The Preference Categories for Employment-Based Green Cards

Last updated on Oct 11th, 2017

Many people who have the goal of getting a Green Card or immigrant visa will direct their search to employment-based Green Cards. Employment-based Green Cards are divided into categories. These categories are known as preference categories. The government uses these preference categories to allot employment-based Green Cards to non-citizens. To determine whether you might receive an employment-based Green Card, you must determine if and which preference category (or categories) you fall into.

There are five such preference categories.

First preference category: priority workers

The first preference category belongs to non-citizens who are (1) non-citizens with “extraordinary ability” in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, (2) outstanding professors or researchers, or (3) certain multinational executives or managers.

A job offer by a US employer for permanent employment in the US is required for an outstanding professor, researcher, or a multinational executive or manager.

It is notable that a non-citizen who qualifies as a non-citizen with “extraordinary ability” does not need an employer to petition for him or her.

Second preference category: members of the professions holding advanced degrees or non-citizens of exceptional ability

The second preference category belongs to non-citizens who are (1) members of professions holding advanced degrees or the equivalent of such degrees or (2) have “exceptional ability” in the sciences, arts, or business that will substantially benefit the US.

The relevant rules require a job offer by a US employer for permanent employment in the US for second preference eligibility. Also, the relevant rules generally require the US employer to show that there is a lack of qualified US workers to perform the job offered to the non-citizen.

However, there are waivers available to non-citizens who seek a Green Card through this category. A waiver here wipes away the job-offer requirement. A non-citizen with the relevant waiver does not need a US employer to petition for him or her.

Third preference category: skilled workers, professionals, and other workers

The third preference category belongs to non-citizens who are (1) skilled workers capable, of performing skilled labor for which qualified workers are not available in the US, (2) professionals with a bachelor’s degree, and (3) “other workers,” non-citizens capable of performing unskilled labor, for which qualified US workers are not available.

Fourth preference category: certain special immigrants

The fourth preference category belongs to various groups of non-citizens. Generally, the groups are quite small or narrowly defined. You may find a list of these groups in INA § 101(a)(27)(C) to (K).

Notably, one group covered by the fourth preference category is religious workers, a group that includes more than just priests, nuns, and so on. This group also includes non-citizens who work in an organization affiliated with a religious organization.

Fifth preference: employment creation immigrants

The fifth preference category belongs to non-citizen investors who, among other things, have invested or are in the process of investing at least $500,000 in a US enterprise.

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