Lawful permanent resident status ("LPR" or "green card" status) allows a foreign national to reside in the United States permanently without restrictions on employment, and offers many of the rights accorded to US citizens.
Both employers and employees often find it desirable for an employee in nonimmigrant (temporary) status to obtain permanent resident status in the U.S. For the employer, it means an end to tracking visa expiration dates, filing of visa extension requests, filing fees with each petition for extension and having to make arrangements for the employee's departure and replacement once the available nonimmigrant visa time has run out. For the employee, it means an end to the difficult consular interviews for revalidation of visa stamps, easier re-entry into the U.S. after foreign travel, freedom to engage freely in employment in the U.S., and peace of mind with regard to status in the U.S. in the event of loss of employment.
The entire employment-based green card process in the United States usually takes several years to complete. For most foreign nationals, the process begins with the filing of an application for Alien Employment Certification (also known as a "Labor Certification&quoqt;) with the Department of Labor. Upon approval of the labor certification, the employer then files an immigrant visa petition on Form I-140 on behalf of the foreign national, and the foreign national applies for application for adjustment of status on Form I-485 with the USCIS, or Consular Processing at a US embassy or consulate abroad. Since 2002, the immigrant petition and adjustment of status application can be filed concurrently.
Upon filing of Form I-140, the application is assigned to a preference category, much like the preference categories which are assigned to family-based immigrant visa petitions. There are currently five employment-based preference categories:
- Employment-Based First Preference (EB-1), also known as "Priority Workers" who are persons of extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers, and multinational executives and managers.
- Employment-Based Second Preference (EB-2) for members of the professions holding advanced degrees or aliens of exceptional ability
- Employment-Based Third Preference (EB-3) for skilled workers, professionals and other workers
- Employment-Based Fourth Preference (EB-4) for special immigrants (e.g., returning residents, religious workers, court dependents)
- Employment-Based Fifth Preference (EB-5) for Investors creating employment opportunities in the U.S. for U.S. workers
- As with the family-based immigration categories, EB categories carry annual immigration visa issuance quotas, priority dates and, in many cases, backlogs.
Green Card Categories not Requiring Labor Certification
Foreign nationals who fit under the EB-1 category are allowed to bypass the labor certification process and begin directly with the filing of the Form I-140 and Form I-485. Foreign nationals who fall into the EB-2 category and are also granted a National Interest Waiver may also bypass the labor certification process.
Special procedures have also been established for sheepherders who have been employed legally in a nonimmigrant visa capacity for thirty-three of the last thirty-six months and persons in a so-called "Schedule A" occupation listed on Schedule A of 20 CFR § 656.10, including registered nurses, physical therapists and "aliens of exceptional ability".