EB3 vs EB2 Visa Categories: Understanding the Key Distinctions

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Picture of Shawn Sedaghat, Esq.

Shawn Sedaghat, Esq.

When you’re looking into immigration to the United States, you’ll likely come across a maze of visa options, each with its own rules and benefits.

Among the paths taken by skilled workers and professionals is the decision between an EB3 or an EB2 visa, which can seem pretty daunting at first glance.

The main differences hinge on educational requirements, professional experience, and processing times—all factors that can significantly influence your journey toward working and living in the U.S.

If you’re trying to figure out which category fits your situation best, you need a clear breakdown of what each entails.

Keep reading to understand the nuances between EB3 and EB2 visas that could shape your future in the States.

Key Takeaways

  • The EB2 Visa Is Suited for Individuals With Advanced Degrees or Exceptional Ability, While the EB3 Caters to Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Other Workers
  • National Interest Waivers Within the EB2 Category Can Bypass Labor Certification and Job Offer Requirements for Those Whose Work Benefits the U.S. Significantly
  • Both EB2 and EB3 Visas Require a Standing Job Offer and Successful Labor Certification, but EB2 May Lead to a Faster Green Card Process
  • Priority Dates and the Visa Bulletin Play Pivotal Roles in the Timing of When Applicants Can Proceed With Permanent Residency Steps
  • Immediate Family Members of EB2 and EB3 Visa Holders Can Obtain Derivative Status, Allowing Them to Work or Study in the U.S

EB3 vs EB2 Visa Categories: What Sets Them Apart

Aligning ambitions with the right visa category is a crucial step for any skilled worker or professional aiming to build a future in the United States.

The EB2 and EB3 visa categories each serve unique subsets of the labor force, distinguished by differences in academic credentials, experience, and skill sets.

Peering into the EB3 and EB2 routes offers insight into the criteria that shape eligibility and preference in immigration pathways.

It’s not just about understanding the legal jargon but knowing which door aligns with an individual’s professional profile and career milestones.

This introduction outlines the core differences and criteria that define each category, laying the groundwork for individuals to identify where their aspirations and qualifications converge with U.S. immigration policy.

Identifying the Core Differences

The EB2 and EB3 visa categories cater to distinct groups of immigrants based on their professional experience, educational background, and job requirements. The EB2 is tailored for professionals holding advanced degrees or individuals with exceptional ability, while the EB3 is for skilled workers with at least two years of experience, professionals with a baccalaureate degree, and other unskilled workers.

Eligibility criteria vary significantly between the two categories: EB2 applicants often need a job offer and labor certification unless they receive a national interest waiver, whereas EB3 candidates require a standing job offer and labor certification from the United States Department of Labor. Additionally, EB2 typically involves roles that demand a higher educational level or exceptional talent in arts, sciences, or business:

Visa CategoryDefinitionRequirement
EB2For professionals with advanced degrees or exceptional abilityAdvanced degree, exceptional talent, national interest waiver (optional)
EB3For skilled workers, professionals, and unskilled workersMinimum two years experience, labor certification, job offer

Criteria That Define Each Category

The struggle to decide between the EB2 and EB3 visa categories often comes down to meeting the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) criteria for each. An EB2 visa is generally the go-to option for individuals with an advanced degree like a master’s or doctorate, or those with a unique expertise that typically isn’t found in the general workforce. On the other hand, the EB3 visa serves those with a baccalaureate or less who can still prove their job is something that demands their specialized knowledge or skills.

In the realm of immigration law, the subtleties between the two can mean the difference in how soon a foreign national can expect to become a permanent resident. While the EB2 prioritizes exceptional qualifications and offers the chance to bypass labor certification with a national interest waiver, the EB3 focuses on an individual’s ability to fill a specific role for which the employer has unsuccessfully sought a U.S. worker. Clearly, one’s resume, filled with either an academic degree and/or unique professional experience, is decisive in dictating the most favorable immigration route.

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Breaking Down the EB2 Visa Requirements

The EB2 visa, known for its preference towards individuals with advanced education and exceptional skills, imposes stringent criteria that applicants must navigate.

Those aiming for this category are typically seasoned professionals or academics with an advanced degree beyond a baccalaureate, such as a master’s or a doctorate, or they come with a portfolio showcasing exceptional ability in their field.

However, there exists an alternative path within the EB2 category that can expedite the journey for some: the National Interest Waiver.

This provision bypasses the usual requirement of a labor certification, putting the spotlight on those whose work significantly benefits the United States.

Understanding these requirements is the first step for prospective applicants plotting their course towards permanent residency.

Educational and Professional Prerequisites

The EB2 visa category sets the bar high for educational and professional standards. Applicants must have an advanced degree, usually signifying a master’s or higher, or its equivalent in a baccalaureate degree plus five years progressive work experience in the field.

For those without an advanced degree, demonstrating exceptional ability through substantial evidence of acclaim and recognition in their area of expertise is mandatory. This might include a high salary or awards which underscore their outstanding achievements in their professional realm.

National Interest Waiver as a Pathway

The National Interest Waiver offers a significant departure from the standard visa application process: It eliminates the need for labor certification for those who can demonstrate that their work has considerable impact on the U.S.

Visa RequirementStandard EB2 PathNational Interest Waiver Path
Labor CertificationRequiredNot Required
Job OfferRequiredCan be waived
Demonstration of ImpactNot ApplicableRequired

For those pursuing an EB2 visa through this route, they must prove that their activities promote prosperity, health, or cultural or educational interests or welfare of the United States: Their contributions must be of such scale and inherent value that the benefits of waiving the certification outweigh the national interest in protecting U.S. workers through the labor certification process.

Understanding EB3 Visa Qualifications

Exploring the EB3 visa opens doors for a broader range of workers looking to establish their careers on U.S. soil.

This visa serves as a not-so-secret key for skilled workers who have amassed practical training and experience, as well as for professionals who have obtained their academic degrees but may not meet the stringent demands of the EB2 category.

From welders to web developers, and from accountants to architects, the EB3 visa encompasses a spectrum of vocations and expertise.

This section shines a light on the varied categories that qualify under the EB3 umbrella, scrutinizing the thresholds that distinguish skilled from unskilled workers, and pinpoints the professional credentials required for this pathway.

It’s time to unpack the details and eligibility benchmarks for those geared towards this avenue of U.S. immigration.

Categories of Workers Who Qualify

The EB3 visa is the go-to for a wider job pool, considering it accepts skilled workers, professionals, and other workers without stringent demands for advanced degrees. In particular, skilled workers are those who have demonstrated at least two years of training or work experience, not of a temporary or seasonal nature.

Professionals under this category possess a U.S. baccalaureate degree or its foreign equivalent and are members of a profession. The broad spectrum accommodated by the EB3 extends to other workers as well, covering positions that require less than two years of higher education, training, or experience.

Assessing Skilled, Professional, and Other Workers

Profiling candidates for the EB3 category relies heavily on the real-world applications of their qualifications. “Skilled workers” must show proof of at least two years of job experience or training, indicating that their expertise cannot be gained overnight and isn’t available on a whim.

Conversely, ‘professionals’ under EB3 need a baccalaureate degree, the minimum educational threshold for their profession, reinforcing that solid academic groundwork is indispensable for their role. The ‘other workers’ segment fills the niche for jobs that don’t call for extensive education or prolonged training but are nonetheless essential to the workforce.

Job Offer and Labor Certification Explained

Securing a future in the United States often hinges on the details, such as understanding the role of a job offer and unraveling the intricacies of the Permanent Labor Certification, commonly referred to as PERM.

For both the EB2 and EB3 visa categories, the job offer is a starting block; it’s an employer’s pledge that there’s a space in the American workforce waiting for the prospective immigrant.

The PERM process, which forms the backbone of labor certification, serves to affirm that hiring a foreign worker will not adversely affect the wages or job opportunities for U.S. workers.

The journey from a job opportunity to permanent residency is multifaceted, with each step designed to align individual qualifications with the needs of the U.S. labor market.

Role of a Job Offer in EB2 and EB3 Visas

A job offer plays a central role in both the EB2 and EB3 visa categories, serving as a critical confirmation that a U.S. employer is interested in hiring the foreign national. This offer is not just a gesture but a binding commitment that underpins the visa petition and is central to the subsequent labor certification process.

In the context of EB2 and EB3 visas, the job offer acts as a testament to the demand for the applicant’s skillset within the U.S. job market. It’s a mandatory cornerstone that signifies the initiation of the intricate journey towards permanent residency: without it, the bridge between potential and opportunity remains unbuilt.

  • U.S. employer extends a job offer
  • Foreign national’s visa petition is anchored to the job offer
  • Job offer kickstarts labor certification process

Navigating the PERM Labor Certification

The process of labor certification, or PERM, stands as a testament to the United States’ commitment to its labor market and its workers. It’s a meticulous process ensuring that there are no capable U.S. workers overlooked or passed over for a foreign national:

Step in ProcessActionPurpose
Job Order PostingEmployer must post the job with the State Workforce AgencyTo test the labor market for any potential U.S. worker
Labor Certification ApplicationEmployer files Form ETA-9089For the Department of Labor to certify no U.S. worker is available and willing to take the job

The PERM certification underscores the demand for a foreign worker’s skill set and the absence of a U.S. worker to fill that role. It’s a balance of protecting domestic labor while acknowledging the value and necessity of skilled immigrants:

Comparing the EB2 and EB3 Visa Processes

Comprehending the procedural aspects of the EB2 and EB3 visa categories is pivotal for skilled workers and professionals who are charting their path towards life and employment in the U.S.

Though both avenues lead to the same destination—a chance to become a permanent resident—the steps involved in filing an EB2 or EB3 petition can be quite distinct.

It’s also important for applicants to recognize the difference between adjusting their status while in the U.S. and undergoing consular processing from abroad.

These two processes represent key forks in the road that can influence the timeline and experience of their immigration journey.

This section aims to demystify these crucial stages to provide a clearer understanding of each path’s requirements and procedures.

Steps in Filing an EB2 or EB3 Petition

The journey to secure either an EB2 or EB3 visa begins with the crucial step of filing a petition using Form I-140, the Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker. An individual or their employer must complete and submit this form to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), along with supportive evidence meeting all requirements for the chosen category.

After USCIS approval of the I-140 petition, applicants must wait for their priority date to become current, referring to the Visa Bulletin, before they can apply for an adjustment of status or proceed with consular processing. Timing is everything, and understanding these sequential steps is central to successfully obtaining a green card.

Adjustment of Status vs Consular Processing

Applying for an adjustment of status is a process where candidates already in the U.S. apply to become lawful permanent residents without having to return to their home country to complete visa processing. This pathway is available to those whose priority date is current, and it allows them to navigate their legal transition while remaining stateside.

Alternatively, consular processing involves applicants going through the U.S. consulate or embassy in their own country.

Here, once the priority date matures, the foreign national completes the visa application and attends an interview abroad. Upon successful completion, they can enter the U.S. as permanent residents.

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Analyzing EB2 and EB3 Visa Processing Times

For many aspiring U.S. residents, the journey towards obtaining a green card is often measured by the ticking clock of processing times.

The EB2 and EB3 visa categories, while pathways to the same goal, exhibit distinct timelines that reflect their unique requirements and demand.

Applicants tracking their future prospects should understand the role of current wait times in their category and how their priority date can shape the progression of their application.

Awareness of these factors is essential for setting realistic expectations and planning the next steps with confidence.

Current Wait Times for Each Category

The timeline for securing an EB2 or EB3 visa varies, often hinging on the volume of applications and the per-country visa limitations. Currently, EB2 visas can be processed quicker due to higher preference, while EB3 visas may entail longer wait times, especially for applicants from countries with a high demand for U.S. immigration.

Prospective immigrants must pay close attention to the Visa Bulletin, which updates monthly and reflects the movement of priority dates that dictate when they may advance to the next stage of the process. It’s important to note that these times are subject to change, influenced by policy shifts and the ebb and flow of application rates.

How Priority Dates Affect Your Application

Understanding how priority dates influence the application process is vital for anyone seeking a U.S. visa under the EB2 or EB3 categories. Priority dates determine an applicant’s place in line for visa availability, acting as a timestamp for when the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives their petition.

  • An applicant’s priority date is established once the USCIS receives their I-140 visa petition.
  • This date is then used to measure against the Visa Bulletin’s cut-off dates to ascertain when an applicant can take further action towards residency.
  • Applicants monitor the Visa Bulletin to identify when their priority date becomes current, indicating that a visa is potentially available for their application.

Applicants with current priority dates are eligible to apply for adjustment of status or initiate consular processing, depending on their presence in the United States or abroad. The priority date’s significance extends beyond mere timing as it directly affects the strategic planning and anticipation of an individual’s immigration pathway.

Evaluating the Advantages of EB2 Over EB3

When choosing between the EB2 and EB3 visas, understanding how each can impact an individual’s journey to the United States is fundamental.

The EB2 category holds certain advantages that can dramatically influence the speed of green card approval and significantly affect one’s career advancement and mobility.

These benefits often make the EB2 an attractive option for those who meet its more rigorous requirements.

This section will explore the shorter pathways to obtaining a green card and the potential career prospects enhanced by the EB2 visa.

Faster Pathways to Green Card Approval

For those who meet the stringent requirements, the EB2 visa category often streamlines the path to obtaining a green card. Because of fewer backlogs and higher preference allocation, the waiting time for an EB2 application is typically shorter compared to the EB3, making it a strategic choice for eligible candidates.

Aspiring U.S. immigrants under the EB2 category benefit from a faster adjudication process, thanks to the availability of premium processing service. This feature significantly reduces the waiting period for a visa decision, allowing individuals to advance their careers in the United States with less delay.

Impact on Career Advancement and Mobility

The EB2 visa often paves the way for swifter professional progress, as it’s designed for those with advanced degrees or exceptional talent, essentially positioning them for higher-level employment opportunities. Such preferential treatment can lead to career leaps and increased job mobility, ultimately facilitating a smoother transition into the U.S. workforce and a quicker ascent through the ranks.

On the flip side, while the EB3 visa enables qualified individuals to pursue American dreams, it doesn’t inherently boost one’s career trajectory in the same manner as the EB2. Since it encompasses a broader range of workers, including those without advanced degrees, the inherently competitive nature of the EB3 can sometimes mean slower career progression due to the higher volume of applicants vying for similar positions.

How Family Members Are Affected by Visa Choices

Choosing the right visa category isn’t just a personal decision for skilled workers seeking opportunities in the United States; it’s a family affair.

When professionals ponder over EB2 and EB3 visas, they must weigh not only the professional implications but also the potential impact on their family’s future.

The eligibility of spouses and children under these visa categories and their ability to engage in employment or education in the U.S. are fundamental considerations.

This section starts to untangle the questions surrounding family integration into American society during the immigration process.

Spouse and Children’s Eligibility Under EB2 and EB3

The ripple effect of a primary applicant’s visa category extends to their immediate family members, with both EB2 and EB3 categories permitting spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 to apply for derivative status. This paves the way for them to join the principal applicant in the United States.

Under each visa type, once the primary applicant’s permanent residency is granted, spouses may seek employment authorization documents, and children are eligible to pursue education. The ability to work and study contributes significantly to the family’s integration and stability in their new environment.

Dependents’ Ability to Work or Study in the US

Spouses and children of EB2 and EB3 visa holders have the opportunity to fully engage with life in the United States through education and employment. With valid Employment Authorization Documents, spouses can seek jobs across a variety of fields in the U.S. economy, complementing the household’s financial stability and personal fulfillment.

Meanwhile, children on dependent visas have the green light to immerse themselves in U.S. educational institutions, from primary levels up to obtaining an academic degree. This access supports their intellectual growth and cultural adaptation, key components of a successful transition for families in a new country.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main differences between the EB3 and EB2 visa categories?

The main differences between EB2 and EB3 visa categories lie in the required qualifications of the applicant and the processing times. EB2 targets professionals holding advanced degrees or individuals with exceptional ability, while EB3 is for skilled workers, professionals, and other workers with at least two years of training or experience.

What are the specific requirements for obtaining an EB2 visa?

To qualify for an EB2 visa, a person must hold an advanced academic degree or have exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business, and fulfill a role that requires such expertise in the United States. Additionally, the application must generally include a labor certification from the United States Department of Labor, and a job offer from a U.S. employer who has completed the required recruitment process.

What qualifications are necessary for the EB3 visa category?

The EB3 visa category is designed for skilled workers possessing at least two years of job experience or training, professionals with an academic degree, or other workers for unskilled labor that is not temporary or seasonal. Applicants must also have a job offer from a US employer who has completed the labor certification process to show that there are no workers in the US who can fill the position.

Can you explain the role of a job offer and labor certification in the visa application process?

Sure, a job offer is proof a US employer wants to hire a foreign worker, which is a critical step for many employment-based visa categories. Labor certification is a process managed by the United States Department of Labor to ensure that hiring a foreign worker won’t negatively affect wages and job opportunities for US workers. It’s a fundamental piece of evidence in many employment-based green card applications.

How do the processing times for EB2 and EB3 visas compare?

The wait times for EB2 and EB3 visas can vary significantly, as they are influenced by factors such as the applicant’s country of origin and the current volume of applications. Generally, EB2 visas, aimed at professionals with advanced degrees or exceptional ability, can be processed faster than EB3 visas, which are for skilled workers and professionals without advanced degrees. It is essential to check the Visa Bulletin for the most up-to-date priority dates, which play a crucial role in determining the processing timeline for both visa categories.


In conclusion, the distinction between the EB2 and EB3 visa categories is crucial for skilled workers and professionals targeting a future in the United States.

The EB2, tailored for those with advanced degrees or exceptional ability, often presents a faster route to green card approval with potential for quicker career advancement.

The EB3, while more inclusive, caters to a broader range of workers and may lead to longer processing times due to higher demand.

Both visa types consider the importance of family, allowing for the inclusion of spouses and children under derivative status.

Understanding these key differences allows individuals to align their aspirations and qualifications with the appropriate immigration pathway, ensuring they make informed decisions for themselves and their families.

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