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DownloadLearn more about how the immigration process works and help you with your immigration concerns and questions. The Charleston USA Immigration Law Center is here to support you in your goal to become a United States citizen.

Employment Preferences, Priority Dates and Waiting Periods

Each fiscal year beginning October 1st, the U.S. system of immigration has a limited number of immigrant employment visas available for foreign immigrants. The system is essentially designed to strengthen our work force with the smartest, most accomplished and most talented. About 140,000 of them are employment based with approximately 40,000 being allocated to each of the first 3 employment preferences and 10,000 each to preferences 4 and 5. This is how "world class athletes and rock stars" get into the U.S.

In practice, the system assigns each country a different quota based on the number of foreigners allowed in from that country with employment visas. Each country is allowed only a maximum of 7% of its combined family-based and employment preference based visas per year and 2% for their family members. More apply so backlogs occur. This practice is similar to the one imposed by most countries in the world. In administrating this system the USCIS for employment utilizes a preference system designed to give priorities to "more highly educated and skilled individuals" brought here by their employers. For employment purposes the system is divided into 5 preference categories. These are EB-1 through EB-5 visas.

All categories of employment based visas are issued in the chronological order in which the petitions were filed until the annual numerical limit for each category is reached. The filing date becomes the applicant's priority date for visa issuance. Immigrant visas cannot be issued until an applicant priority date is reach.

Waiting Time Periods

Generally, after an immigration petition is approved the immigrant must then wait for the availability of an assigned visa to proceed with entry. The EB-2 and EB-3 preference or categories wait the longest. In some instances waits have been up to 10 years or longer! Countries like China, India & Mexico and the Philippines have the longest while Australia, Canada & United Kingdom the shortest. For the first employment preference, all visa issuance dates are current. For the second employment preference, visa issuance dates for mainland China and India are backlogged to 2007 and 2004 respectively. For the third employment preference, all visa issuance dates are backlogged, some as far back as 2002 for India. For the fourth employment preference, all visa issuance dates are current. For the fifth employment preference, all visa issuance dates are current.

It appears that the system favors those immigrants from the United Kingdom of which the U.S. originated, then those from northern Europe who helped to first populate the U.S., then those from southern Europe and so for and so on with third world countries having the lowest quotas.

Employment Based Preferences

  • FIRST PREFERENCE (EB-1 VISA)
    Priority workers including aliens with extraordinary abilities, outstanding professors and researchers and certain multinational executives & managers. Certain "special programs" are contained within this preference.
  • SECOND PREFERENCE (EB-2 VISA)
    Members of Professions holding advanced degrees or persons of exceptional ability.
  • THIRD PREFERENCE (EB-3 VISA)
    Skilled workers, professionals and other qualified workers.
  • FOURTH PREFERENCE (EB-4 VISA)
    Special immigrants and those in religious vocations.
  • FIFTH PREFERENCE (EB-5 VISA)
    Immigrant investors creating employment for US workers in the US.

All other unskilled workers enjoy no employment preference and often have to wait 10 years or longer for an employment visa.

Usually, understanding and applying this preference system requires the help of an attorney and we can provide such help. Also, sometimes interim alternative temporary visas are advisable to lessen the inconvenience of the waiting periods.

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The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.
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Charleston USA Immigration Law Center, LLP - Immigration Lawyer in Charleston, SC
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