Employment-based lawful permanent residence status is allocated through a quota system divided into five separate preference categories. Each year, immigration under the five categories is limited to no more than 140,000 individuals. A per country limitation of 7% means that the process can take longer for persons from certain high immigration countries, including China, India, Mexico and the Philippines. The State Department publishes a monthly visa bulletin listing the wait times for the various preference categories, with specific reference made to those countries whose nationals can expect the process to take longer.
The first preference category includes processes that allow multinational managers, outstanding researchers, and persons of extraordinary ability to obtain lawful permanent residence. These persons are exempt from the labor certification process described below. Also, certain persons of exceptional ability may also qualify under the second preference category for an exemption from the labor certification process if such a waiver is found to be in the national interest.
Except as noted above, the second and third preference categories require a certification from the U.S. Department of Labor confirming that the labor market has been adequately tested and that no U.S. workers were able, available, qualified or willing to take the proposed position. To qualify under the second preference, the job must require at least a master’s degree or alternatively, a bachelor’s degree followed by at least 5 years of progressive job experience. Cases requiring less are allocated to one of two subcategories found under the third preference. There is a third preference subcategory for professional positions requiring a degree or at least two years of work experience as well as a separate subcategory for skilled worker positions that require less than two years of experience.
The fourth preference category allows for the immigration of special immigrants, including certain religious workers. The fifth preference was established to facilitate the immigration of investors who have invested at least $1.8 million in the U.S. and hired at least 10 full-time U.S. workers. For certain targeted employment areas, the required investment amount may be reduced to $900,000.