Visa classifications in the United States
U.S.A. Permanent Residence (a.k.a. "Green Card")
A lawful permanent resident is a foreign national who has been granted the privilege of permanently living and working in the United States. Upon approval, the permanent resident is issued a Permanent Resident Photo ID Card (AKA "Green Card"). This can be achieved through "Consular Processing" at a US Consulate in a foreign country or it can be achieved while in the United States through a process known as "Adjustment of Status". For complete details, visit the CIS web site link (above) on Lawful Permanent Residence.
Employment-Based U.S.A. Permanent Residence Applications
There are three employment-based categories with eight sub-categories for employment-based permanent immigration.
Employment-Based First Preference
Sub-category 1(a) (Extraordinary Ability) Persons with "extraordinary ability and achievements in the arts, sciences, business or athletics" who can prove with a variety of documentation that they have reached the very top of their field. They must be coming to the U.S. to continue to work in their field. This category does not require a job offer or Labor Certification by a U.S. employer.
Sub-category 1(b) (Outstanding Professors and Researchers). In general, persons with at least three years experience in teaching or research in their field entering a tenured or tenure-track or "comparable research position" in academics or private industry. This category also does not require a Labor Certification.
Sub-category 1(c) (Multinational Executives or Managers) Executives or managers of foreign companies that are transferred to the USA subsidiary, after at least one year of experience as an executive or manager within the past three years. This category also does not require a Labor Certification.
Employment-Based Second Preference
Sub-category 2(a)(Advanced Degree Professionals) Persons holding advanced degrees (Master's degree or higher, or the equivalent) who are sponsored by a U.S. employer. Normally, this category requires a Labor Certification. If the prospective job in the USA is proven to be "in the national interest" a Labor Certification is not required. This "national interest" is becoming increasingly difficult to prove. In some cases, "self-employed" individuals may qualify in this category.
Sub-category 2(b)(Exceptional Ability) Persons with exceptional ability in the arts, sciences, or business who are sponsored by a U.S. employer. This category generally requires a Labor Certification approved by the Department of Labor. However, if the applicant can establish that their admission will be "in the national interest" a Labor Certification is not required. In some cases self-employed individuals may qualify in this category.
Employment-Based Third Preference
Sub-category 3(a)(Professionals) Professionals who are sponsored by a U.S. employer. In general, a profession is an occupation which has as a minimum requirement of a four-year U.S. college degree in the field. Labor Certification is required.
Sub-category 3(b)(Skilled Workers) Workers whose jobs require a minimum of two years of training or experience who are sponsored by a U.S. employer. Labor Certification is required.
Sub-category 3(c)(Other Workers) Workers whose jobs require less than two years of specific training or experience who are sponsored by a U.S. employer. Labor Certification is required.
The U.S. Department of Labor must certify that the job opening is one in which there is a "shortage" of available qualified U.S. citizens or Green Card holders.
In a few cases it is possible to obtain a "waiver" of the advertising and recruitment requirements. There are two categories that are considered by definition "pre-approved" Labor Certifications exist:
Schedule A, Group I for registered Nurses and Physical Therapists
Schedule A, Group II for persons of "Exceptional Ability."
Family-Sponsored Permanent Resident Application
Foreign applicants must be sponsored by a close relative who is either already an U.S. citizen or a permanent resident ("Green Card" holder). U.S. citizens may sponsor their spouses, sons and daughter (under 21 years old), and their parents (if the USA Citizen sponsor is over 21 years old). U.S. citizens may also sponsor their sons and daughters over the age of 21 years old, whether married or not and their brothers and sisters (if the sponsor is over 21 years old). Processing of these family based cases can take from a few months to several years. Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, for example may be on a waiting list for seven or more years.
Permanent Residents (Green Card holders) may sponsor their spouses, children, and adult unmarried sons and daughters for Permanent Residence. The waiting time for sponsoring family members of Green Card holders tends to be much longer than for U.S. Citizen Sponsors. In addition, U.S. Citizen family members can often adjust status while in the USA. This is more difficult for close relatives of permanent residents.
Investing Immigrant Permanent Resident Application
This allows foreigners who make an new investment of at least $500,000 in less affluent/economically disadvantaged areas and/or an investment of $1,000,000 or more in a U.S. business to obtain permanent residence. The investment must be "at risk" It must create at least 10 full-time jobs for U.S. workers. The investment does not have to be 100% in cash so long as the applicant has total assets "at risk" in the enterprise of at least $500,000 to $1,000,000 in total value.
Non-citizens can obtain U.S. citizenship through a process called naturalization. In the vast majority of cases, only people who are already Permanent Resident (Green Card Holders) are eligible to apply for citizenship.
Visas and Status
The non-immigrant categories are sometimes referred to as either statuses or visas, but a visa is not the same thing as a status. A visa is obtained at a United States Consulate in a foreign country. Normally, one needs to obtain authorization to obtain a visa by first filing an application with one of the Immigration Service Centers in the USA before one may obtain the visa stamp at the Consulate. Non-immigrant categories include: H-1. L-1.O-1, J-1, R-1, F-1 and many more. If one is already in the USA one can usually apply while in the USA and obtain the requested classification and status. But if one leaves the USA or one is not yet in the USA, the only way to get in to the USA, is with a Visa Stamp with the correct "letter" classification. The Visa is what gets stamped in the passport to "enter" the USA. The visa classification is obtained through an application to the Immigration Service Center in the USA. But the Visa stamp itself is obtained through an application to a U.S. Consulate in a foreign country. Obtaining the Visa stamp usually requires an official Approval Notice from the Immigration Service Center in the USA as well as the completion of various U.S. Consular forms. After entering the USA one obtains an I-94 card which indicates the Visa classification and one is then in the USA in that particular status.