If you are a foreign national who has been working in the U.S. for a few years and plan to stay here for the long term, getting a green card is probably the single most important thing to do. Regardless of the type of visa you currently hold, it is only a temporary status and once it runs out, you will be staying in the U.S. illegally. While some foreign nationals can obtain the green card through marriage to U.S. citizens or green card holders, many others have to go through other paths. Obtaining employment-based green cards is the best way (and often only) way to accomplish this.
Currently, there are 3 main categories of employment green cards: EB1, EB2 and EB3. They are numbered according to the preference level given – EB1 is the highest preference and EB3 the lowest. The higher the preference, the faster it gets processed.
EB1 is for immigrant works with extraordinary abilities in the arts, science, business, education or athletics. It means that if you are an award-winning artist, a wide-published college professor, a multinational manager with high salary or an outstanding athlete with international medals, you can submit materials to prove your excellence.
EB2 is for foreign nationals holding advance degrees or exceptional abilities (including those who qualify for National Interest Waivers).
EB3 is for skilled workers and professionals, which is the slowest category that requires no special achievement other than being employed with a U.S. corporation.
There were 2 additional categories, EB4 Special Immigrants (mostly for religious workers), and EB5 Immigrant Investors (who have invested at least 1 million in a U.S. commercial enterprise and created at least 10 full-time jobs) that were set to expire by December, 2017. Further review from Congress will determine if any of these green card programs will be renewed, but they are not really part of the discussion here as neither is earned through actual employment.
A couple of years before your visa runs out, you will need to start planning for the transition to permanent residency if you plan to stay for the long-term. The earlier you plan it, the better. If you wake up one day and realize that your current visa is about to expire in a few months, you may find yourself in a predicament where you cannot work or remain legally in the U.S. in between because green cards are extremely time-consuming to file and obtain (if successful). Prior to 2018, the EB1 category has been known to be the fastest pathway to permanent residency. However, since the 2nd quarter of 2018, the surge in applications to this category has put it under continuous backlog (and even retrogression). What that means is – even if you get approved for the EB1 because of your outstanding achievements, you will have to wait in line for months or even years before you can proceed to adjust your status to permanent residence. And needless to say, EB2 and EB3 applications have even longer waiting times.
So how do you convince your boss to sponsor you a green card? There are several ways to go about this.
If you are looking for a new job, make it clear that you want to be sponsored at your final interview.
Not every company is open to spending tens of thousands of dollar in immigration processing to retain an employee. Better make sure that the company you are considering joining would consider sponsoring you down the road. It is not necessary to bring this up at the initial interview, but if you move on to the final stage and an offer is on the horizon, it is best to bring it up in order to avoid mutual disappointment. Remember, even if the company is open to sponsoring you, it won’t happen immediately. Most companies have the policy that it will only do so after one year of employment with satisfactory performance. In addition, you will need to repay the cost of sponsorship (usually more than 10k) if you leave the company within X number of years.
Set up a formal discussion with your boss after several months at the job.
Even though most companies won’t start the process until after a year of employment, don’t wait until you hit the one-year mark! Some companies will be vague and not actually carry through because they want to hire you first. Therefore, it is good practice to check in with your boss after a few months and see if they are still serious in sponsoring you. Ask about specific timeline and make sure to also notify your department head and human resources about your intention to get sponsorship. The more people know about it, the more your boss will have to take it seriously. Don’t be afraid to seem pushy – when it comes to getting what you want in the workplace, sitting back and being subtle will not get you any results.
Check your company’s policy regarding permanent residency.
When your lawyers start to prepare documents for you, it may take a couple of months to a couple of years depending on the nature of your case. Request a periodical update to check in on the progress. Do a thorough review of their work and point out problems as early as possible. When I first started working with lawyers, I made the mistake of not pointing out problems until it is too late. After several failed attempts at contacting the lawyer directly, I had to go to the head of the law firm to report the error-ridden work he has been providing me. By that time, the deadline of submission was approaching and my case needed to be rushed by another lawyer. Luckily, I was able to get a positive result but this whole drama could have been avoided if I had reported problems early on.
Try to qualify for EB1.
If you are not happy with how long the process may take with the employer-sponsored option, try considering the possibility of EB1A. In order to qualify for it, you need to have hard evidence that you are at the top of your field. This can be in the form of national and international awards, jury membership, high salary, professional membership, recommendations from industry leaders etc. We have a great article explaining strategies to get yourself qualified. If you do, apply for the EB1A immediately because this is still the fastest route. The best part is, you do not need your employer to sponsor you at all. Whatever their policy is, it doesn’t effect you. This is the hardest way but also the most rewarding because you are not at your boss’ mercy.
Document your achievement and value to the company. Make a compelling case for why the company should sponsor you.
When you ask for a green card sponsorship, chances are you will need to persuade your boss why you are worth the money and effort. It is not good enough to just tell them you have excellent performance during your review. It is expected of all employees, immigrant or not, that they have good performance in order to stay employed. What makes you better than other employees who don’t need sponsorships? You have to meticulously document your work achievements and think like a lawyer. It is almost like you are going to make your case in front of your boss before you let them make it for you to the government. The truth is, even though it is expensive for an employer to sponsor you a green card, it may still be cheaper and easier for them to do so instead of hiring a new person to replace you. According to a study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, hiring an employee at an organization with 0-500 people cost an average of $7,645. There are additional factors like training and gap period that employers prefer to not have if they can retain current high-forming employees. So if you are already performing well, chances are you have at least one card at hand. The rest should be you pointing out how you are different from your colleagues at the same level and what future contributions you would like to make to the company.
Look for jobs in higher education or technology.
There are certain sectors that are more likely to sponsor green cards. Higher education and technology are among the top of these sectors. Remember that you don’t have to be a professor or software engineer to find jobs in these sectors. Universities and tech companies hire people from all disciplines. The downside to applying for higher education job is that the hiring process is drastically different from the corporate world. Universities run on academic calendars and have fewer positions available than large corporations. Therefore, they only hire at certain times of the year and decisions are usually not made as fast as for-profit companies. The good side is if you are hired, especially as a professor, they are more open to sponsoring green cards because good academic talents are not easily replaceable. In technology, companies are already equipped to handle the fact that a big number of their workforce will be foreign nationals. Even though there is no guarantee that they will sponsor you, there are definitely more familiar with the process and likely have more funds allocated for immigration expenses.