EB2 vs EB3 Visa: Understanding the Differences

Glen D. Wasserstein, Managing Partner of ILG, specializes in immigration law, focusing on E-2 Investor Visas, L-1 visas, H-1B visas, and federal litigation. With a background in international relations, he founded ILG in 1996 and has addressed human trafficking at the United Nations Convention on Crime.

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Navigating the complexities of employment-based immigrant visas such as EB2 and EB3 can be daunting for skilled workers and foreign nationals aiming for permanent residency in the United States.

This blog post will explore the key differences and requirements of the EB2 and EB3 visas for visa applicants, focusing on aspects like the PERM labor certification process, priority dates, and how qualifications influence eligibility. Understanding these distinctions is crucial for applicants to determine which visa category best aligns with their professional goals and immigration objectives.

Overview of EB2 and EB3 Visas

The EB2 and EB3 visas are categories of employment-based immigrant visas designed to grant permanent residency to foreign nationals based on their job skills and qualifications.

EB2 Visa: This category is intended for professionals holding advanced degrees or individuals with exceptional ability in the arts, sciences, or business that significantly benefits the U.S. economy, cultural or educational interests, or welfare. It generally requires a higher degree or its foreign equivalent and a job offer from a U.S. employer. This category can also include those who seek a National Interest Waiver (NIW), which allows applicants to bypass the labor certification process if they can demonstrate that their work has substantial merit and national importance.

EB3 Visa: This visa is available for skilled workers, professionals with a baccalaureate degree, and other workers performing unskilled labor that requires less than two years of training or experience. Unlike EB2, this category strictly requires a PERM labor certification to prove that there are no qualified U.S. workers available for the position being offered to a foreign worker.

Both visa categories are pivotal for U.S. employers seeking to fill job positions for which there are no available U.S. workers, and they play a crucial role in maintaining the influx of talent and labor essential to various sectors of the American economy. Each category has its own priority dates published in the Visa Bulletin, impacting the processing time based on the visa backlog.

Evaluating the EB2 Visa for Your Needs

The EB2 visa category is designed for foreign nationals who meet high academic or professional standards and are seeking permanent residency in the U.S. Here are the criteria and qualifications necessary for the EB2 visa, along with the potential benefits:

Criteria and Qualifications

1. Advanced Degrees: Applicants must possess an advanced degree or its foreign equivalent (such as a master’s degree or higher) relevant to the job offer in the U.S. Alternatively, a baccalaureate degree followed by at least five years of progressive experience in the profession may also qualify.

2. Exceptional Ability: Those who can demonstrate exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business, significantly above that ordinarily encountered, are eligible. Evidence such as peer-reviewed articles, major awards, and significant contributions to their field is required.

3. National Interest Waiver: Applicants may apply under the national interest waiver category, which allows individuals to self-petition without an employer if their employment would greatly benefit the U.S. This waives the usual requirement for a labor certification.

4. Labor Certification: Except for those seeking a national interest waiver, the EB2 typically requires a PERM labor certification to confirm that no qualified U.S. workers are available for the position offered to the foreign national.

Potential Benefits

  • Faster Green Card Processing: The EB2 visa often experiences shorter processing times for permanent residency due to less visa backlog compared to other categories, particularly if premium processing is utilized.
  • Priority Dates: Typically more favorable than those for EB3, resulting in shorter waiting periods for visa availability.
  • Employment and Family Benefits: Upon approval, visa holders can work in the U.S. and may also bring their spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 to the United States under the E21 and E22 immigrant status, respectively.
  • Path to Citizenship: EB2 visa holders can apply for U.S. citizenship after meeting all the necessary residency and eligibility criteria.

This visa category is highly beneficial for skilled professionals and advanced degree holders due to its facilitation of U.S. entry for high-impact roles in various industries, contributing significantly to employment-based immigration success.

Assessing the EB3 Visa for Your Needs

The EB3 visa category is designed for skilled workers, professionals, and other workers, facilitating their path to permanent residency in the U.S. Here are the criteria and qualifications necessary for the EB3 visa, along with the tailored advantages for applicants:

Criteria and Qualifications

1. Skilled Workers: Must demonstrate at least two years of job experience or training. The position should not be temporary or seasonal.

2. Professionals: Requires a bachelor’s degree or foreign equivalent, with the job position typically demanding this level of education.

3. Other Workers: Includes unskilled labor requiring less than two years of training or experience.

4. Labor Certification: All categories must undergo the PERM labor certification process, confirming no qualified U.S. workers are available for the position.


  • Broader Eligibility: Covers a wider range of qualifications compared to EB2, including positions that require less than two years of training or education.
  • Permanent Residency: Provides a direct path to green card status for foreign nationals, allowing them and their family members to live and work permanently in the U.S.
  • Visa Bulletin Priority: While the visa backlog can be significant, the EB3 category often moves forward steadily, giving applicants clear expectations for processing times.
  • Premium Processing: Available for this category, which can expedite the review of the petition, significantly reducing the wait time for qualified applicants.

The EB3 visa offers substantial opportunities for individuals who may not qualify under the more stringent requirements of the EB2 but can still contribute significantly to the U.S. workforce.

Commonalities Between the EB2 and EB3 Visas

Both the EB2 and EB3 visas share several key features and processes as part of the U.S. employment-based immigrant visa system. These commonalities include:

1. PERM Labor Certification: Both visa categories generally require a PERM labor certification, which demonstrates that there are no qualified U.S. workers available for the specific job position, ensuring that the employment of foreign nationals will not adversely affect U.S. workers.

2. Path to Permanent Residency: EB2 and EB3 visa holders are eligible for permanent resident status, leading to a green card. This status allows them and their family members to live and work permanently in the United States.

3. Priority Dates and Visa Bulletin: Both categories are subject to priority dates that determine when a visa applicant can apply for permanent residency based on their visa category and country of origin. The status of these dates is regularly updated in the Visa Bulletin.

4. Premium Processing Option: Applicants in both categories can opt for premium processing, which expedites the review of their petitions, reducing the waiting time significantly.

5. Requirement for a Valid Job Offer: Generally, both EB2 and EB3 require a valid job offer from a sponsoring employer in the United States, except for those applying under the national interest waiver in the EB2 category.

6. Educational and Professional Requirements: While specific requirements differ, both visa categories are designed for individuals who meet certain professional and educational standards—EB2 targets those with advanced degrees or exceptional ability, and EB3 is for skilled workers, professionals, and other workers.

These shared elements highlight the structured approach of the U.S. immigration system in managing the entry of skilled and unskilled labor to meet the country’s economic and employment needs.

Distinguishing Between the EB2 and EB3 Visas

The EB2 and EB3 visas serve distinct foreign national categories with specific requirements, benefits, and potential drawbacks

Distinguishing Between the EB2 and EB3 Visas

Both visa categories are crucial for addressing specific needs within the U.S. labor market, offering structured paths to permanent residency based on one’s skills, educational background, and job requirements.

Visa Processing Times

The processing times for EB2 and EB3 visas can vary, influenced by several key factors:

1. Labor Certification: The PERM labor certification process, required for most EB2 and all EB3 applications, can take about 6 to 18 months depending on the complexity and workload at the Department of Labor.

2. Priority Dates and Visa Bulletin: The availability of visas as indicated in the Visa Bulletin and the applicant’s priority date are crucial. Processing can be immediate or take several years, depending on visa backlogs and the applicant’s country of origin.

3. Visa Backlog: EB3 visas, particularly for skilled and other workers, often face longer delays due to higher demand and lower priority, which can extend processing times significantly.

4. Premium Processing: For EB2 applicants, opting for premium processing can shorten the review period to about 15 calendar days, providing a much faster decision.

Transitioning Between the EB2 and EB3 Visas

Switching between EB2 and EB3 visa categories is possible and can be strategically beneficial, depending on the applicant’s circumstances and changes in eligibility or visa bulletin progression.

Guidelines for Transitioning

1. Assessment of Eligibility: An applicant must reassess their qualifications, such as a change from a baccalaureate degree to an advanced degree, or meeting the exceptional ability criteria, which could shift their qualification from EB3 to EB2.

2. Priority Dates: Review the current visa bulletin to determine if the priority date would be more advantageous in one category over the other. Sometimes, EB3 may progress faster than EB2.

3. Filing a New Petition: To switch categories, the sponsoring employer must file a new Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, with the relevant supporting documentation to meet the specific requirements of the new visa category.

4. Labor Certification: For most EB2 and all EB3 categories, a new PERM labor certification may need to be approved if the job position or applicant’s role within the company has changed significantly.

5. Impact on Processing: Consider how the switch might affect current visa processing times, potential visa backlog, and the overall strategy for achieving permanent resident status.

How Total Law Can Assist You

Total Law can significantly streamline the application process for EB2 and EB3 visas, enhancing the likelihood of approval through expert legal guidance:

1. Expertise in Immigration Services: Total Law provides experienced immigration attorneys who understand the nuances of immigration law, ensuring that all aspects of your application meet the specific criteria of the desired visa category.

2. Navigating Complex Processes: Their legal team can help manage complex requirements such as the labor certification process, ensuring that all documentation is correctly filed and deadlines are met.

3. Optimizing Priority Dates and Processing Times: Total Law monitors the visa bulletin and priority dates to strategically time your application submission, potentially reducing wait times and navigating visa backlogs effectively.

4. Assistance with Premium Processing: For applicants eligible for premium processing, Total Law can expedite the submission to accelerate decision-making on your visa application, which is crucial for those holding advanced degrees or possessing exceptional ability.

5. Maximizing Approval Chances: Through meticulous preparation and a detailed understanding of employment-based immigrant visas, Total Law enhances your application’s chance of success, addressing any issues that might arise during consular processing or at the visa interview stage.

Involving Total Law can mitigate the uncertainties and challenges of applying for permanent residency, providing peace of mind and a clearer path to achieving your immigration goals.


In conclusion, choosing the right visa—EB2 or EB3—depends on understanding their distinct requirements and benefits. The EB2 visa suits individuals with advanced degrees or exceptional abilities and offers quicker processing times due to favorable priority dates. The EB3 visa, meanwhile, is designed for a broader range of skilled and unskilled workers.

Navigating U.S. immigration can be complex, making professional guidance essential. Consulting an immigration attorney in DC or an EB2 visa attorney can ensure your application is optimized to meet stringent requirements, helping align your professional goals with the appropriate visa category.

In addition, an immigration lawyer in New Orleans can offer you the personalized legal guidance you need for your immigration issues.