Need expat info for USA?
US Immigration and Citizenship
According to recent news reports, people from various countries, including those with a valid visa and residence permit, have encountered difficulties when entering the United States. Unfortunately, the full extent of those issues seems to be unclear. Before you decide to move or travel there, or leave the country temporarily if already living in the USA, please consult a US embassy and an immigration lawyer if you fear you might be affected.
There are various forms of US immigration visa and in most if not all cases, you will have to be prepared for a lot of red tape and potentially long waiting times. If you have a relative who is either a US citizen or a permanent resident of the States, they might be able to petition your US immigration visa application. Check out our section on relative-petitioned immigrant visa to learn more. However, if that is not the case, you will have to try your luck with the green card lottery or an employment/investment based visa.
Diversity Visa Program (Green Card Lottery)
The so-called Green Card Lottery, officially known under the name of Diversity Visa (DV) Program, is likely the most famous way for getting a US immigration visa. The requirements towards the applicant are relatively low key, an application’s success will, however, be up to chance. Annually, around 50,000 to 55,000 diversity visa petitioners are chosen at random from all eligible applicants. To be eligible, you need to
- have been born in a country that is eligible for the program (cf. the relevant DV program instructions), and
- have at least a high school or equivalent education, or
- a minimum of two years’ work experience in the last five years in a position that requires two or more years training/experience.
So if you are putting your hopes of getting a permanent US residency on this Green Card Lottery, make sure not to miss the application deadlines!
Employment/Investment Immigration Visas
There are different ways to acquire a US immigration visa through employment. If you qualify as an “Alien of Extraordinary Ability”, have been granted a National Interest Waiver, or are an investor, you may petition for yourself. In most cases, however, your employer in the United States will need to petition for you. Every year, around 140,000 such employment-based permanent resident visas are given out to qualified applicants.
For most of the US immigration visa categories, your employer first needs to get a labor certification approval from the Department of Labor. This is necessary in order to prove that employing you will neither take away the job opportunity of an able, available and qualified US worker nor have negative consequences for the wages and/or working conditions of similarly employed citizens.
Only with this certification can an employer then file an immigrant petition for an alien worker (Form I-140) with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Once this petition has been approved, you can start the actual application process for your permanent resident visa in one of the following categories.
EB-1 Priority Workers
This first preference category is for persons who are either
- outstanding researchers or professors,
- multinational executives or managers, or
- in possession of an extraordinary ability in the fields of science, art, business, athletics, or education.
There is no need for a labor certification. For specific information on requirements, please visit the USCIS’s website on the First Preference EB-1 category.
EB-2 Professionals Holding Advanced Degrees and Persons of Exceptional Ability
For this category, a labor certificate is generally necessary. If you do not have a future employer who can file a petition (Form I-140) on your behalf, try to apply for an exemption, the so-called National Interest Waiver which is given to people whose residence in the United States would be in the national interest.
Regardless whether you or your employer are filing the petition, this second preference category is only open for people who are
- professionals holding an advanced degree (higher than a baccalaureate degree, or a BA degree together with a minimum of five years’ work experience in the relevant profession), or
- persons with an exceptional ability in the fields of business, art, or science.
Please consult the USCIS’s homepage for more specific information on this Second Preference US Immigration Visa.
EB-3 Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Other Workers
An applicant of this US immigration category must have a labor certification and an approved petition filed by their prospective full-time employer. Skilled workers are people whose job requires a minimum of two years training or work experience. Professionals are defined as persons with a job that requires a minimum a baccalaureate degree or its equal. Other workers are those capable of taking on jobs that require less than two years of experience or training.
Once again, please refer to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services for more details on this Third Preference EB-3 category.
EB-4 Certain Special Immigrants
This category includes quite a number of different professions, such as religious workers, physicians, international organization employees and members of the armed forces. While the petition (Form I-360) for this fourth preference US immigration visa is again typically filed by a future employer, one can also self-petition under certain circumstances. A labor certificate is not needed. For more information, see the USCIS.
EB-5 Immigrant Investors
For this US immigration category, a labor certificate is once again not required. An applicant must file an “Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur” (I-526). In order to qualify for this category, the applicant must invest between $500,000 and 1 million US$ in a commercial enterprise in the States, thus creating or at least preserving a minimum of 10 jobs.
Regardless of which of these categories you belong to, only after a petition has been granted can you actually start the application process for your US immigration visa.
We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.