What do McDonald’s, Subway, Taco Bell and virtually every other major quick-service restaurant chain have in common?

They are all using the government’s little-known EB-3 Unskilled Visa program to fill entry-level jobs—jobs U.S. employers can’t fill with the existing labor force—with immigrants seeking a path to citizenship.

Seventy-two U.S. McDonald’s franchisees alone—representing 250 store locations—are using the program, enabling nearly 3,200 foreign nationals to get their green cards.

With a lack of Americans willing to take unskilled entry-level jobs—think line cooks, food prep workers, and janitorial positions—combined with the overwhelming turnover that typically plagues those positions in the quick-service industry, how can food service companies hire and retain the employees they need to keep their businesses running smoothly? Foreign nationals seeking U.S. citizenship are eager to find employment stateside in order to gain their green card. Often those with STEM degrees and those with F-1 student visas, are willing and able to take these unskilled jobs that US citizens are not in order to obtain their citizenship and have the opportunity to learn and grow within a company.

Meanwhile, the employers that sponsor these foreign nationals gain smart, driven, eager, talented people who have the potential to move up within an organization, learning the business from the bottom up. This means companies often get top students to work in entry-level jobs who later can advance up the corporate ladder with the benefit of having worked at the entry levels of the company.

Hiring leaders at quick-service restaurant companies who learn about this employment option, called the EB-3 Unskilled Visa Program, often thinks it’s too good to be true. In fact, it is a legitimate government program in place since 1990 that is intended to help organizations fill jobs Americans are unwilling to take, while helping immigrants realize their dream of becoming U.S. Citizens.

Often, when restaurant industry employers need entry-level employees, they train them—and it then becomes a roll of the dice whether they stay or get hired away. If employers consider a workforce that is motivated beyond the entry-level income, however, they have access to an entirely different and longer lasting base of employees.

With an EB-3 unskilled visa, foreign nationals can perform these entry-level jobs on a permanent, full-time basis. Congress has set aside 10,000 visas annually for these types of jobs.

For a quick-service company to hire a non-citizen employee, three phases with the Department of Labor (DOL) establish the employer’s right to sponsor the immigrant visa:

  • First, the employer applies to the DOL for the issuance of a “prevailing wage” for the position. The prevailing wage is the hourly wage, usual benefits, and overtime paid to most workers of a certain occupation within a particular area. An employer must be able to pay the prevailing wage to the intending immigrant to qualify as a sponsor.
  • Second, the employer shows that no U.S. applicant met the minimum requirements for the position by performing a “Labor Market Test.” This “test” involves some limited advertising of the available job.
  • Third, the employer files the Labor Certification Application with the DOL, showing that the employer performed the labor market test and has an immigrant they would like to Sponsor.


While the process typically takes more than a year from the time the prevailing wage is requested at the time the immigrant is given work authorization, as long as the proper steps are followed, approval ratings for these employees are extremely high. The process may seem overwhelming to undertake as an individual employer, but there are agencies in the U.S. that specialize in assisting employers and the intended immigrants through this process at little cost and low risk to the employer/sponsor.

So, where exactly do food service companies find these potential employees? Over a million foreign nationals already reside in the United States as F-1 student visa holders. They have been vetted by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and legally entered the country. For these students looking for opportunities to stay in the U.S. after their education is over, the EB-3 unskilled visa and the opportunity to move up within a company presents an attractive opportunity.

Taking a long-term approach to entry-level hiring using foreign nationals not only serves to ensure the quick-service restaurant industry will grow and thrive, but it offers a win-win investment for the future of the industry—and the future of our country.

Chris Richardson is an immigration attorney, consultant and former U.S. diplomat who served in Nigeria, Nicaragua, Pakistan and Spain. He is currently the General Counsel and COO of BDV Solutions, a consulting company specializing in legal immigration solutions to help resolve labor shortages in industries across the United States. He can be reached at crichardson@bdvsolutions.com. 

Employee Management, Fast Food, Legal, Outside Insights, Story