Many people choose to work temporarily in the U.S. through nonimmigrant visas, but others want to make this country their permanent home. Immigrant visas, or green cards, allow for these foreign nationals to live and work in the U.S. for ten years at a time. One of the more common types of green cards that people seek is the EB-3 green card due to its relatively low requirements. However, this also makes it a popular green card process, which can impact the time it takes to obtain one. Keep reading to find out what else goes into the EB-3 processing time in 2020.
In order to understand and estimate how long it takes to get an EB-3, we must first go over the steps that are involved in preparing and petitioning for this green card.
The EB-3 is an employment-based immigrant visa that is on the third preference level. Because of this, the requirements are not as stringent as they are for the second and first preference levels. There is no need to get a master’s degree, prove exceptional abilities or achievements, or become an executive in a company. In order to be considered eligible for an EB-3, you simply need to qualify for one of the following three categories:
- A foreign professional with a bachelor’s degree. You must be able to prove that your occupation requires your particular degree.
- A skilled worker with at least two years of experience performing the tasks of your job.
- An unskilled worker. This category has differing priority dates and requires your job to be permanent and not seasonal or temporary. You do not need work experience for this category, and so almost anyone who acquires a permanent job in the U.S. can obtain an EB-3 green card.
What Goes Into the EB-3 Process?
In order to get this green card, you must go through the usual employment-based green card process.
- You first need to find an employer willing to sponsor you for your green card
- Your employer then needs to acquire a PERM Labor Certification for you. This will involve implementing a recruitment process to ensure that no qualified U.S. workers are available or willing to take your position.
- Once a PERM has been obtained, your employer can then file an I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker on your behalf.
- After the petition is filed, you will need to wait until your priority date is current. We will go into this step in more detail below.
- When your priority date is current, an immigrant visa number will be available and you can apply to change your status by filing an I-485 adjustment of status form. If you are outside the U.S., you will be able to complete your DS-260 Online Immigrant Visa Application and go through the consular processing interview.
- Lastly, you will attend an interview at a USCIS office or U.S. consulate or embassy depending on whether you are inside or outside the U.S.
How do Green Card Priority Dates Work?
Your priority date is the day that the USCIS receives your I-140 petition. You will need to keep this date in mind when checking the monthly visa bulletin released by the Department of State. Each year, there is a limit on how many immigrant visas are granted in each category. When the limit goes over, a backlog is created that can cause some people to wait several years.
The visa bulletin will provide the final action dates for each green card category according to the applicant’s country of origin. Keep an eye on the date in your category. Here is an example:
Diana is a nurse from the Philippines who wants to work as a nurse in the U.S. To check if her priority date is current, she should go to the most recent visa bulletin and locate the third row under the employment-based category. When the date in the Philippines’ column matches or passes her priority date, she will be able to apply for a change of status and obtain her green card.
Herein lies the problem with the EB-3 processing time in 2019. For the citizens of select countries (i.e. China and India), the final action dates can be backlogged for more than ten years. This wait time must be taken into account when considering the total EB-3 processing time.
However, this is not always the case. Sometimes, the dates for some of the chargeability areas become or remain current, which could make the waiting times shorter for the EB-3 green card than the EB-1. Always be sure to check the most recent visa bulletin and consult with your immigration attorney to see how long you will have to wait before you can adjust your status or use consular processing.
What is the Overall EB-3 Processing Time?
So the real question is: how long will it take to get my EB-3 green card?
In order to answer this, we need to break down each step of the EB-3 process.
PERM Labor Certification Processing Time: 6 – 9 Months
The PERM Labor Certification Process can take as little as 6 to 9 months after the ETA-9089 application is filed. This does not include the 30 days of recruitment required and the 30 days that need to pass after the end of the recruitment before applying. Here is the breakdown:
- On average, the DOL provides the prevailing wage determination within one to three months.
- The advertisement and recruitment process usually takes at least two months.
- After submitting the request for the labor certification, it usually takes four to six months for the DOL to come to a decision.
NOTE: If your employer is audited, it could extend the processing time up to a year and a half.
I-140 Processing Time: Six Months or 15 Days
Under normal circumstances, the I-140 petition takes about six months to process without premium processing. However, if the USCIS sees that your priority date will not be current for some time, your petition may be pushed back to a date that is closer to your priority date. If your employer uses premium processing, the I-140 will be processed within 15 calendar days.
Wait Time for Priority Date: Varies Widely
The wait time for your priority date varies depending on your country of origin. However, for most countries, there is only a wait time of a few months. It will also depend on whether you are going to adjust your status in the U.S. or use consular processing outside the U.S. Each of these two routes has its own processing times and requirements.
Though consular processing may be the faster option in some situations, there is also the possibility of being faced with administrative processing, which may increase the overall wait time. However, adjustment of status has the possibility of being delayed as well. Your best bet is to work closely with an immigration attorney to help you choose the best route for your case.
I-485 Petition for Status Adjustment: Four to Six Months
It may also take four to six months for your I-485 to be processed. There is no way to expedite this processing time. Sometimes, it may also take longer than six months depending on the service center in charge of your case.
Overall, for applicants from countries other than India, China, and the Philippines, you can expect your EB-3 processing time to be about a year and a half to two years. For citizens of those three countries, the processing time may be much longer. Don’t hesitate to contact your immigration attorney to learn if there is a way to shorten this time.
Adjustment of Status vs Consular Processing
Once your priority date is current and your I-140 is approved, you will be able to go through one of two routes to get your green card. The first is through adjustment of status. This is only available for those that have a nonimmigrant status to adjust in the first place. You must be currently in the U.S. under a nonimmigrant or temporary visa such as an H-1B, L-1, or E-2 visa. If this is the case, then you will simply need to file an I-485 with the USCIS and wait the approximate six months it takes for the form to be processed.
On the other hand, those who are not in the U.S. under a nonimmigrant status must go through consular processing. This involves making an appointment with a U.S. consulate or embassy in your home country. It may take a few weeks to a few months from scheduling to appointment. Once you’re at the embassy, a consular officer will interview you to determine if your case is legitimate. He or she may ask you basic questions (such as who your employer is) or more specific questions (such as what your plans are in the U.S.) or a combination of both. The goal is to ensure that you are who you say you are and that your intent to live permanently in the U.S. under EB-3 status is above board.
Consular processing is an option that is available to those who qualify for adjustment of status. In some cases, it can not only be the less expensive option, but it can also be the faster one. The I-485 takes about six months to process and, as we’ll see in a moment, premium processing cannot speed this time up. If a consular interview will take place in a few weeks, it could be a better option in terms of your overall EB-3 processing time.
Can Premium Processing Help?
Fortunately, the USCIS offers an optional service to expedite the process of all visa petitions that use the I-129 or I-140 forms. By paying an additional fee of $1,440, you can shorten the processing time of your petition to 15 calendar days. However, this does not expedite any other step in the EB-3 process.
It is also important to note that, if your priority date will not be current for some time, premium processing may not help, as you cannot adjust your status until your priority date is current, even if your I-140 is approved. Also, premium processing will not increase your chances of having your petition approved. Speak with your immigration attorney to learn if this feature is right for your case.
What about Porting?
Because the wait times can be so long for certain priority dates, there are situations where an applicant gains the education or requirements necessary to upgrade his or her green card. If you originally applied for an EB-3 and gained your master’s degree while you waited, you could be eligible to reapply for an EB-2, which some people refer to as ‘porting’ (although, it isn’t so much porting as it is starting over from square one). You may also be able to retain your original priority date.
However, you would first need to get a different job that clearly required your new education. This can be achieved either through your current employer or with a new one. Here is an example:
Purna is an electrical engineer from India with his bachelor’s degree in that field. He applies for the EB-3, but his priority date will not be current for almost ten years. So, he continues his education and gets his master’s degree. In order to re-apply for an EB-2 under this new qualification, Purna needs to find a job either through a promotion or with a different employer that makes use of his new master’s degree.
If you are eligible to port your green card and you have found a suitable job, the employer that is sponsoring you for the new green card will need to obtain a new PERM Labor Certification for you before filing another I-140. Because this is a delicate process, always work alongside your immigration attorney in cases such as these.
What Goes into Consular Processing
If you are going to process your EB-3 green card outside the U.S., you will need to complete the following steps:
Complete the DS-261 Application
Once the USCIS has approved the I-140 filed by your employer, your case will be forwarded to the National Visa Center (NVC), which will assign a case number for your petition. When your priority date meets the most recent final action date, you will be notified to complete the DS-261.
The DS-261 is an online form that requires you to provide your personal information to help give the state department details on channels of communication throughout the application process. After successfully completing the DS-261, you will need to print the confirmation page of the form, as that will be included in your supporting documents.
Complete the Immigration Medical Exam
Before your interview date, you will need to schedule and complete certain medical examinations and vaccinations. The results will be part of the criteria to determine your admissibility to the U.S.
Prepare Your EB-3 Green Card Supporting Documents
After the approval of your DS-261 by the NVC, you will need to submit the following EB-3 supporting documents for consular processing:
- Your passport(s) which must be valid for at least six months beyond your intended date of arrival in the U.S.
- Two photographs, both of which must meet these requirements
- The approved PERM Labor Certification
- The employment letter from your prospective U.S. employer
- The approved I-140 petition
- The DS-261 confirmation page
- Any relevant credentials and academic records
- Your resume or CV
- Criminal records
- Medical documents
NOTE: Depending on the embassy and the individual’s case, the supporting documents may vary from what has been listed here. You will need to check with your attorney to be sure that you have the required documents for your case.
Attend Your Visa Interview
Upon receiving and reviewing your supporting documents, the NVC will schedule a visa interview for you at the consulate or embassy. If all goes well at the interview and your visa is approved, the NVC will send you your passport containing your immigrant visa and a sealed package. These are all you need to travel to the U.S. Do not open the sealed package–it should only be opened by an immigration officer when you get to a U.S. port of entry. Once you have been admitted to the U.S., your employment-based green card (I-551) will be mailed to you.
Can I Bring My Relatives to the U.S. with an EB-3 Green Visa?
Just like every other employment-based green card, if your EB-3 visa is approved, your immediate relatives (spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21) can join you in the U.S. If your EB-3 visa was approved under the skilled and professional category, your spouse can apply for the E34 visa, and your children can apply for the E35 visa. If you are an unskilled EB-3 worker, your spouse and children can apply for the EW-4 and EW-5 visas, respectively.
If the application is approved, your spouse can apply for an Employment Authorization Document to be able to work lawfully in the U.S. while the permanent residency application is being processed.
What are the EB-3 Green Card Processing Fees?
The EB-3 green card costs will depend on certain factors, such as your location and whether you are using the regular method or premium processing service. Fees to be paid by the employer and employee are as follows:
- I-140 fee: $700 (employer)
- I-907 fee for premium processing: $1,440 – optional (employer)
- I-485 Status Adjustment fee: $1,140 (employee)
- Consular Processing fee: $445 (employee)
Other fees may include the costs of advertisement for the PERM Labor recruitment process by the employer. You may also want to factor in the cost of hiring an immigration lawyer, which is optional and negotiable, but very important.