Free EB-5 Project Evaluation

Different Pathways to a Green Card Without Sponsorship Requirements

A person holding a passport over a visa application document they're filling out.

A Green Card is an essential document for non-citizens who want to live and work in the U.S. It grants the holder permanent residency status, providing a variety of benefits. These include rights and opportunities that contribute to economic, social, and familial stability. Additionally, holding a Green Card has paved the way for many foreign nationals to gain full citizenship.

The means of obtaining a Green Card can be broadly categorized into two: sponsored and unsponsored. Unsponsored pathways are often more appealing because they give foreign nationals greater autonomy, flexibility, and control over their immigration process.

Unsponsored Green Card options offer independence from sponsors, which can be hard to find and arrange in the first place. These pathways allow foreign nationals to plan their immigration journeys according to their own personal and professional goals.

This article will summarize the different unsponsored pathways to obtaining a U.S. Green Card.

Five Pathways to Get a Green Card Without Sponsorship

Unsponsored Green Card pathways are ideal for foreign nationals who do not have job offers or family members to fund their immigration to the U.S. Below are five common options.

EB-1A Extraordinary Ability

A group of women athletes celebrating victory with medals and a cup.

The EB-1A visa, also known as the “Extraordinary Ability” Green Card, is one of the first preference employment-based immigration categories. It benefits a very select group of individuals who have extraordinary ability in their field, including the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics.

EB-1A applicants must demonstrate that they meet at least three out of 10 criteria set by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or provide evidence of a single extraordinary achievement, like prizes such as a Pulitzer, Oscar, or Olympic medal. Once EB-1A applicants confirm they qualify and gather proof of their extraordinary ability, they can start their visa process by filing Form I-140.

The EB-1A category allows applicants to self-petition and has shorter processing times than other employment-based categories. However, it is highly competitive, and only a small percentage of applicants qualify.

EB-2 National Interest Waiver

A scientist holding a pipette over a beaker.

Normally, obtaining an EB-2 visa requires a job offer from a U.S. employer and a labor certification from the Department of Labor. This type of visa is granted when no qualified U.S. workers are available for the job.

However, the EB-2 National Interest Waiver (NIW) is a special category that allows eligible applicants to waive these conditions. That is, successful applicants can request that the job offer and labor certification requirements be set aside because their admission to the U.S. would greatly benefit the nation.

To qualify for the NIW, applicants must have an advanced degree (a master’s degree or higher) or a bachelor’s degree with at least five years of experience in their field. If the applicant does not have an advanced degree, they can qualify based on exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business. In addition to these requirements, the USCIS evaluates NIW petitions based on these three core criteria.

NIW candidates also file Form I-140 to begin their visa processing. They should gather important documentation, as well, such as a detailed petition letter explaining how they meet the NIW criteria and other supporting documents.

While NIW candidates do not need to undergo the complex labor certification process, proving that their work is of national interest can be difficult, and the documentation requirements are strict.

Diversity Visa Lottery

A group of people sitting in chairs with application documents and folders in their hands.

The Diversity Visa (DV) Lottery is a U.S. government program designed to promote immigration diversity. As many as 55,000 diversity visas are available each year to individuals from countries with low immigration rates to the United States.

The lottery entry period typically opens once a year, usually in the fall. Applicants apply through the official diversity visa lottery website, where they provide personal information, including name, date of birth, gender, country of eligibility, and contact information.

The U.S. Department of State randomly selects winners and publishes them on the official diversity visa lottery website, usually in May of the following year. If selected, applicants will need to use their confirmation number to verify their selection.

Selected applicants need to complete and submit the DS-260 application form. They will then undergo a medical examination and attend an interview at a U.S. embassy. At that stage, applicants must have all required documents, including the interview appointment letter, DS-260 confirmation page, and medical examination results.

If the U.S. Department of State approves the visa application, the candidate will receive a Green Card, granting them permanent residence in the U.S.

EB-4 Special Immigrant

A close-up of a soldier's hands folded on a U.S. flag.

The EB-4 visa is an employment-based fourth preference category designed for “special immigrants.” It covers a variety of specific groups who do not fit into the more traditional employment-based visa categories. Eligible groups for the EB-4 visa include:

Religious Workers

This includes ministers and non-ministers in religious occupations. Applicants must have been active members of a religious group for at least two years before applying.

Special Immigrant Juveniles (SIJ)

Minors in the U.S. who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned and are under juvenile court supervision.

Certain Broadcasters

Employees of the U.S. International Broadcasting Bureau of the Broadcasting Board of Governors or grantees.

Certain Physicians

This includes certain foreign physicians who have been practicing medicine in the U.S. for many years.

Members of the U.S. Armed Forces

Certain foreign nationals who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces for at least 12 years.

Panama Canal Zone Employees

Employees who worked in the Panama Canal Zone in certain capacities on or before September 30, 1979.


  • Employees of the U.S. government who are abroad alongside their family members.
  • Retired officers or employees of a G-4 international organization or NATO-6 civilian employees and their family members.
  • Non-citizens who have supplied information about a criminal organization or enterprise or a terrorist organization, enterprise, or operation.

EB-4 applicants begin their visa processing by filing Form I-360. They can also file the Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant. After USCIS reviews and approves the immigration case, the applicant can file Form I-485 for adjustment of status before eventually receiving their Green Card.

EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program

An alien entrepreneur shaking hands with an EB-5 regional center representative.

The EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program is an immigration program that aims to stimulate U.S. economic growth by creating jobs and attracting foreign investment. It provides an opportunity for foreigners to get Green Cards by investing in a new commercial enterprise (NCE) in the U.S.

To qualify for an EB-5 visa, applicants must invest at least $1,050,000—or $800,000 in a targeted employment area (TEA). The investment must also create at least ten full-time jobs for U.S. workers.

There are two types of EB-5 investments: direct investments and regional center investments. That is, investors may either invest directly in an NCE or through regional centers designated by USCIS. Regional center investments are more popular because they have relatively simpler requirements and offer the flexibility of not having to manage the business daily.

The EB-5 visa process starts with Form I-526E. Once this is approved, investors and their immediate family members (spouse and unmarried children under 21) may apply for conditional permanent residency. If they are already in the U.S., eligible candidates can adjust their status by filing Form I-485 concurrently with their Form I-526E. However, those outside the country will have to go through consular processing.

After investors have maintained their investment for a minimum of two years and created the required jobs, they will be eligible to file Form I-829 to remove conditions on permanent resident status. If approved, the investor and their family members become unconditional permanent residents. They can apply for citizenship by naturalization after five years of getting their conditional Green Card.

Depending on their nationality and investment category, EB-5 applicants may face challenges like long processing times. However, new applicants investing in rural EB-5 projects can benefit from reserved visa quotas and priority processing, allowing them to get their Green Cards much faster than usual.

Other Options and Special Cases

For those looking to get a Green Card without family or job sponsorship, there are several special options available. Asylum and refugee status can lead to a Green Card for those who face persecution in their home country due to their race, religion, nationality, social group, or political views. After one year of being granted asylum or refugee status, they can apply for permanent resident status.

Victims of certain crimes can apply for a U visa if they have suffered serious abuse and are helping law enforcement. Similarly, the T visa is for victims of human trafficking who assist law enforcement. After three years on a U or T visa, they can apply for a Green Card.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allows abused spouses, children, or parents of U.S. citizens or permanent residents to self-petition for a Green Card without the abuser’s knowledge. This helps protect them and their independence during the process.

Secure an EB-5 Visa With EB5AN

A hand holding a green card with the EB5AN logo on it.

Choosing unsponsored pathways to become permanent residents in the U.S. offers foreign nationals greater autonomy. However, this independence can come with challenges, such as extensive documentation requirements, high eligibility standards, and various legal complexities.

For those particularly interested in the EB-5 visa pathway, EB5AN can provide the support you need. EB5AN is a leading EB-5 firm with decades of experience in the industry. We have successfully guided over 2,300 families from 60 countries through the EB-5 process.

To learn how you can achieve permanent residency in the U.S. through the EB-5 program, book a free consultation with our expert team today.