EB-3 immigrant visas allow certain professional workers, skilled workers, and unskilled workers to obtain a U.S. green card or lawful permanent resident status. The "EB" in the EB-3 visa stands for "employment based." There are many types of employment-based U.S. visas that offer permanent residence; this article will explain what's unique about this visa, along with features of it held in common with other employment-based visas.
In order to qualify for an EB-3 visa, you must have an offer of permanent, full-time employment from a U.S. based employer. That employer must be willing to complete a labor certification and application process for you. Labor certification means that the employer recruits for and advertises the position in accordance with U.S. immigration law guidelines and finds no qualified U.S. workers who are willing and available to take the job.
The EB visa allows your spouse and children to accompany you and obtain U.S. green cards. The children must remain unmarried and under the age of 21 (with certain exceptions based on the Child Status Protection Act) until the day they are approved for U.S. permanent resident status or enter the U.S. with the EB-3 immigrant visa.
More distant family members cannot accompany you on an EB-3, though you might later be able to petition for them, particularly after you become a U.S. citizen. (See Who Is Eligible for a Family-Based Green Card?.)
Within the EB-3 category, there are three subcategories, including:
Besides having different eligibility requirements, these subcategories differ in how many visas are made available to applicants each year; a particular problem when demand for the visas exceeds supply, as described next.
The "3" in EB-3 refers to the fact that this is the "3rd preference" category of EB visas. Only a limited number of visas are available in each preference category, meaning that if more people apply in a year than there are visas available, recent applicants will have to be put on a waiting list based on "priority date." This is a common problem for EB-3 visa applicants.
Professional and skilled workers share the same allotment of visas under this category. However, unskilled or "other" workers must draw from a separate pool of only 10,000 visas, making their potential wait even longer. To get a sense of how long your wait will likely be, look at the most recent State Department Visa Bulletin.
One fortunate bit of news is that being put on a waiting list is not inevitable. Sometimes this or others of the employment-based categories show a "C," meaning current, which indicates that visas are immediately available in that category, with no wait. But that is almost never true for countries from which demand is always high, particularly China and India.
If, for example, you look down the Visa Bulletin chart for "Final Action Dates for Employment Based Preference Cases," you'll see the dates when the labor certifications of 3rd preference applicants as well as other workers who are now receiving visas were originally filed. If you were coming from China, and had consulted the chart in October of 2021, you would have seen a date for the 3rd preference saying "08JAN19." That would have told you that, among professional and skilled workers, those who had been waiting for a visa since January 16, 2019 were finally receiving them, after an approximately two-year wait.
The same chart would have told you that, in the "Other Worker" subcategory, people from China who had been waiting since 01FEB10 (February 1, 2010) were receiving their visas, after an eleven-year wait.
To add a layer of complexity for applicants already living in the United States (lawfully), when you review the Visa Bulletin, you will see two charts: "Final Action Dates for Employment Based Preference Cases" and "Dates for Filing of Employment-Based Visa Applications." Each month, the U.S. State Department includes both charts in its Visa Bulletin. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announces on its website several days later which chart people must follow for submitting a green card application (I-485 Application to Adjust Status). Therefore, be sure to review the USCIS guidance to make sure you follow the correct chart.
As you can imagine, these often long waits make it difficult for employers to willingly hold a job open, unless you're already working there on a temporary visa, like an H-1B; and difficult for employees to plan their lives. You can't count on the wait lasting a particular length of time. It all depends on how many other people apply before or at the same time as you.
The main steps involved in getting permanent residence via an EB-3 visa are:
Completing all these steps can take several years.
Applying for an EB-3 visa requires paying various fees and costs along the way. Many of these, your employer will pay for you, but you'll want to inquire as to what fees or costs you will be personally responsible for. The primary fees include:
These are just the basic fees. Other costs to consider are the required medical exam and vaccinations, airfare, transportation to the U.S. consulate for your visa interview (if you're coming from overseas), and so forth.
If you're reading this and thinking, "This process sounds complicated," you're right. We didn't even have space here to discuss the various documents that you and your employer will need to come up with in order to persuade the DOL and immigration authorities that you should be granted the green card.
In order to successfully complete the application process, including labor certification, it is best to consult an experienced immigration attorney. Hopefully your employer will hire one for you or, if it's a large enough company, already have an immigration lawyer on staff.