EB-3 Visa Processing Time and Backlog

Obtaining lawful permanent residence in category EB-3 green (employment-based) can be a years-long process.

By , J.D. · University of Washington School of Law

The EB-3 is an employment-based immigrant visa, which leads to U.S. permanent residence or a green card. It is also referred to as the employment third preference visa category. It's available to three categories of people:

  • skilled workers
  • unskilled workers, and
  • professionals.

Obtaining an EB-3 visa can be a years-long process, however. This article will explain why, and what to expect.

Eligibility for EB-3 Visa

Under U.S. immigration law, the first requirement for applying for an EB-3 visa is that you have a job offer from a U.S. employer. The job must be full time, and not temporary.

Skilled workers must have at least two years of training or experience. Unskilled workers can apply for an EB-3 visa if the position offered to them requires less than two years training or experience. Professionals must have a U.S. bachelor's or foreign equivalent degree.

See EB-3 Visa for Professional, Skilled, or Unskilled Workers for more details on the eligibility rules.

Steps in the Application Process for an EB-3 Visa

Before you attempt to analyze how long it will take to get a green card in category EB-3, you must understand the many steps in the process. These include:

  • You find an employer interested in hiring you and willing to petition for you. This itself can be a challenge. As you'll see from the steps below, the employer might have to wait several years for you to start work (unless you're already employed there on a temporary, nonimmigrant work visa).
  • Your employer checks on what salary or wages it should pay given the local job market by submitting a prevailing wage request to the Department of Labor (DOL). The DOL will respond by naming a salary or wage amount called a prevailing wage determination (PWD).
  • Your employer advertises widely for the job, recruits potential candidates, conducts interviews, and ultimately determines that no U.S. workers are qualified, willing, and available to take the job you've been offered. (Note: This process must be done in good faith; it's possible that your employer will, at the end of the process, realize that it should hire someone else instead of you.)
  • Your employer (with your help) completes a request for PERM labor certification and sends it to DOL. The DOL's approval means it's confirming that no U.S. workers were available for the job and that you and your employer can go ahead with the process of applying for your green card. There's an exception to this PERM procedural requirement: A few types of jobs don't require labor certification, because they're on the Schedule A list of workers that are in short supply within the United States (per 20 C.F.R. § 656.5). Professional nurses and physical therapists have been on the Schedule A list for years.
  • Your employer submits a visa petition on your behalf (using Form I-140) to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
  • After the I-140 petition is approved by USCIS, you wait until a visa is available, based on the date the labor certification application was filed (your priority date). The underlying issue here is that only a limited number of EB-3 visas are issued each year; a mere 28.6% of the total 140,000 employment-based immigrant visas made available annually, plus any unused Employment First and Second Preference visas. Of these, only 10,000 are allotted to unskilled workers. You track your priority date's progress by following the State Department's Visa Bulletin. Skilled and professional workers must look under "3rd" on the Employment-Based visa table. Unskilled workers must look at the "Other Workers" row. Also check the columns to see if your home country is separately named, which happens when the per-country limit is reached.
  • When your priority date becomes current (or when you see a "C" in the appropriate Visa Bulletin box, meaning visas are available to everyone in that category) you submit your own application for an immigrant visa (if coming from overseas) or a green card (if you're legally in the U.S. and eligible to use the procedure known as adjustment of status).
  • You attend an interview at a U.S. consulate or local USCIS office, where your green card may be approved.

How Long These Steps Will Most Likely Take

Some of the steps above are your responsibility or those of your employer or lawyer. You'll need to do your best to collect the needed documents and otherwise move the process along, and ask your employer and lawyer about their probable timeline. As for the rest, here's what you can expect (though this changes depending on how backed up with applications the various agencies get):

  • The DOL will typically provide the prevailing wage determination within one to three months.
  • Employer advertising and recruitment in preparation for the labor certification request will normally take at least two months and possibly several months.
  • After your employer files the request for labor certification, DOL will ordinarily take four to six months to issue a decision. See the DOL's Processing Times information page.
  • After your employer submits a petition (Form I-140) to USCIS, the agency will (as of late 2023) likely take between three and eight months to issue its decision. However, USCIS gets very backed up at times, and waits of up to three years have not been unheard of in recent years. You can check processing times at the relevant USCIS service center at the Check Case Processing Times page. Although the waits can sound alarming, a long wait might not actually make a difference in your case. Your place in line on the waiting list, which could itself be several years long, has already been secured based on the date your employer submitted the labor certification application for you (your priority date).
  • After USCIS issues its approval of the I-140 petition, you'll check on what priority dates are becoming current by looking at the State Department's Visa Bulletin. The date shown on the chart in your category (3rd preference) reflects the priority dates of people finally receiving visas. So, for instance, if you were to see a date of "01NOV22," you would know that people whose labor certifications were filed on or before November 1, 2022 were at last receiving visas. Counting forward from that date to your own priority date, you can get a rough idea of how much longer you might wait.
  • After your priority date has become current, the subsequent timeline depends on whether you'll be doing consular processing (from overseas) or adjustment of status (within the U.S.). With consular processing, you'll receive some forms to fill out, and then some weeks after returning them, you'll be called for a visa interview at your local U.S. consulate. With adjustment of status, you'll need to take the initiative and submit your own application, several months after which you'll be called in for your green card interview.

As you can see, the entire process can take several years to complete.

See an Immigration Lawyer

The processing time for an EB-3 visa can vary based on many factors, not all of them within your control. However, making sure to do a careful job at filling out whichever of the various applications are your responsibility and submitting the required documents and fees can help the process along. Consult with an experienced U.S. immigration attorney for more detailed information about EB-3 visa processing times and the current backlog and for help with navigating this complicated process.

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