Special Immigrant Visa: Employment Based

By, Kristin Nolan, Guest Blogger

An SIV Visa, or a Special Immigrant Visa, is a special category of immigration visa that applies to three categories of persons: 1) Afghans and Iraqis who have served overseas alongside American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq; 2) religious workers; and 3) those seeking employment-based visas with special circumstances.

Current Status:

The SIV program issues visas in the following categories: Afghan-Iraqi U.S. employees (average of 4,722 per year between 2007 – 2015; total amount varies per year based on visas granted), religious workers (5,000), and employees (140,000). The numbers of these available visas are subject to administration approval each year. In FY2018, the Trump Administration allocated 3,500 additional visas for Afghan applicants under the FY2018 NDAA for the SIV program.   

The Trump Administration’s America First policies and Muslim-majority country bans have affected the SIV program at large., notably in the Afghan and Iraqi SIVs, and in the seasonal worker visas, which help to fuel a majority of summer harvesting seasons, as well as seasonal summer resort towns which often hire workers from the Caribbean. The Trump Administration approved the increase of certain Afghan visas, but has yet to release substantive data on those visas being issued.

For Special Immigrant Visa FAQs, visit the first article in our series here.


Q: How does the SIV program work for employment-based SIVs? 

There are several types of employment-based visas within the SIV program. Every year, 140,000 employment-based visas are allotted for the following types of immigrant worker, their spouses, and certain family members:

  1. Employment First Preference (E1)—Priority Workers: Persons with “extraordinary ability,” outstanding professors and researchers, and multinational managers or executives.[1] (40,000 visas per year)
  2. Employment Second Preference (E2)—Professionals Holding Advanced Degrees and Persons of Exceptional Ability: Professionals holding an advanced degree or persons with exceptional abilities in sciences, business, or the arts. (40,000 per year)
  3. Employment Third Preference (E3)—Skilled Workers, Professionals, and Unskilled Workers (other workers): Skilled workers with over two (2) years of training, professionals who require a bachelor’s degree or equivalent to perform their work, or unskilled laborers (often temporary or seasonal). (40,000 per year)
  4. Employment Fourth Preference (E4)—Special immigrants in this category are allotted 7.1% of the annual, worldwide limit for employment-based immigrant visas. The worldwide limit for LPR visas and similar types of visas is 685,000.[2] (10,000 per year)
  5. Employment Fifth Preference (E5)—Immigrant Investors: These visas are set aside for foreign investors who will bring job creation to the U.S. (10,000 per year)

For all these visas, candidates must qualify and receive a labor certification from the Department of Labor. These individuals must have specialized or non-specialized skills to add to the U.S. workforce.

Q: Why does the U.S. give visas to foreign nationals to work in the U.S.?

For certain industries, temporary or permanent workforce are necessary to supplement American labor. This is either due to a shortage of skills, a shortage of manpower, or a lack of individuals willing to do a particular job.

For instance, foreign language instructors, engineers, agricultural work, seasonal tourism, seasonal harvest, and other similar fields require supplementation beyond the available U.S. workforce.

Related Articles:  

H1B Visa Program and Trump: How High-Skilled Immigrants are being Threatened by President’s Administration. Newsweek. March 1, 2018.

U.S. Issuing 15,000 more H2B visas after American companies complain about labor shortage this summer. First Post. June 1, 2018.

[1] https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/immigrate/employment-based-immigrant-visas.html#first

[2] http://www.ncsl.org/Portals/1/Documents/immig/2018_Immigration_Primer_32492.pdf

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