How to Pay for You OPT to Green Card Transition
So you are an immigrant in America and your Optional Practical Training (OPT) is about to expire, what do you do next? The goal of many visa holders on OPT is to transition to a green card, which confers permanent resident status.
However, there are costs involved with transitioning from OPT to a green card, and the process can be lengthy and complex. This article delves into the OPT-to-green-card transition and shows you how you can cover these costs without breaking the bank.
What is OPT?
Optional Practical Training provides F-1 students with a window of opportunity to get job training or internships in their field of study. Pre-completion OPT is for students currently in school, while post-completion OPT is for students who have already graduated.
F-1 students can complete up to 12 months of pre-completion OPT, though their work hours cannot exceed 20/week. Post-completion OPT is also up to 12 months in length, though STEM students can extend their OPT to 24 months. Also, graduates utilizing post-completion OPT can work full- or part-time hours.
Benefits of Obtaining a Green Card
Green cards are highly sought-after by immigrants because they offer numerous protections that cannot be obtained through visa status. See the following section for a few examples of the benefits of having a green card.
Since a green card confers permanent residency, unlike with a visa, green card holders do not need to constantly reapply for legal status. Green card status is renewed only once every ten years by filing a Form 1-551.
Getting back into the country after leaving can be difficult on a visa. Many visa holders will lose their visa status upon leaving the country and cannot reenter. Green card holders have fewer restrictions on travel and can reenter the country as long as they do not leave for more than six months. After being outside the country for six months, American customs may challenge your intent to reside in the country.
Green card holders who work for at least ten years before retiring are eligible for retirement benefits, including Social Security.
How to Transition from OPT to a Green Card: 5 Options
Transitioning from OPT to a green card is not a straightforward process, and there are multiple options for transitioning that you can explore. We list a few in the following section.
Get an Employer Sponsorship
One of the main avenues for obtaining a green card is through an eligible employer. The employer offers the green card applicant a job and sponsors them by covering many of the costs involved with obtaining a green card. There are three categories of employment-based sponsorship: EB-1 for priority workers, EB-2 for professionals with advanced degrees, and EB-3 skilled workers and professionals.
Enter the Green Card Lottery
Another option is entering the green card lottery, where a certain number of green cards are allotted to applicants each year. However, eligibility for the green card lottery depends on the applicant’s country of origin. If more than 50,000 people have immigrated from your country to the U.S. over the past five years, you will not be eligible.
Marry a U.S. Citizen
Besides employment, the most common way of obtaining a green card is through marriage. The legitimacy of such marriages are investigated thoroughly by the USCIS, however, so expect to face rigorous questioning and background checks.
Petition for Asylum
Individuals can obtain green cards by petitioning for asylum. This option is only available for immigrants or refugees from war-torn countries, or individuals who face persecution in their home country. These petitions are reviewed extremely carefully, and the application process is lengthy.
Find a Relative to Sponsor You
Relatives can sponsor you for a green card if they own a business and can potentially employ you. The biggest hurdle for this sponsorship is that the relative must prove to USCIS that tried and failed to fill the position with a U.S. citizen.
The Cost of a Green Card
So the three most common methods of obtaining a green card are marriage-based, employment-sponsored, and family-sponsored. How much does each of these options cost? See the following section for details.
Cost of an Employment-Based Green Card
There is a range of fees involved in filing for an employment-based green card, most of which are covered by the employer. However, depending on the situation, green card applicants may have to cover some of these costs themselves. These include:
- A Permanent Labor Certification (PERM): $4000-$7000
- Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status) filing fee: $1225, including an $85 biometrics fee
The total cost of employment-based sponsorship, including attorney fees, regularly runs to $10,000. Employment-based green cards are the most expensive to petition since the employer must demonstrate their efforts to first hire an American citizen.
Cost of a Marriage-Based Green Card
A marriage-based green card costs as much as $4,000, including attorney fees. As with the employment-based green card, marriage-based green card petitioners must pay a $1225 fee to file a Form I-485. In addition, applicants must submit a Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiance, which costs $535.
Cost of a Family-Sponsored Green Card
A family-sponsored green card requires the filing of a Form I-485, with the filing fee of $1225. Petitioners also must file a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, which has a $535 fee.
Are There Loans for Transitioning from OPT to a Green Card?
While employers typically cover most of the associated costs of petitioning for employment-based green cards, other petitioners will likely have to cover the costs themselves. The fees involved often run into the thousands, an expense many simply cannot afford. However, one viable alternative for funding your OPT to green card transition is with a personal loan.
Taking out a personal loan is simple and quick, and can give you immediate access to funds so that you can stay in the United States and boost your potential future earnings. The process is as follows:
- Fill out an application: this typically involves divulging important financial information and personal history, along with authorizing a soft credit-pull.
- Receive a decision: The lender will have certain minimum eligibility requirements, often involving a minimum credit score or income. If your application meets these requirements, your application will be accepted. You will qualify for an interest rate, amount, and loan term.
- Receive the funds: If the terms offered are agreeable, then you just sign a promissory note and receive the funds. Once the funds are in your account, you start making monthly payments.
Shouldering the costs of obtaining a green card can be burdensome, but the benefits make it more than worthwhile. With the option of a personal loan, you can avoid paying the full cost upfront, and instead spread it out over months or years. This will let you take advantage of your increased earning potential in the United States.