Many people use the words “work visa” and “green card” interchangeably when they are talking about employment-based immigration, but there are several key differences between the two immigration options.
The biggest difference between a work visa and green card is that a green card allows the foreign national to remain in the U.S. indefinitely and a work visa is limited in duration.
There are various ways through which a foreign national may qualify for a green card (or permanent resident status), including through marriage (including same-sex marriage) or familial relationship and certain employment scenarios. Under the labor certification process, there are the following five preference categories for employment-based permanent residency:
- First Preference (EB1) is available for priority workers, including persons of extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers, and multinational organization executives and managers.
- Second Preference (EB2) is available for professionals holding advanced degrees (or persons of exceptional ability) working in a position that requires an advanced degree or the equivalent.
- Third Preference (EB3) is available for professionals and skilled workers if the job requires a bachelor’s degree or two years of specialized training or experience.
- Fourth Preference (EB4) includes special immigrants, such as religious workers and some government workers, among others.
- Fifth Preference (EB5) is available for investors who make a substantial U.S. investment that create jobs for U.S. workers.
It is important to know and understand your EB preference category and the priority date assigned to the I-140 petition since the preference category will impact the cut-off date for priority status of your application. The EB category assigned to your application can be found on the I-140 receipt and approval notices.
Once employment-based permanent residency is established, there are certain obligations placed upon the green card holder in order to maintain permanent residency. For instance, the green card holder must not commit an offense that results in deportation, not abandon the status, file tax returns as a permanent resident, and renew the green card.
Conversely, the following nonimmigrant work visas are available for foreign nationals who enter the U.S. temporarily to work:
- L-1 visa for intra-company transfers. Generally, an applicant must have worked abroad as an executive, manager or specialized employee for at least one continuous year within the previous three year period in order to qualify for the L-1 intra-company transfer visa.
- H-1 visa for specialty occupations. Foreign workers who are employed by U.S. companies in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in specialized fields, such as scientists, engineers, or computer programmers, may qualify for an H-1B visa. The H-1B visa is subject to strict quota caps, however.
- TN visa for residents of Canada and Mexico who will enter the U.S. to be engaged in activities at a professional level.
- E visas for business investors. An E-1 or E-1 visa is available for traders and investors who are citizens of countries with which the U.S. has a treaty of trade and commerce. The EB-5 investor visa is available for foreign nationals who invest at least $1 million in a new commercial enterprise, or $500,000 in a regional center.
- O visa for workers with extraordinary ability. The O visa enables people with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, athletics, or the motion picture