How to go from an H-1B visa to a green card in the US
A green card entitles you to live and work permanently in the United States through the H1-B to green card process. It also secures your eligibility for US citizenship should you wish to apply for it. The overview below explains the process for moving from an H1-B visa to green card holder.
Can I apply for a green card while working in the US on an H-1B visa?
If you are in the US working under an H1-B visa and your employer is willing to sponsor your green card, you can apply for a green card. In fact, if you have a permanent job offer with your employer, you should start the green card process as soon as possible. This is because your H1-B visa is good for just 3 years, although it can be extended to 6 years under certain circumstances.
Since the process can take several years, getting an early start helps you maintain legal status while you wait. This is extremely important because if your legal status lapses at any time, your eligibility for permanent status can be automatically denied.
What is the timeline for the H-1B visa to green card process and how do I apply?
In most cases, your employer begins the green card process by filing a labor certification, known as PERM, with the Department of Labor. Your employer must prove that there are no US citizens willing or able to fill your position. It usually takes between 4 and 8 months to get PERM approval. Of note, some job categories do not require PERM approval, such as people in the military and broadcasters.
Your employer will then file a form I-140, or Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker on your behalf. The I-140 certifies that you meet the job requirements and your employer has the resources to pay your salary. At this point, you may be eligible for an H-1B visa extension if it's close to the expiration date.
Once your I-140 is approved, the next step in the H-1B to green card process depends on your priority date. The US restricts the number of employment-based green cards to just 140,000 each year, and these are evenly distributed by country. Your priority date depends on the country of birth, not the country of citizenship; if you have German citizenship but were born in Mexico, for example, your priority date will depend on Mexico's immigrant visa allotment.
You can determine your place in line for an immigrant visa by checking the pending I-485 report published by the USCIS. The report is updated on a quarterly basis. Some applicants wait several years for an available visa, especially those from countries with exceptionally high demand such as China, India, the Philipines, and Mexico.
Once you have a current priority date and an immigrant visa number is available to you from the Department of State, you may file an Adjustment of Status, Form I-485, with the USCIS. This is the final step in the H-1B visa to green card process.
Do I need a lawyer to get my green card?
Some people experience frustration with the US immigration system. Its complex laws and requirements make it difficult for people without legal backgrounds to navigate it effectively. In addition, US immigration law contains several barriers to permanent status, including fairly rigid categories of grounds for inadmissibility. While these can be overcome in some cases, the waiver application process is complex and can easily get derailed.
Technically, people can complete the green card process on their own, especially if their employers are available to help them along. However, with a high-stakes issue such as permanent resident status, most are well served by consulting with a lawyer experienced in immigration law to keep the process on track and head off potential pitfalls.
Understanding the H-1B to green card timeline helps you achieve your goal of permanent status more quickly. Learn as much as you can about the laws that govern this process as well as your rights.