For many people born outside the U.S., the employment-based immigration process is an ideal route to obtaining a green card and permanent residence here. Not only can the employment-based process take significantly less time than family-based immigration, employers willing to sponsor foreign nationals often have access to financial, legal, and other resources that can smooth the way toward a succesful immigration application.
That said, the U.S. government is fully aware of the high demand for permanent residence status, and doesn't make it easy. With the U.S. job market and the country’s needs in mind, Congress created various visa “preference categories,” which prioritize certain jobs and careers over others in deciding who will be allowed to apply for permanent residence.
This means that certain types of jobs and careers have a better (and faster) chance at being a good basis for a green card application. Let us look at how the preference categories work and see what jobs might be better for earning you a green card.
The employment preference categories generally classify jobs by the level of education necessary to fulfill the duties of the job. For example, an entry level Computer Programmer position would likely need at minimum a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, while a Nuclear Physicist position would likely need at least a master’s degree in Physics.
Take a look at the U.S. Department of State’s Visa Bulletin, which is published monthly. The Visa Bulletin breaks down the employment-based visa categories and explains the general education requirements for each.
The employment-based First Preference category is reserved for persons with “extraordinary ability,” outstanding professors or researchers, or are multinational executives or managers. As you might guess, this category is for the “cream of the crop.” Typically, this preference includes Nobel Prize winners, famous international scientists with the renown of Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking, or global artists like Yo Yo Ma or Vicente Fernández.
First Preference also includes “multinational executives or managers.” These are not line managers or ground-level supervisors, but top level corporate officers and company leaders who have wide latitude to make decisions that affect entire organizations. People like Mark Zuckerberg, Meg Whitman, and Jeffrey Bezos are good examples of the type of person described by this category.
If your career and work falls into this highly exceptional class, congratulations: You can qualify for First Preference and will likely have an immediately available immigrant visa number and an easy route to a green card. (You also likely have an attorney who can readily explain the information in this article!)
Not everyone is lucky enough to be a person of “extraordinary ability” or a high-powered multinational CEO. However, if your career path requires an advanced degree, such as a master’s degree or higher, or you are a person of exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business, you may qualify for the Second Preference category.
For many persons seeking a green card through employment, this can be their best bet. While not as advantageous as the First Preference category, Second Preference visa numbers are generally quickly available, with short or no wait times. Even better, there is a wider variety of careers that meet the Second Preference requirements.
If an employer is willing to sponsor you for a green card, and your proposed position normally requires at least a Master’s degree-level education or the equivalent, you can likely qualify for Second Preference. Careers in this level typically include Accountants, Civil Engineers, Computer Engineers, Financial or Investment Managers, Business or Management Analysts, and Chemists or Chemical Engineers.
A good place to check out up and coming career fields that likely satisfy the Second Preference requirements is the U.S. Department of Labor’s O*NET Online website. This site compiles statistical data about job markets and career fields in the United States, including typical education and experience requirements, popularity and demand, and potential earnings. Importantly, this site can help you identify what careers and fields are in high demand in the United States. Immigration officials are always keenly aware of the U.S. labor market’s needs.
Alternatively, if you are a person of exceptional ability in a particular scientific, artistic, or business field, you may also qualify for Second Preference. However, like the First Preference “extraordinary ability” standard, this can be somewhat difficult to meet. You must be able to demonstrate significant achievements and contributions to your particular industry or field, with forms of proof including industry, government, or peer recognitions, awards and salaries recognizing exceptional ability, publications and peer-reviewed papers you have authored, and letters from your prior employers showing you have ten or more years' experience in your field. Contact an immigration attorney if you need detailed assistance on your Second Preference case.
The Third Preference category is for positions requiring at least a Bachelor’s degree or the equivalent to perform the duties of the job. Third Preference is a much more accessible means of gaining permanent residence through employment; however, this also means that many more people seek permanent residence through the Third Preference category than others, significantly increasing wait times for available visa numbers. You may have to wait for four years or longer after an employer files a Third Preference petition for you to start the process of getting you a green card.
The longer wait times under the Third Preference are not an insurmountable problem. If you can find an employer willing to sponsor you as a Third Preference worker and in the meantime, also sponsor you for a nonimmigrant work-authorized visa, such as the H-1B or L-1 programs, you may be able to work in the U.S. as a nonimmigrant up until the time a visa number becomes available for you. Be aware that this arrangement requires quite a bit of planning, as well as a good working relationship between you and your employer. You should consult an immigration attorney if you believe you will be following this route.