The employment-based Green Card application process can take months, years or even decades. If you’re serious about staying and you’ve already secured your H-1B visa, you’ll want to get started as early as possible.
However, if you’re in the US on an F-1 visa (even if you’re working on an F-1 OPT STEM extension), it’s critical to wait for your H-1B visa. Intent to remain in the US (which the Green Card application process signifies) is grounds for the revocation of your F-1 and removal from the country.
Step-by-step: how to apply for your Green Card
When you have your H-1B visa, the best time to begin the Green Card application process is as soon as possible.
However, you’ll want to wait until you’re sure you want US permanent residency before you start. While you can withdraw from the process at any point, your current employer shoulders the initial costs and files the first petition.
Ready to get started?
1st step: your employer gets PERM certification
Your application starts with your employer. Your company must apply for a Permanent Labor (PERM) certification, which is similar to the Labor Conditions Approval (LCA) needed for an H-1B visa. PERM certification establishes:
- The salary and benefits relevant to your position.
- That there aren’t any qualified American workers for this position.
The latter requires a transparent recruitment process involving 2 newspaper job postings, a job listing with the state workforce agency, and 3 job advertisements. If your employer finds a qualified employee through these means, PERM certification won’t be approved.
Attorneys typically represent both the employee and the employer when filing this petition and the law strictly forbids employees from paying any part of fees for this step, including the attorney fees which can fall between $3000 and $5000 (excluding job advertisements or premium processing). PERM certification usually takes between 4 and 6 months, though premium processing is available for an additional fee ($1225).
2nd step: your employer submits Form I-140
Next, your employer submits Form I-140 to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker. (Rarely, exceptionally qualified persons may file a petition for themselves.) The cost to submit the I-140 is $580, and either the employer or the employee may pay it, but there’s no premium processing to speed the process along.
This petition determines:
- Whether you fall under E-B1, E-B2 or E-B3 classification and the correlating preference levels.
- Your priority date. The day USCIS confirms receipt of Form I-140 becomes your priority date which is your spot in the queue.
Your priority date is critical to your application. You can’t move to the next steps (the actual application) until USCIS is ready to process priority dates for your Green Card class and country. Learn more about priority dates here.
During the time between the I-140 petition submission and actual application, you must remain in the same or similar employment position, placing limits on promotions, transfers and, sometimes, salary increases.
3rd step: you submit Form I-485
Once USCIS reaches the priority date for your Green Card class and country of birth, you’re ready to:
- Submit Form I-485 (which is the actual application for your Green Card).
- Provide the required supporting documentation.
- Pay the $1070 filing fee.
Supporting documentation varies by person, depending on the country of birth, length of residence in the US, dependents, how long they’ve resided in the US, whether they have dependent and more. You can find a current list of supporting documents on the USCIS website.
You’ll also be subject to a USCIS interview at this stage of your application. Upon approval of your I-485, you’ll get a stamp in your passport; the actual Green Card arrives by mail.
Understanding Green Card priority dates
You can only submit your I-485 application when USCIS calls your priority date for processing.
Depending on your country of birth and the priority level of your employment-based visa, the USCIS may not reach your priority date until years, or decades, after your I-140 submission.
This backlog happens when there are more applications for a visa category and preference level than available visas. Overloads are usual for countries with large populations because every country gets the same number of Green Cards per class and preference, no matter how many nationals they have.
While waiting, you can check the monthly updates on which priority dates USCIS is processing for employment visa categories here.
What if your H-1B visa expires before Green Card approval?
What happens when your H1-B will expire before your priority date arrives? Will you need to leave the country?
This is the biggest concern for internationals working on their H-1B visa, especially those from countries where priority dates typically extend 10 years into the past (signifying a long wait before they can even submit their Green Card application).
There are a few ways this can go:
- You’ve already applied for your Green Card (meaning you’ve filed your I-485, Adjustment of Status). You can remain in the US and even let your H-1B lapse while you wait. But, if you want to continue working after H-1B expiration, you’ll need an Employment Authorisation Document (EAD). You’ll also need special permission to travel outside the country.
- Your I-140 petition was accepted, but you haven’t applied for your Green Card only because you haven’t reached your priority date. You can extend your H-1B status past the 6-year maximum. You’ll need to apply for these extensions and ensure you remain in-status until you can apply for permanent residency.
- Your I-140 petition hasn’t yet been accepted, but it was filed before you entered the sixth year of work on your H-1B visa. While the delay in filing pushes your priority date further away, it’s possible to apply for an H-1B extension while you wait for your I-140 to be accepted. Continue with H-1B extensions while waiting for your priority date.
- You haven’t filed your I-140 petition, and you’re already past the sixth year mark of your H-1B visa. You’ll need to leave the country and wait for consular processing outside the US, or you’ll need to qualify, apply for and successfully receive some other visa.
In all cases, you should consult an immigration lawyer. If you find yourself out of status and, therefore, in the US illegally, you could jeopardise your future Green Card status (and the right to return to the US at all).
The #1 thing to do while waiting for Green Card approval
After applying for your Green Card (filing I-485), you can check the current status of your application online.
But, the best thing to do while waiting is to prepare for your future life in the US. That means prioritising your finances.
Waiting for your Green Card? Get your finances in order
With a Green Card, and therefore, no limit on the time you can live in the US or where you can work, you can finally take advantage of the full range of financial products aimed at American citizens and permanent residents. That includes everything from credit cards to home loans and just about everything in between.
While you’re waiting for permanent residency, you’ll likely be on an extension of your H-1B visa or have temporary visa adjustment status, with or without an EAD.
During this time, it’s wise to follow the same credit-building steps you would follow during the standard 6-year H-1B visa time. Moreover, it’s the perfect time to review all your finances and credit building activities.
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The purpose of this guide is to provide prospective students with an overview of the application process for a US student visa and should not be regarded as legal or immigration advice or as a substitute for the official information published by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) from time to time or any instructions and/or advice provided by US embassies and consuls. Whilst we have carefully compiled the guide in accordance with the information published by USCIS, Prodigy Finance Limited does not accept liability for any inaccuracies, mistakes, omissions or outdated information in the guide and we encourage prospective students and other readers to consult the USCIS’s website at https://www.uscis.gov. Prodigy Finance Limited is not authorized by the Department of Justice (DOJ)’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) to provide immigration services and will not provide any additional information or assistance to any person to apply for a US student or other category visa.