Complete Guide for Transitioning from F1 to Green Card

Updated on February 6, 2024

At a Glance

  • F1 students can apply for a green card through various methods, including: Employer sponsorship, Marriage to a US citizen, Seeking asylum, The green card lottery, Sponsorship by a relative who owns a business, Participating in military service, or Through parent or child sponsorship.
  • Once you obtain a green card, you have rights such as: Permanent residency, The right to work, Protection under the law, A driver’s license, and The right to bear arms.
  • However, you also have responsibilities, including: Following the law, Registering with Selective Service, Filing income taxes, Supporting the US government, Carrying proof of residency, Informing DHS of address changes, and Having health insurance.

If you are an international student living and studying in the US, there is a good chance you are interested in living here permanently, especially if you want to find a high-paying job to help pay off all of your student loans.

There are a number of ways an F1 student visa holder can become a permanent resident, but it can be hard to know which way is best for you. Read on to see which option best fits your situation.

Read on to learn more, or check out our video OPT to US Permanent Residency Steps Explained!

Can F1 Students Apply for a Green Card?

The short answer? Yes. In fact, you already have a slight leg up, since you are legally living in the US. Below are 7 ways you can transition from an F1 student visa holder to a permanent resident.

7 Ways F1 Students Can Get a Green Card

There are seven ways you can get a green card as an F1 student:

  1. Receive Employer Sponsorship
  2. Marry a US Citizen
  3. Seek Asylum
  4. Win the Green Card Lottery
  5. Receive Sponsorship by a Relative Who Owns a Business
  6. Participate in Military Service
  7. Receive Parent or Child Sponsorship

Below, we discuss each of those ways!

1. Receive Employer Sponsorship

If you attain employment while studying, you can have your employer sponsor you. Ask the company you work for to make an application for you for an EB-2 or EB-3 employment-based green card.

2. Marry a US Citizen

You can also get a green card if you marry a US citizen. Note that you will have to prove that your relationship is legitimate (not simply a ploy to get residency). The process is quite rigorous and can involve interviews, background checks, and examination of documents you provide to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

3. Seek Asylum

If returning to your home country would put your life in danger—if there is a civil war occurring or you are a member of a persecuted minority or group—you can petition for asylum. USCIS goes over these petitions on a case-by-case basis. If you can, consult an immigration lawyer as to the best way to present your case.

4. Win the Green Card Lottery

The Electronic Diversity Visa Lottery is held every year from October to November. It is sometimes called the “green card lottery”—there is no guarantee you will get a green card through this process. Note that certain countries that have sent over 50,000 immigrants to the US in the last 5 years are ineligible, including Canada, South Korea, Mexico, and Canada.

5. Receive Sponsorship by a Relative Who Owns a Business

If you have a relative who owns a business, they can sponsor you for a green card. Your business-owning relative, however, will have to prove that they are hiring you due to your qualifications, rather than because you are related. They must have a recruitment process for the position you would fill and show that they have made a good-faith effort to hire a US candidate, but that none were available or willing to do the job.

6. Participate in Military Service

Normally, you cannot join the military without a green card or work authorization. However, if you have two years of the university you might be eligible for certain high-demand positions in the military, even without a green card. Speak to a military recruiter on your campus about this possibility.

7. Receive Parent or Child Sponsorship

If you have a parent or a child under 18 who is already a legal US citizen, they can sponsor you for your green card.

8 Rights You Will Have a Green Card Holder

After going through the green card process steps and obtaining a green card, you enjoy almost all the rights of a US citizen:

  1. Permanent Residency: Live indefinitely in the US. Certain actions or legal violations can jeopardize this status.
  2. Work: Work freely, except in roles related to homeland security or specific elected positions.
  3. Legal Protection: Be protected under all federal, state, and local laws.
  4. Driver’s License: Easily obtain a license. (Though possible to get one without an SSN, a green card streamlines the process.)
  5. Bear Arms: Purchase and use firearms according to state laws.
  6. Travel: Move and travel freely within the US.
  7. Immediate Family Visas: Secure visas for a spouse or unmarried children under 21.
  8. Social Security Benefits: Access benefits earned through work, including Medicare.

7 Responsibilities You Will Have as Green Card Holder

As a green card holder, you also have certain responsibilities to uphold:

  1. Responsibility to Follow the Law: Obey all federal, state, and local laws.
  2. Responsibility to Register with Selective Service: Males aged 18-25 must register, even though the last draft in the US was in 1973.
  3. Responsibility to File Income Taxes: Report all income to the IRS, just as US citizens do.
  4. Responsibility to Support the US Government: Uphold and support the democratic governance of the US without attempting to alter it illegally.
  5. Responsibility to Carry Proof of Residency Status: Always carry your permanent residency card (green card) as proof.
  6. Responsibility to Inform DHS of Address Changes: Notify the Department of Homeland Security within 10 days of changing your residence.
  7. Responsibility to Have Health Insurance: Ensure you’re insured. You may be eligible for affordable insurance through federal or state healthcare marketplaces.

Remember, with the rights that come with a green card, there are also these responsibilities to uphold.

Other Resources from Stilt

FAQ for F-1 Visa Holders Looking to Obtain a Green Card

For many international students, the United States represents opportunities for advanced education, professional growth, and potentially a long-term home. If you’re an F-1 visa holder interested in obtaining a green card, you likely have several questions about the process. Below are some frequently asked questions to guide you through your journey:

Can an F-1 student obtain a green card?

Yes, an F-1 student can pursue various avenues to obtain a green card, such as through employment, marriage to a U.S. citizen, or other family-based opportunities.

How many years does it take to transition from an F-1 visa to a green card?

The timeline varies based on the specific green card category and other factors like visa backlogs. Generally, it can take anywhere from a few months to several years.

What is the 90-day rule in the context of transitioning from F-1 to a green card?

The 90-day rule is an informal guideline suggesting that an individual should wait at least 90 days after entering the U.S. on a non-immigrant visa (like F-1) before applying for a change of status. This is to demonstrate that they didn’t have preconceived intent to immigrate at the time of entry.

Can I apply for the green card lottery while on an F-1 visa?

Yes, F-1 students can apply for the Diversity Visa Lottery if they are from an eligible country. Being on an F-1 visa does not impact eligibility.

Are F-1 students considered residents after 5 years?

F-1 students are considered non-residents for tax purposes. However, after 5 years, they might be considered residents for tax purposes under the Substantial Presence Test. This is different from being a permanent resident (green card holder).

How can I change my status from an F1 visa to a green card after marriage?

If you marry a U.S. citizen, you can apply for an adjustment of status to become a permanent resident. This typically involves filing the necessary paperwork, attending an interview, and meeting other requirements.

What is the best way for international students to obtain permanent residency?

The best way varies by individual circumstances. Common paths include employment-based sponsorship, marriage to a U.S. citizen, or family-based green card applications.

How long can I stay in the U.S. after my F1 visa expires?

After completing your academic program, you have a 60-day grace period to either depart the U.S., change your status, or start a new program. It’s crucial to maintain legal status and not overstay.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.