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.See all posts Frank Gogol
J1 Visa to Green Card: How to Become a Permanent Resident in the U.S.
Holding a J1 visa and having the experience of living in America might inspire you to seek permanent residency. However, the journey from J1 to a green card is complex, and not every J1 visa holder is eligible. Before attempting to navigate the complicated application process, it’s crucial to understand your eligibility as an applicant. Learn more about the journey from a J1 visa to the status of a Green Card holder within the United States, along with its costs, possible obstacles and how to manage them.
Is it Possible to Transfer from J1 to Green Card Status in the U.S.?
Transitioning from a J1 visa to a green card in the U.S. is possible when taking the correct steps, guided by a legitimate government agency like USCIS, but not everyone qualifies. The J1 is not a “dual intent” visa, and J1 holders must initially prove intent to return to their home country after the duration of their status expires. As an example of the process, we will explore the common blockers for transitioning from a J1 visa to a green card holder.
Obstacles to Transitioning from J1 to a Green Card
Transitioning from a J1 visa to a U.S. green card presents several challenges. While the aspiration for permanent residence in the U.S. is understandable, J1 visa holders face specific legal and procedural hurdles. This path is not the simplest way to get permanent residency, let’s delve into these obstacles:
J1 visa holders must show they lack immigrant intent when applying. This entails confirming the intention to return home post-visa expiry. To start the green card application process, for example, you’d need to prove that unexpected personal circumstances led to your change in intent, such as marrying a U.S. citizen.
Two-Year Foreign Residence Requirement
Under Section 212(e) of the INA, certain J1 visa holders must return to their home country for two years before pursuing a green card. This rule ensures participants bring the acquired skills back to their native land. As another step that applicants need to follow, the requirement generally applies if:
- Your exchange program was funded by the U.S. or your home country’s government.
- Your home country lacks professionals in your field.
- You’ve undergone medical training in the U.S.
Upon applying, you’ll be informed if this government agency rule applies to you, usually indicated on your Form DS-2019. Your visa stamp should also mention this. If in doubt, an advisory opinion from the U.S. Department of State can provide clarity. Changing your immigration status doesn’t exempt you from this rule if you were ever bound by Section 212(e).
What Is a J1 Waiver?
A J1 waiver can help J1 visa holders bypass challenges like the two-year foreign residence rule. There are four ways to obtain this waiver, which can be crucial in the application process, include:
- Securing a No Objection statement from your home country, indicating they don’t oppose your permanent U.S. stay.
- Proving potential persecution in your home country.
- Demonstrating substantial financial hardship if you return home.
- Being sponsored by a U.S. federal agency for permanent residence.
However, petitioning for a green card may lead to J1 visa revocation due to “immigrant intent.” Since J1 is a nonimmigrant visa, sponsors avoid being seen as gateways to green card status. Engaging an immigration attorney skilled in showcasing no immigrant intent can be beneficial, but for example, you should still consider your options carefully.
How to Apply for a J1 Waiver
Below, you will find a brief overview of how to apply for the J1 waiver. For more comprehensive instructions on ways to navigate this process, check out our post on applying for the J1 waiver.
- Submit DS-3035 Online: Use the U.S. Department of State’s J Visa Waiver Online Service to complete the DS-3035 form. Print the submitted form, which will show a unique barcode and case number.
- Assemble Your Application:Collate the following:
- Printed DS-3035.
- Copies of all DS-2019s and IAP-66s received.
- Two self-addressed, legal-sized stamped envelopes.
- A $120 check or money order, payable to the U.S. Department of State. (Non-refundable).
- Mail the Package: Dispatch your compiled items to the Department of State in St. Louis, Missouri for initial processing.
J1 to Green Card: 4 Options
Once you have obtained a J1 waiver, you have three different steps or options for submitting the waiver. The best way for you will depend on your particular immigration status, whether or not you are subject to the two-year foreign residence rule, and if you can prove a lack of immigrant intent.
There are three general ways for applying to transition to a green card from the J1 visa. They include:
- Concurrent Submission: Visitors can simultaneously submit the J1 waiver and the immigrant petition, ensuring evidence is provided that their initial intention wasn’t permanent U.S. residence.
- Sequential Submission: Apply for the J-1 waiver first, then, once approved, submit the immigrant petition.
- Reversed Sequential: First submit the immigrant petition and upon its approval, submit the J-1 waiver.
For some applicants, transitioning from J-1 to another type of visa like O-1, L-1, or H-1B is preferable as these visa types have dual intent, ensuring no unintentional violation of J-1 visa status.
Physicians in the United States, for example, have a unique pathway:
- Post J-1 waiver approval, either:
- Their U.S. employers file for the PERM Labor Certification.
- Or, they file for an EB-2 green card with the National Interest Waiver (NIW).
- With a PERM approval, the employer files for I-140, after which the physician files for I-485 for status adjustment, post-completion of J-1 Conrad 30 requirements.
- Under the NIW option, physicians can submit both the I-140 and NIW simultaneously. However, they must commit to working in underserved areas for five years to secure their green card.
A J-1 visitor marrying a U.S. citizen or permanent resident can transition via the route of obtaining citizenship, key to this is the interview process. This involves due education on the immigration regulations and proper documentation to navigate the transition smoothly.
- J-1 with No Two-Year Requirement: Begin the marriage-based green card process immediately.
- J-1 with a Two-Year Requirement: Obtain a waiver to release the obligation of returning home before starting the green card process.
The 90-day rule requires careful consideration; submitting an application within 90 days of U.S. entry may be viewed skeptically by immigration officers. It would be influential to consider earlier consultation with a consulate official, to garner adequate insight before such a massive step in obtaining U.S. citizenship.
Two Avenues for Green Card through Marriage:
- Marrying a U.S. Citizen:
- Citizen spouse submits the family sponsorship form (I-130).
- Visitor then submits the green card application (I-485).
- Marrying a Permanent Resident:
- Resident spouse submits the I-130.
- Upon approval, a visa number is dispatched. Once received, the visitor can apply for a green card.
For both paths, the authenticity of the marriage needs affirmation, and this can be done through a formal interview. If married to a permanent resident, the visitor should ensure they receive a visa number before their DS-2019 expiration. Otherwise, they must return home and reapply, with the correct paperwork and through the consulate in their home country.
Extending the J-1 Visa
The J-1 visa extension provides visitors an opportunity to extend their stay beyond their initial visa expiration, allowing them time to seek stable employment. While it’s commonly used by various categories of visitors, certain conditions must be met.
Eligibility for J-1 Visa Extension
Research scholars, college professors, school teachers, specialists, au pairs, government visitors, medical residents, summer workers, business trainees, international visitors, college and university students, and flight aviation trainees are amongst those frequently granted J-1 visa extensions. To be eligible, they must provide adequate documentation of their purpose, which includes but is not limited to employment contracts and educational transcripts.
- You must currently be in valid J-1 status.
- Your sponsor must have filed the DS-2019 on your behalf.
Documents Required for Extension
- Proof of financial means to sustain yourself for a year, especially if your sponsoring program isn’t covering tuition, fees, or living expenses.
- A compelling reason for extending your stay, such as awaiting visa number allocation.
- Completed forms DS-2019, I-94, and IAP-66.
- Proof of health insurance for both you and any dependents for the proposed extended period.
- Any additional supporting documents.
While the SEVIS fee isn’t required during this extension process, other fees, which might include processing fees for paperwork related to employment or citizenship application, might be applicable.
Once your J-1 visa extension is approved, you’ll receive a new DS-2019 with an updated expiration date. This new date will also be updated in the SEVIS system. If you have dependents with J-2 visas, you don’t need separate applications for each one; a single application suffices for both the primary J-1 visa holder and the J-2 dependents. However, proper documentation should be in place to avoid hindrances at the consulate.
J1 to Green Card Processing Time
Transitioning from a J1 visa to a green card entails varying processing times based on the green card class and specific circumstances. Processing a PERM certification typically takes 60 days for the initial recruitment, and another 6 months for the Department of Labor to make a decision on your application. You may also have to submit a Form I-140, which involves verification of your education and employment history and an average of 6 months of processing time as well.
Cost of Transition from a J1 Visa to a Green Card
Visitors on a J-1 visa have two primary pathways to attain permanent residence: an adjustment of status or consular processing. Both routes come with associated costs, including paperwork for confirming one’s education, employment, and citizenship status.
1. Adjustment of Status: Both the visitor and their employer share the responsibility of covering these fees. This also includes costs attributed to employment documentation.
- I-140 Filing Fee: $700.
- I-485 Application Fee: Ranges between $750 and $1,450.
- Biometrics Fee: $85.
2. Consular Processing: For this route, the costs to be borne by the visitor and the employer include fees for paperwork involved in the consulate procedures.
- I-140 Filing Fee: $700.
- DS-260 Online Immigrant Application: $230.
- Optional Fees: Depending on the applicant, there might be an additional $85 for biometrics and an $88 affidavit fee.
- Guide to Teacher Visas in the USA
- J1 to H1B and J1 to F1: How to Change Your J1 Visa Status
- Can a J1 Visa Be Extended?
- Guide to Jobs for Filipino Teachers in the USA
- How to Apply for a J1 Visa Waiver
- Complete Guide to J1 Visa Sponsors
The complexities of transitioning from J1 visa status to permanent resident status can be too much for many people, not to mention the exorbitant cost of this transition. However, with the information detailed above, and potentially the help of an immigration attorney, you can determine the path that will give you the best chance of success.
J1 Visa to Green Card FAQ
Below, you will find some common questions about transitioning to a green card from a J1 visa and their answers.
What is a J-1 -Exchange Visitor Visa?
The J-1 visa is a unique nonimmigrant visa that covers a specific range of individuals. These individuals are allowed to come to the U.S. for a work-study based exchange program in their field of expertise, which can pave the way for them to secure employment and eventually transition to a permanent resident status.
Is it possible for a J-1 visa holder to obtain permanent residence (Green Card)?
Yes, it is possible. However, hurdles such as proving no initial dual intent and changes in personal circumstances must be overcome. Additionally, the 2-year requirement waiver application, which includes Form DS-3035 and I-612, might be necessary. This is where a previous documentation of your education and employment could come in handy during the interview process.
What is the two-year home rule under Section 212(e)?
This rule requires some J-1 visa holders to return to their home country for 2 years after completing their Exchange Visitor Program.
What is a J-1 waiver?
The J-1 visa waiver allows visa holders to change their status to permanent residents without the mandated 2-year stay in their home country, as stipulated by Section 212(e).
How to file for a J-1 visa waiver?
To apply, file Form DS-3035 online, pay the associated fee, and submit Form I-612 with relevant supporting documents. Proper documentation of your consultancy at a consulate could be beneficial.
How much does it cost to file for a J-1 waiver?
The filing fee is $930.
What are the options for a J-1 visa holder to stay in the U.S. after the Exchange Visitor Program is complete?
The most common pathways are through the O-1 or H-1B visa. Additionally, a J-1 visa holder who marries a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident can be sponsored for a Green Card. In most cases, a J-1 waiver will need to be filed to remain in the U.S. while adjusting the status. Proper interview and documentation will be critical steps in this transition.