Qualifying for an EB-2 Without an Advanced Degree

One of the most common employment-based green cards is the EB-2 on account of its relatively short priority date waiting times. The requirements are attainable but can seem difficult depending on your situation. While most applicants petition based on having an advanced degree, this may not be an option for you. Learn how to qualify for an EB-2 without an advanced degree.

The EB-2 immigrant visa is a second preference employment-based category. The visa is intended for foreign nationals that satisfy at least one of the following:

  • he/she has earned an advanced degree and employment offer from a U.S company. Acceptable degrees are Master’s, Ph.D., law degree, and M.D.
  • he/she holds an ‘exceptional ability’ in the arts, business, or sciences. The foreign national must have either an employment offer from a U.S. company or qualify under the National Interest Waiver. 
  • he/she is a certified physician who complies to practice in an underserved area within the United States.

Foreign nationals who do not hold an advanced degree often turn to the EB-3 green card. The EB-3 green card is meant for workers with bachelor’s degrees, skilled workers with a minimum of two years of work experience, or unskilled workers with fewer than two years of experience. However, the EB-3 typically incurs longer processing times because of the number of applicants. The EB-2 is generally faster—depending on your country of origin—and there is still the possibility of qualifying for the EB-2 without an advanced degree. However, you should check the latest visa bulletin to see what the priority date waiting times are for your visa category.

How to Get an EB-2 without an Advanced Degree

Just because you don’t have a master’s degree or above, doesn’t mean that the EB-2 is off-limits. There are still a few other qualifications that can land you this highly sought-after immigrant visa including demonstrating exceptional ability, meeting the criteria for a National Interest Waiver, and being a physician in an underserved area. Let’s go through your options:

Exceptional Ability

It is important not to confuse exceptional ability with extraordinary ability, which is a requirement for the EB-1. The requirements for the EB-1 green card mandate stricter criteria. Though to qualify under Exceptional Ability without an advanced degree, the foreign national must demonstrate how superior his/her skills are compared to others in the field. The exceptional ability is required to be in the arts, business, or sciences. His/her skills must also be of economic, educational, or cultural interests to the United States. To satisfy exceptional ability requirements, the foreign national is required to hold at least three of the following:

  • A degree, or its equivalent, from a college or university. An institution within the indicated field of exceptional ability will also suffice.
  • A license or certification in the indicated field. It must pertain to the profession
  • Documentation of full-time experience for a minimum of 10 years. The experience is required to be in the profession in which he/she is applying. Recommendation letters are accepted pieces of evidence.
  •  Documentation of awards, achievements, and contributions to the field.
  • Membership in professional organizations
  • Documentation of salary in accordance with the area of exceptional ability.

The requirement of an employment offer and a PERM Labor Certification may be waived if the applicant’s ‘exceptional ability’ is of national interest. The PERM is a facet of the Department of Labor that exists to prevent employers from taking advantage of the immigration system to replace U.S. workers with underpaid foreign workers. It involves having your employer determining and paying you the prevailing wage as well as going through a relatively extensive recruitment process to see if any qualified U.S. workers would be displaced by your arrival.

But what if the PERM isn’t an option for you?

National Interest Waiver

The ‘exceptional ability’ category for the EB-2 immigrant visa requires an employment offer or PERM Labor Certification, as is the case for the advanced degree category and all categories beneath the EB-3 green card. However, if the abilities of the applicant can benefit the United States, the employment offer requirement and the PERM requirement may be waived by the National Interest Waiver (NIW). Additionally, this allows EB-2 NIW applicants to self-petition, something not extended to other EB-2 applicants. This is usually a good avenue for entrepreneurs or physicians that are looking to start their own business or practice in the U.S., and so would be blocked by the job offer and PERM requirements.

To qualify for an NIW, you need to show that your work will benefit the country and be in the national interest. There are three main requirements for the NIW:

  1. Your work must have “substantial merit and importance”. This is a subjective requirement through which the USCIS will judge whether your work greatly benefits areas such as science, technology, education, culture, business, or health. You do not necessarily need to show that your work will have an economic benefit, but it could help.
  2. You must be in a position to do the work you propose. This means that you should have credentials such as education, licensing, certificates, business plans, past successes, current work progress, relevant skills, and/or overall experience in the field. The USCIS essentially wants to make sure that you are the right person to benefit the national interest.
  3. Lastly, you need to show that the U.S. would benefit “on the balance”. What this means is that the PERM and job offer requirements serve to protect U.S. jobs and workers. Waiving that requirement for you is a sacrifice, so you must show that the U.S. benefits more from your work than it does by enforcing these requirements.

If you and your endeavor meet all three of these requirements, then you will need to gather the necessary evidence, collect letters of recommendation from colleagues or professional peers, and submit an ETA-750B form along with your EB-2 I-140 petition.

However, applicants should be aware that the USCIS closely monitors Exceptional Ability and National Interest Waiver cases. In the case of an NIW, it is important to note that premium processing is not available. It takes extra time to process these cases, so keep that in mind as you proceed.

EB-2 NIW for Physicians

Additionally, if you are a physician who is working in an underserved area in the U.S. or a hospital associated with the Veterans Administration for the first five years of your stay in the country, you may qualify for an EB-2 NIW. Again, this is ideal for physicians that own practice or do not want to be subjected to the PERM process. To gain this, you will need to prove that the area is underserved and that you have made plans to work there for the first five years after obtaining your green card. You will also need to provide evidence of your licensure and your ability to command the English language.

EB-2 Green Card Application Process

Just like most employment-based visas, the EB-2 green card must be sponsored by an employer. The only exception is if you qualify for a National Interest Waiver which allows self-sponsorship. For other subcategories, you will need to first get a job offer from a U.S. employer. After that, the employer will begin the application process by submitting a PERM Labor Certification application to the Department of Labor (DOL) and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The steps are as follows:

PERM Labor Certification

The first step in getting the EB-2 green card is for the employer to complete the Program for Electronic Review Management (PERM) with the DOL. This certification is used to prove that there are no qualified and willing U.S. workers available for the position. 

At the same time, the process also helps determine the employer’s ability to pay the “prevailing wage” required for the job. The whole process is broken down into three stages. First, the employer processes the prevailing wage request which will be followed by the recruitment process. The recruitment process is used to test the market by posting the job position in major newspaper advertisement, and then show that the employer was unsuccessful in getting a qualified U.S. worker for the job. And lastly, the employer will need to apply for the PERM Labor Certification.

NOTE: If you are pursuing an EB-2 green card under the National Interest Waiver subcategory, you will not need to undergo the PERM labor certification process. You will start your application (whether by self-petition or through an employer) process by filing an I-140 petition with the USCIS.

I-140 Petition Process

Once the PERM labor certification has been approved, the employer will proceed by filing the I-140 form, which is officially known as the Immigrant Petition for an Alien Worker. This will be submitted to the USCIS. The purpose of this petition is to ask the USCIS to recognize and approve the foreign worker as someone who meets the requirements for the EB-2 employment-based immigrant visa.

The petition must be submitted along with relevant supporting documents to demonstrate that the employer and the employee qualify for the green card both as a petitioner and a beneficiary. The USCIS will use the application to determine whether the job requirements for the PERM labor application are satisfied by the applicant and will also verify if the employer has the financial ability to pay the wages offered to the employee.

Green Card Application Through Adjustment of Status or Consular Processing

Once the I-140 has been approved, the next stage is for the employee to undergo the process to receive a green card. The route to achieving this will depend on whether you are in the United States or abroad. If you are in the United States on a valid nonimmigrant status, you will have the option to file an adjustment of status petition with the USCIS. If you are outside the United States, you will need to process your immigrant visa at the U.S. embassy or consulate in your country of residence. The two routes are explained below:

Adjustment of Status

If you are in the United States, you will need to submit an I-485 form with the USCIS after the approval of the I-140 filed by your employer on your behalf. This process is called Adjustment of Status (AOS), and it allows a nonimmigrant visa holder to adjust to immigrant status and receive a green card.

However, because there is a limit to the number of EB-2 employment-based green cards that can be issued in a given year, your I-140 petition will be placed behind others whose green card applications were submitted before yours. Depending on your home country, the waiting time for this can take a few months or even several years. However, once your I-140 is approved and your AOS application is subsequently approved, you will receive your green card and become a permanent resident.

EB-2 Green Card Consular Processing

If you are outside the United States, you will need to apply for an immigrant visa at the U.S. embassy or consulate in your country of residence in a process known as green card consular processing. The National Visa Center (NVC) will notify you when there is a visa number available to you. They will also inform you as to when you must submit your processing fees and necessary supporting documents.

After payment of the fees and documentation, you will need to complete DS-260 for, which is the application for an immigrant visa. This will be followed by booking and attending an interview at the embassy. After the interview, you will be issued an immigrant visa to travel to the U.S. if the consular officer determines that you are eligible. With an approved valid visa, you can travel to a United States port of entry to start employment. You will receive your green card after migrating.

Processing Times for EB-2 Green Card

The overall processing time for an EB-2 without an advanced degree will depend on whether you are pursuing the NIW or other subcategories. If you qualify for an NIW, the processing time will be significantly reduced as you won’t have to undergo the PERM labor application process. However, NIW petitions are not eligible for premium processing. Here is the breakdown of processing time for each stage of the EB-2 green card:

 PERM Labor Certification Processing Times:

  • Prevailing Wage Request: Approximately two weeks
  • Recruitment Exercise: Approximately eight weeks
  • ETA 9089 Form Process: Approximately six months

I-140 Form Processing Time: Approximately six months. However, if your country has a long waiting time when it comes to priority dates, it could take several years for your priority date to become current.

I-485 Processing Time: Approximately six weeks.

EB-2 Green Card Alternatives

There are five different employment-based immigrant visas. If you’re unable to qualify for the EB-2 without an advanced degree, you have other options to choose from. Out of these five, the EB-1 and EB-3 are the ones closest to EB-2 in terms of requirements. However, because the EB-1 green card is at the very top in that order, it can be to be the most difficult to obtain and requires higher levels of eligibility criteria than the EB-2.

The good news is that the EB-3 green card has criteria that is much easier to acquire, and does not necessarily require an advanced degree. To qualify for EB-3 demonstrate eligibility criteria for any of these three subcategories: skilled workers, professionals, or unskilled workers. One interesting fact about the EB-3 is that none of its three subcategories requires an advanced degree.

How Our Immigration Attorneys Can Help

It is highly advised to speak with an immigration attorney before proceeding with the filing. Much of the criteria can be challenging to document and gather, so your attorney should be highly experienced in employment-based immigration. Having an expert in your corner can easily be the difference between success and failure when it comes to your EB-2 green card. Delays or denials in your processing could also cost you precious time, money, and effort.

Here at our firm, we specialize in employment visas and green cards. Our dedicated attorneys have helped countless foreign working professionals and entrepreneurs find their homes here in the United States. To get in touch with one of our immigration attorneys, you can fill out our contact form and schedule your consultation with our office today.