EB-4 Visa for Special Immigrants Guide

Have you ever heard of a “special immigrant” visa? It might sound intriguing, but the name doesn’t exactly tell the whole story. The EB-4 visa is a unique category within the employment-based visa system that offers a chance for permanent residency in the U.S. The EB4 is designed for a specific group of individuals.

Unlike other employment visas that target highly skilled professionals, the EB-4 caters to a more diverse range of applicants. It’s like a hidden gem within the green card options, a category dedicated to those who wouldn’t necessarily fit under the other employment-based immigration classifications.

Are you intrigued? There’s more to discover! This EB-4 guide will tell you about the sub-categories under the EB-4 umbrella, help you understand the application process, and uncover the advantages of obtaining this special status.

Let’s get started!

What Are the Benefits of the EB4?

Obtaining an EB-4 visa grants you significant benefits.

As mentioned above, you can live permanently in the United States. This means you can establish your life here, find employment, travel, and pursue educational opportunities.

The EB-4 visa also paves the way for future citizenship. After meeting the residency requirements, you can apply for naturalization and become a U.S. citizen.

Sometimes, the EB4 category allows you to sponsor your family (spouse and unmarried children under 21) to join you in America. This enables them to obtain green cards through derivative family visas.

What Is the EB-4 Visa Category?

The EB-4 visa is a unique category within the employment-based green card system. It’s specifically designed for “special immigrants,” a term defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act. If approved for an EB-4 visa, you’ll be granted LPR status in the United States (green card).

Since the EB4 is an employment green card, you must have a U.S. employer willing to sponsor your application in most cases. However, remember that the specific requirements can vary depending on the sub-category you qualify for within the EB-4 program.

The EB-4 is a broad category encompassing several sub-categories, each with its own eligibility criteria. These sub-categories are designed to address the needs of specific groups of foreign nationals considered “special immigrants.” For instance, there are sub-categories for religious workers, certain media personnel, and even some categories of abused children. Given the variety of sub-categories within the EB-4 program, you must understand them well to see if you might be a good fit.

Who Is Eligible for the EB-4 Visa Category?

The fourth preference is the employment-based visa (EB4), a unique option within the green card system. If you belong to one of the qualifying categories, the EB-4 visa might be a path to permanent residency in the United States. Let’s take a closer look at some of them:

EB-4 Eligible Sub-categories

E.B. 4 Sub-category Description
Religious Workers
Ministers and other religious professionals working for qualified bona fide non-profit religious organizations in the U.S.
Special Immigrant Juveniles
Abused, abandoned, or neglected children residing in the U.S. with a juvenile court order placing them with a guardian.
Certain Broadcasters
Foreign media personnel employed by U.S. government-sponsored broadcasting entities.
G-4 International Organization Employees/ NATO-6 Civilian Employees (and Families)
Retired or current/retired civilian employees of specific international organizations and their families.
Certain U.S. Government Employees (and Families)
Employees of specific U.S. government agencies abroad and their families.
Members of the U.S. Armed Forces
Individuals who have served honorably in the U.S. armed forces for a designated period.
Panama Canal Employees
Former employees of the Panama Canal Company or the Canal Zone government.
Certain Physicians
Physicians who were licensed and practicing medicine in a U.S. state as of a specific date.
Informants (S Nonimmigrants)
Noncitizens who have provided valuable information regarding criminal organizations or terrorist activities.

The table above briefly overviews some of the main EB-4 sub-categories. Keep in mind that eligibility requirements may vary within each sub-category. For a deeper understanding, you should discuss your situation with an immigration law firm or an immigration consultant to determine if you qualify under a specific EB-4 sub-category.

IMPORTANT! This visa program for religious workers who are not ministers (like priests or rabbis) was supposed to end in September 2023. Still, the deadline (the “sunset date”) has been extended until September 30th, 2024. This means religious workers (including non-ministers) with a job offer in the U.S. can still apply for a green card through the EB4 program by that date. This extension only applies to non-minister religious workers, not ministers themselves!

What Happens If You're Not Eligible for the EB-4 Visa?

While the EB-4 visa offers a valuable pathway to permanent residency in the U.S., it’s not the only option. If your situation doesn’t perfectly align with the EB-4 requirements, there are other green card categories you might be eligible for, each with its own set of criteria. Here are some alternatives to consider:

EB-1 Green Card

The EB1 visa category is designed for people with “extraordinary abilities” in science, arts, business, or athletics. It also includes outstanding professors, researchers, and certain multinational executives and managers who have held positions of critical importance within their companies.

EB-2 Green Card

The EB2 visa option targets individuals with advanced degrees (like a Master’s) in their field or those who possess “exceptional abilities” in a specific profession. The “exceptional ability” requirement is less stringent than “extraordinary ability” under the EB-1 category. If you are interested in the National Waiver sub-category, learn more about the EB-2 visa NIW.

EB-3 Green Card

The EB3 visa is a broad category encompassing skilled workers, professionals, and even some unskilled workers. You’ll typically need at least two years of relevant experience or training to qualify as a skilled worker. Professionals generally require a bachelor’s degree, while unskilled workers may need less than two years of experience in a specific job.

EB-5 Green Card

If you’re an entrepreneur with a hefty investment, the EB-5 visa program might be a good fit. For this category, you must be a foreign citizen willing to invest a significant amount of capital (usually at least $1 million) into a new commercial enterprise in the U.S. while creating a minimum number of jobs for American workers.

Exploring these different employment green card options can help you find the best road toward permanent residency that aligns with your occupation, skills, experience, and resources.

What Are the EB4 Visa Requirements?

Obtaining this EB-4 visa means meeting specific requirements by you, the applicant, and your sponsoring U.S. employer. Let’s see these requirements and understand what’s expected from each party:

EB-4 Visa Applicant Requirements

The cornerstone of the EB-4 visa is a solid job offer from a U.S. employer. This job offer must be full-timeand permanent, so remember that temporary, seasonal, or part-time work won’t qualify. The EB-4 program aims to address long-term workforce needs, so a stable, ongoing position is crucial.

The job offer you receive should be directly related to your field of expertise and your previous work experience. For instance, an offer for a software engineering position wouldn’t meet the EB-4 visa’s requirements if you’re a qualified chef.

EB4 Requirements for U.S. Employers

The U.S. employer sponsoring your EB-4 visa application must prove financial stability. This means they must demonstrate they have the financial resources to hire you without creating economic hardship for their company or U.S. workers already employed there.

USCIS will assess the employer’s financial health to ensure they can provide fair wages and benefits and that your employment won’t negatively impact the job market for U.S. citizens or permanent residents with similar skills. 

Fulfilling these requirements for you and your employer is essential for a successful EB-4 visa application. It signifies a genuine employer-employee relationship that addresses a specific workforce need.

How to Apply for the EB-4 Visa: The Step-by-step Guide

The EB-4 visa application process seems a bit daunting at first glance. Still, by following these steps and gathering the necessary documentation, you can navigate your path to permanent residency in the U.S. Let’s see what you need to do every step of the way:

Step 1: Petition Filing (Form I-360)

The first step involves your U.S. employer or sponsoring organization filing Form I-360, Special Immigrant Petition, with USCIS. Form I-360 is a formal request to establish your eligibility for permanent residency under a specific EB-4 sub-category.

As mentioned, there are various sub-categories within the EB-4 program, each with its own requirements. Your employer must demonstrate that you qualify under a chosen sub-category, such as religious worker, special immigrant juvenile, or specific media personnel.

IMPORTANT! Suppose you’re a talented broadcaster (reporter, editor, producer, or news analyst). In that case, the EB-4 visa program might be an excellent way to work and live in the United States, mainly if you are employed by the USAGM (an agency overseeing certain U.S. international broadcasting) or one of its partners (like Radio Free Asia). However, this visa is only for actual broadcasting jobs, not technical or support roles.


Your spouse and children can also come to the U.S. with you through the EB-4 visa program. 


The USAGM or one of its partners will file a petition on your behalf, basically vouching for your qualifications for this particular visa category. The petition must include details about the specific job you’ll be doing and your broadcasting experience. If you haven’t worked in a broadcasting role for a long time, they can explain how your existing skills make you a good fit for the position.

Step 2: USCIS Approves or Denies the I-360 Petition

First things first, the I-360 form must be accompanied by supporting documents, depending on the chosen sub-category. The paperwork might include proof of your religious vocation, documentation of abuse or neglect in the case of special immigrant juveniles, or evidence of your media credentials for media personnel sub-categories. 

Once your employer submits Form I-360 and the supporting documents, USCIS will review the entire package, examining the petition and documents to ensure you are eligible for the EB-4 sub-category under which you’re applying. They will verify the authenticity and accuracy of all information provided, including your qualifications, work experience, and any other relevant details mentioned in the petition.

Of course, they will also scrutinize the supporting documents you’ve submitted to ensure they align with the requirements of your chosen sub-category and provide clear evidence to support your eligibility for the EB-4 visa.

Step 3: Petition Approval (Form I-360)

If, after a comprehensive review, USCIS determines that you meet all the eligibility criteria, they will approve your I-360 petition. Your employer (the petitioner) and you (the beneficiary) will be notified of this approval.  

While your petition approval is a positive step forward, obtaining the EB4 itself depends on another crucial factor: visa availability. The number of visas available within the EB-4 category can vary depending on the specific sub-category and your country of origin. Some EB-4 sub-categories might have annual limits on the number of visas issued, while others may not. 

To determine current visa availability, consult the Visa Bulletin. The U.S. DOS updated it monthly. It provides information on the priority dates for each visa category by country.

Step 4: Adjust Your Status or Go Through Consular Processing

Once a visa becomes available in your EB-4 category, you can proceed with either status adjustment or consular processing, depending on your location.

EB4 Adjustment of Status (You Are Already in the U.S.)

If you are legally present in the United States, you can file Form I-485, Permanent Residence, or Adjust Status Petition. This is your green card application, and it is without leaving the U.S. However, this option usually requires additional forms, fees, and supporting documents, so getting help from immigration experts is highly recommended.

Consular Processing (You Are Outside the U.S.)

If you are outside the United States, you’ll go through consular processing at a U.S. embassy in your country. This process involves attending a visa interview, submitting additional documentation specific to consular processing, and undergoing medical examinations and security checks.

If USCIS approves the I-360 petition, congratulations! This is a significant milestone in your EB-4 visa journey, as your case will then be transferred to the National Visa Center. 

Once your case reaches the NVC, they’ll assign you a unique case number and an invoice I.D. They are identifiers throughout the application process. The NVC will also send a welcome package to your home country address with detailed instructions and all the necessary forms to complete the Eb4 visa application process.

IMPORTANT! The NVC will only move forward with your case once your “priority date” becomes current, so expect a long wait!

File Form DS-261 – Your Actual EB4 Visa Application

This online Choice of Address and Agent form allows you to designate how you want the NVC to communicate with you during the application process. You can choose your preferred mailing address and whether you want to appoint an agent (like an attorney) to represent you. Carefully fill out all the necessary sections and submit the form electronically. After successful submission, you’ll receive a confirmation page and number for your records.

IMPORTANT! You’ll file Form DS-261 after your U.S. employer submits Form I-360 and after your priority date becomes current. Once they take over your case, it’s part of the application process you complete with the NVC. So, don’t worry about filing it right away; focus on getting your petition approved and waiting for your priority date to become current. 

The good news is that once the NVC receives your completed application and your priority date becomes current, they’ll send you further instructions. This will likely involve scheduling an interview and submitting additional paperwork at the U.S. embassy in your home country. This means the final stage of the EB-4 visa application process.

The NVC package will outline the documents you must submit to complete your EB4 application. Here’s a summary of what to expect:

Valid Passport
Your passport must be valid for 6 months beyond your planned arrival date in the U.S.
Employment Offer
The original offer letter from your U.S. employer outlining the job position and salary.
Approved Petition
The original USCIS approval notice for your EB-4 petition (Form I-360).
Form DS-261 Confirmation Page
The confirmation page and number you received after electronically filing Form DS-261.
Medical Examination and Vaccination Records
Documentation from a licensed physician verifying you've completed the required medical examinations and vaccinations.
Two Passport-Sized Photographs
Two recent photographs meet the U.S. visa application photo requirements.
U.S. Visa Sponsorship Letter
A letter from your U.S. employer officially sponsoring your visa application.
Academic Achievements (Optional)
Diplomas, certificates, or other documents showcasing your relevant academic qualifications. (May be required depending on your specific case)
Curriculum Vitae or Resume
A detailed CV or resume outlining your work experience and skills.
Court and Criminal Records
Documentation related to any court appearances or criminal records, if applicable.

Get the Mandatory EB4 Visa Medical Exam

The NVC package you receive will also include info about medical exams and vaccinations you need before entering the U.S. to ensure public health safety. You’ll find a list of required vaccinations, and a doctor (not assigned by NVC) will perform a medical exam (checkup, history review, and maybe tests) and update your vaccinations. The doctor will give you signed documents proving these steps. Hold onto them, as they’ll be part of your visa application!

Attend the EB-4 Visa Interview

Once the NVC has reviewed your supporting documents and everything seems in order, they’ll schedule a visa interview for you. This interview will take place in your home country. It will likely involve a U.S. consular officer asking questions about your background. Be prepared to discuss your education, work experience, and, most importantly, your reasons for immigrating to the U.S. Answer the questions honestly and confidently, showcasing your qualifications and suitability for the position.

Get the EB4 Decision and the Visa Sealed Package

The U.S. consular officer will decide on your EB-4 visa application after your interview. If approved, you receive another NVC package containing your visa. Crucially, this package is sealed, and you cannot open it!

Travel to the United States

With your sealed visa package, you can finally make travel arrangements to enter the U.S. Upon arrival at a U.S. airport, an immigration official will inspect your travel documents, including the sealed NVC package, and decide whether you enter the country.

That’s it! This was the EB4 application process, similar to most U.S. work visas. But given the challenges, we know you have one question that buzzes around your mind: how long does it take to get an EB-4 visa? 

You won’t like the answer, but read it anyway in the section below!

EB-4 Visa Processing Time and Timeline

The EB4 visa is a waiting list with a limited number of spots. Because of this, processing times can vary widely. 

If your application is next in line when that limit is reached, you might have to wait until the following year for your turn. The good news is that applications are processed in the order they’re received. So, the earlier you apply, the sooner you’ll likely reach the front line.

The wait time can be unpredictable – some folks might zip through in a few months or a year, while others could wait up to four years. It all depends on how many people applied before you and how quickly the limited visas get used up each year. USCIS and the NVC will update you and let you know when it’s your turn to move forward with the application process.

However, to get you some pointers, consider this:

  • The average processing time of I-360 (submitted by your employer) is about 15-18 months.
  • If you are already in the U.S. and are applying for a green card, your waiting time is about 13 to 21 months for USCIS to return with a positive answer for your I-485 submission. 
  • If you are outside the U.S., you’ll have to wait for the I-360 timeline to come to its natural completion point and then for the visa priority date

In other words, it can take years to enter the U.S. on an EB-4 and move forward to obtaining permanent residency.

How Much Does the EB-4 Visa Cost?

Obtaining an EB-4 visa involves some financial considerations, with you (the foreign worker) and your U.S. employer splitting the costs. The exact amounts can vary depending on USCIS regulations and the specific U.S. embassy you’re applying through in your home country.

Nevertheless, here’s pretty much what you should expect:

  • USCIS Form I-360: Your U.S. employer will be responsible for this fee associated with filing the petition that establishes your eligibility for the EB-4 program. This form costs $515 (unless you self-petition as an extraordinary immigrant from the Amerasian, VAWA, SIJ, Afghan or Iraqi national, or military personnel categories). 
  • Form DS-261: This fee covers processing your initial visa application form. You, as the foreign worker, will be responsible for this cost. Currently, the NVC requires a total of $445: the form processing fee ($325) and the financial support form fee ($120).
  • Medical examination fees: Before traveling to the U.S., you’ll need to undergo a medical examination by a licensed doctor. The associated fees for this exam will be your responsibility. Expect an average $300 bill at an authorized medical office. 
  • Fees for obtaining supporting documents: Gathering the necessary documents for your application might involve costs like obtaining copies of transcripts, birth certificates, or other official records. You’ll need to cover these fees.
  • Translation fees (if applicable): If any of your supporting documents are in a language other than English, you’ll need to have them translated by a certified translator. These translation fees will be your responsibility.
  • Adjustment of Status fee: If you’re at the point when you can apply for permanent residence and status adjustment to get your green card, expect form I-485 to cost you $1,440.

By being aware of these potential costs upfront, you and your U.S. employer can plan your finances accordingly for a smoother EB-4 visa application process.

Do You Need Help Getting Your EB-4 Visa?

While the EB-4 visa offers a path to permanent residency in the U.S. for certain special immigrants, broadcasting professionals, religious workers, and other people who want to work in the U.S., the application process is complex. Besides the waiting times, arguably the worst part, an EB4 application involves various forms, deadlines, and tons of paperwork. For expert guidance throughout the EB-4 visa journey, from filing Form I-360 to ultimately securing your green card, contact our immigration experts. At ImmigrationDirect, we’ll work closely with you to ensure a successful application process, starting with your eligibility for the EB4 and even considering other U.S. employment-based visas. Don’t hesitate to reach out!

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