 50 visas per year).
  • Retired officers or employees of certain international organizations who have lived in the U.S. for a certain time.
  • Children in the care of the U.S. government: foreign nationals who have been declared dependent on U.S. juvenile courts because they were neglected, abused, or abandoned by their immigrant parent(s) (as discussed in Special Immigrant Juvenile Status: Who Is Eligible).
  • U.S. government employees who are abroad, as well as their families.
  • Military personnel: persons who served honorably for 12 years on active U.S. military duty after October 15, 1978 after enlisting outside the United States.
  • Broadcasters coming to the U.S. to work for the U.S. Agency for Global Media (limited to 100 visas per year).
  • Informants: persons who have given information about criminal or terrorist activities (known as "S nonimmigrants").

Additionally, the following people might be eligible, although these categories are rarely used anymore:

  • Foreign medical graduates who entered the United States as nonimmigrants before January 10, 1978 and remained continuously present in the United States in the practice or study of medicine since their entry (almost no one fits this category anymore).
  • NATO civilian employees, and
  • Persons coming to work as broadcasters for the International Broadcasting Bureau of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, or for its grantee.

Each of these categories comes with a separate set of requirements as to how the applicant must prove eligibility and ultimately apply.

How Long It Takes to Get an EB-4 Visa

Currently, USCIS is taking between 13 and 16 months to process most EB-4 special immigrant visa applications. Applications for religious workers are typically completed within 6 months, and the sub-categories for Afghans and Iraqis take about three months. USCIS provides updated numbers on how long it takes to process petitions on its website.

However, applying for an immigrant visa (or "green card" visa) involves more than just submitting an application. Because the United States limits the number of visas available each year (and sometimes by country as well), there might not be a visa available to you for quite some time after you submit your application. Unfortunately, there is no way to know how long it will take for a visa to become available to you, as it will change depending on the current supply and demand for each visa category.

To learn more about immigrant visa wait times, read How Long Is the Wait for an Immigrant's Priority Date to Become Current?

Next Steps: How to Apply for an EB-4 Visa

Applications are typically made on Form I-360, issued by USCIS. More detail on these visas and the appropriate application process for them can be found on the USCIS website and the USCIS Policy Manual. The types of documents and eligibility requirements for each of these sub-categories will be different for each category.

For more information, including an analysis of your eligibility and assistance with preparing the paperwork, consult an experienced immigration attorney.

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