EB2 vs EB3: The Right Option for You

EB2 vs EB3

The EB2 visa and EB3 visa have many similarities. Both result in permanent residency (a green card) and are reserved for those who will contribute as future U.S. workers. However, they also have many differences. This guide will help explain some of the key differences.




1. Overview of EB2 and EB3 visas


2. Second vs third preference


3. Requirements


4. Application Process


5. Processing Time


6. Conclusion



1. Overview of EB2 and EB3 Visas


The EB2 and EB3 visas are both employment-based immigrant visas. This means that, in most cases, a US employer is required to sponsor you. Additionally, there cannot be any other qualified and willing American workers for the job.


Both of these visas give you permanent resident status in the United States (a green card). As a permanent resident, you have many benefits including the following:


  • Ability to live and work in the United States


  • Easier ability to enter and exit the United States


  • Ability to sponsor your family members for immigration benefits


  • As a permanent resident, you are on the path to U.S. Citizenship


  • Ability to go to school in the United States



Both visas have many benefits and may be useful for you. However, it is important that you understand the differences. This will enable you to determine which visa is most appropriate for your situation.


The EB2 visa is the second-preference employment visa. This visa is available to people with advanced degrees and/or exceptional ability. Advanced degrees are master’s degrees or higher (or the foreign equivalent). A person with a bachelor’s (or equivalent) and five years of work may also be eligible for an EB2 visa. Exceptional ability is anyone with heightened ability in their respective field. This can be shown through awards, work experience, or with other evidence. The EB2 visa is also available to people who will work in the national interest of the United States. This could include healthcare professionals who will work in under-resourced areas.


The EB3 visa is the third-preference employment visa. This visa is open to professionals, skilled workers, and unskilled workers. Professionals are people with bachelor’s degrees or higher (or the foreign equivalent). Skilled workers are people with 2 or more years of relevant work experience. Unskilled workers are people with less than 2 years of relevant work experience.


More information about the EB2 and EB3 visas can be found on our website. Additionally, my team and I would be happy to answer any questions you have about either. We would also be happy to assist you with your EB2 or EB3 visa case.


While there are several similarities in these types of visas and the application process, there are some key differences. The following sections will explain some of them.


2. Second Preference vs Third Preference


The first key difference between the EB2 and the EB3 visa is their preference categories. Both are employment-based visas. However, the EB2 visa is the second-preference employment visa and the EB3 visa is the third-preference employment visa. This means that EB2 visas are slightly preferred over EB3 visas.


EB2 visas make up 28.7% of approved employment-based visas. Additionally, if there is more supply than demand for EB1 visas, the EB2 visa can fill the remainder of the spots allocated for EB1 visas.


EB3 visas also make up 28.7% of approved employment-based visas. Additionally, if there is more supply than demand for EB1 + EB2 visas, they can fill the remainder of those allocated spots. However, the EB3 category is not eligible for any of these “spillover” spots if there are any EB1 or EB2 visas ahead of them.


EB2 visas are of a higher preference, which means the standards to obtain this category are more strict. If you qualify for both the EB2 and EB3 visa, it may be better to apply for one over the other. You should discuss with a qualified immigration lawyer, what would be the best visa to choose based on your unique circumstances. For example, the country you were born in may be a very important consideration, as this can impact your wait time.


In addition to the EB2 and EB3 visa, there are a couple of other types of employment-based green cards. The EB1 visa is for priority workers.  It has the highest set of requirements, and only a select few people will qualify. The EB4 and EB5 visas are only for specific workers. Thus, the EB2 and EB3 visas are the most commonly utilized. Additionally, there are also family-based green cards. This means that a family member, as opposed to an employer, would sponsor your green card application. My team and I would be happy to help you figure out which green card avenue is most appropriate for you.


3. Requirements


Another difference between the EB2 and the EB3 visa has to do with the requirements. As previously mentioned, the requirements for the EB2 visa and EB3 visa has similarities and differences.




US Employer Sponsor


Under both visas, you must have an offer of employment from a US employer. Additionally, the US employer must be willing to sponsor you. The one exception here is if you are applying under the National Interest Waiver category under the EB2 visa. The National Interest Waiver is a special sub-category of the EB2 visa for people that will be working in a field that is in the national interest. In this case, you may be eligible to self-petition. This means that you can apply for the EB2 visa without an employer sponsoring you.


Labor Certification


Under both the EB2 and the EB3 visa, the employer sponsor must get an approved Labor Certification from the U.S. Department of Labor. Basically, what this means is that the employer must show that they tried to hire a qualified U.S. worker, but they were unable to do so successfully. This process is also referred to as the PERM process.


One exception to the requirement of getting an approved labor certification is the national interest waiver. As mentioned above, the national interest waiver is a special subcategory of the EB2 visa, available to people who will be working in a field that is in the national interest. Under this category a job offer and a completed labor certification are not required.




Education and Experience


One of the main differences between the EB2 and EB3 visa has to do with the education and experience required to qualify under each cateogry. As previously mentioned, the EB2 visa is the second-preference employment visa and the EB3 visa is the third-preference employment visa. This means that the requirements for the EB2 visa are more strict. The EB2 visa category holders must hold advanced degrees, have exceptional ability, or benefit the national interest of the United States. These standards must be shown through past work experience, significant awards, or other evidence. These are relatively high bars to meet.


On the other hand, the EB3 visa has less strict requirements. People who are professionals, skilled workers, and unskilled workers are eligible for this visa. As mentioned above, professionals are people with bachelor’s degrees or higher (or the foreign equivalent). Skilled workers are people with 2 or more years of relevant work experience. Unskilled workers are people with less than 2 years of relevant work experience.


Many more people are eligible within the EB3 visa category. My team and I can help you determine if the EB2 or EB3 visa is more appropriate for you.


4. Application Process


The application process for each visa can be slightly different.


Under both the EB2 and the EB3 visa, the employer must first go through the PERM Labor Certification process (which we discussed above). Once the employer receives the approved labor certification, they must file a Form I-140 (immigrant petition) with USCIS. Lastly, the foreign worker seeking the EB2 or EB3 visa must then apply for an immigrant visa or apply for an adjustment of status if they are lawfully present inside the United States. The process is very similar under the EB2 and EB3 visa.


The main difference is that the EB2 visa only sometimes requires the PERM labor certification. Those with advanced degrees or exceptional ability must have a PERM labor certification. However, as we mentioned, those who qualify for the National Interest Waiver do not require a PERM labor certification. National interest waiver applicants can skip the PERM labor certification process and apply for their own I-140 (without having an employer sponsor).


On the other hand, all EB3 applicants will require the PERM labor certification.


Another important difference to note is that the job recruitment process is slightly less difficult for some EB3 visas than it is for EB2 visas.


Despite the differences, the EB2 and EB3 visas will always the filing of an I-140 (immigrant petition) and either an adjustment of status or application for immigrant visa. This portion will work almost identically under both categories.


5. Processing Time


The processing time is one of the most significant differences between the EB2 visa and EB3 visa. As previously mentioned, the EB2 visa has stricter requirements than the EB3 visa. Based on the more strict requirements, the EB2 visa has historically had less of a visa backlog. A visa backlog is a situation where the demand for a particular visa is higher than the available supply of that visa. Based on the increased demand, there is a waiting period. When this happens, there is a backlog. This can be a confusing concept to understand. If you have any questions, please message us as we would be happy to explain in more detail.


Some Information on Visa Backlogs


Regarding visa backlogs, please note that 28.7% of total employment-based green card visas are allocated for the EB2 and the EB3 visa categories respectively. Additionally, no more than 7% of the available visas in either category can be allocated to people from one country. Once a particular country has reached its limit of available visas, a backlog can form for that country. The country you are counted within is based on the country you were born in (this is also referred to as your country of chargeability).


EB2 and EB3 Processing Times


  • The processing time for the PERM labor certification is usually 6 to 18 months. This is the same for both the EB2 and EB3 visas.


  • The processing time for the Form I-140 is usually around 6 to 9 months. This is also the same for EB2 and EB3 visas. It is also possible to pay extra for premium processing to expedite this process.


The above-mentioned steps are not influenced by the quotas on EB2 and EB3 visas. However, once your Form I-140 is filed, you will receive a priority date. You cannot schedule your visa interview until this date becomes current on the visa bulletin. Nor can you apply for an adjustment of status until that time as well. In many cases, the priority date is current. This means that there is no backlog. However, as we discussed, there are many countries that are subject to a backlog.


You can check the visa bulletin page here to current priority dates.


Many people will not have a wait for the EB2 visa (depending on their country of birth).


On the other hand, there is a backlog for almost all applicants for the EB3 visa. For nationals of many countries, this will be around 1-2 years. For nationals of other countries, such as China or India, wait times can be over 10 years.


The huge discrepancy in processing times between these 2 visa categories means that you should carefully analyze which category has a faster based on your country of birth.


For more information about backlog waiting times, you can look at the State Department website’s visa bulletin page. Additionally, my team and I would be happy to provide an analysis for your specific case.


6. Conclusion

The EB2 visa and EB3 visa have many similarities. Both categories are avenues to permanent residency (a green card). However, the EB2 visa and EB3 visa also have many differences. This guide examined some of the key differences such as the preference order, the requirements, the application process, and the processing time. You should now have a much stronger understanding of the differences between the EB2 and EB3 visas.

If you have any questions about the information in this guide or about either of these visas in general, please feel free to email me directly. I can be contacted at Michael@AshooriLaw.com. I am very responsive via email and I would be happy to help you.

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Michael Ashoori Headshot

Michael Ashoori, Esq.

U.S. Immigration Lawyer

I’m a U.S. immigration lawyer and I help families, professionals, investors, and entrepreneurs get visas, green cards, and citizenship to the United States.

Since starting my law firm, I’ve helped hundreds of people from all over the world with their immigration needs. I’m very passionate, hard-working, and committed to my clients.

Got a question? Send me an email.