J1 to Green Card: How to Become a Permanent Resident in the U.S.
Once you have a J1 visa in hand and some experience in America under your belt, it is extremely tempting to take the next step and become a permanent resident. However, the process of transitioning from a J1 visa to a green card is far from simple, and some will not be eligible for a green card at all.
J1 visa holders should explore their eligibility for a green card before attempting to make the transition. This article discusses the process of transitioning from J1 to green card, the related costs, and how you can cover them.
Is it Possible to Transfer from J1 to Green Card Status in the U.S.?
Yes, transitioning from a J1 visa to green card status is possible, but not all J1 visa holders will be eligible for a green card.
There are a number of problems with attempting to transition from a J1 to a green card. For one, the J1 visa is not a “dual intent” visa, which is a nonimmigrant visa that permits visa holders to petition for permanent resident status without affecting their nonimmigrant visa status. Also, to obtain a J1 visa you must prove that you have close ties to your home country and that you plan on returning there after your J1 visa expires.
Two-Year Foreign Residence Requirement
Some J1 visa holders are subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement, under Section 212(e) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). This involves the visa holder returning to their home country for a period of two years before they can apply for a green card. Since the J1 visa is meant as a visitor exchange program, in which countries exchange knowledge, this rule is meant to solidify this exchange and let you bring the skills and knowledge you’ve learned to your home country. However, the two-year foreign residence requirement only applies to the following J1 visa holders:
- Individuals who participated in an exchange program that was financed by the United States federal government, or by the government of the visa holder’s home country
- The U.S. government has designated your home country as having few people with the skill set and expertise in your particular occupation or field
- You have been medically trained in the U.S., either as a resident or intern
Typically, J1 visa holders are told upon applying for their visa whether or not they are subject to the two-year foreign residence requirement. This information will be listed on your Form DS-2019, where the consular officer should indicate your status relevant to the two-year rule. Your visa stamp should also contain information on whether or not this restriction applies to you.
Finally, if you are still uncertain whether or not you are subject to the two-year foreign residence rule, you can request an advisory opinion from the U.S. Department of State. Keep in mind, though, that if you were at any point subject to Section 212(e) of the INA, you will still be subject to the two-year requirement even if your immigration status changes.
Another major obstacle for J1 visa holders intent on transitioning to a green card is that J1 visa holders must prove, upon applying for their visa, that they do not have immigrant intent. This means you must demonstrate your intent to return to your home country when your visa expires. If you seek to transition from J1 to green card, you will have to show that your desire for permanent residence arose from unexpected changes in your personal circumstances. This can include, for instance, if you have married a U.S. citizen.
What Is a J1 Waiver?
A J1 waiver can let you circumvent some of the obstacles preventing J1 visa holders from getting permanent resident status, like the two-year foreign residence rule. There are four options for obtaining a J1 waiver:
- Obtain a No Objection statement from the government of your home country which stipulates that your country of origin does not object to you staying permanently in the U.S.
- You can demonstrate to the U.S. government that the government of your home country may subject you to persecution if you return.
- You can demonstrate to the U.S. government that returning to your home country you will incur significant financial hardship.
- If a specific agency of the U.S. federal government sponsors your permanent residence by requesting your presence in the U.S.
Another obstacle that may arise in obtaining a J1 waiver is that your visa sponsor may revoke your J1 visa once you petition for a green card. This goes back to the issue of immigrant intent. A J1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa, and visa sponsors don’t want a reputation with the U.S. government as a J1 program that noncitizens use to transition to green card status. Having an immigration attorney with expertise in demonstrating a lack of immigrant intent may be helpful.
J1 to Green Card Process Options
Once you have obtained a J1 waiver, you have three different options for submitting the waiver. Which is the best option 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. Consulting an immigration attorney can help you determine which of the three following options gives you the best chance of success:
- Submit your immigrant petition together with your J1 waiver, along with proof that you did not initially have immigrant intent upon obtaining your J1 visa.
- Submit your J1 waiver first, wait until it is approved, and then submit your immigrant petition.
- Submit your immigration petition first, wait until it is approved, then submit your J1 waiver.
Many J1 visa holders seeking permanent resident status also first change their visa status to a nonimmigrant visa with dual intent, like an H-1B. This lets them avoid potentially violating the terms of their J1 visa and the problem of immigrant intent.
J1 to Green Card Processing Time
The processing time for transitioning from a J1 visa to a green card will vary based on your circumstances and the class of green card you’re seeking.
If you first change your visa status to a nonimmigrant visa with dual intent, then your processing time will be subject to the typical wait times and processing for that particular visa. If you seek an H-1B, for instance, you must enter the annual lottery.
Also, you will need a PERM Labor Certification if you choose an EB-2 or EB-3 green card. To obtain a PERM certification, your employer must advertise your position extensively for a given length of time. This ensures that the job is not being given to an immigrant before a qualified American citizen. 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 an average of 6 months of processing time as well. The USCIS will give your Form I-140 a priority date, at which point you can file to adjust your status.
Finally, adjusting your immigration status also involves filing a Form I-485, which takes an average 6 months of processing time along with the I-140 and PERM certification. Therefore, in addition to the 60 day recruitment period for a PERM Certification, you can expect 6 months of processing time for all the relevant forms if you submit them at the same time.
Also, consular processing can speed up the processing time for your petition, but it will require that you return to your home country for an interview with the U.S. consulate.
Cost of Transition from a J1 Visa to a Green Card
The cost of transitioning from a J1 visa to a green card will also depend on whether you adjust your status or go through consular processing.
If you will adjust your status, you or your employer must pay the following fees:
- Form I-140: $700 filing fee
- Form I-485: $750-$1,450 for the Form I-485. See the payment chart on the USCIS website to see where you stand.
- Mandatory biometrics: $85
If you submit to consular processing, you or your employer will be responsible for the following fees:
- Form I-140: $700 filing fee
- Form DS-260: $230 filing fee
- Biometrics: $85 fee
- Affidavit of Support: $88 fee
You may incur substantial attorney fees as well, on top of these costs, depending on the complexity of your transition.
How to Get a Personal Loan to Cover Your J1 to Green Card Fees
As you can see, the cost of transitioning to a green card is not insubstantial and is one of the biggest obstacles J1 visa holders face to obtaining permanent resident status. However, there are funding options available for noncitizens in the U.S. While immigrants are often denied credit and loans because of their lack of credit history and temporary status, lenders like Stilt are geared specifically towards immigrants.
Taking out a personal loan from Stilt involves a simple three-step process:
- Submit an application: First, you must complete an online application, detailing your personal and financial information and the amount that you are requesting. You will also be asked to submit to a soft credit-pull.
- Receive a decision: You will receive a decision on your application within a couple of days. If your application meets Stilt’s minimum eligibility requirements, then you will qualify for an amount and an interest rate. You can choose a term length that suits your financial needs a well. Once you agree to an amount and term length, you then sign a promissory note agreeing to the terms and will receive the funds.
- Start making payments: With the funds in your account, you can start making monthly payments on your loan.
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. Furthermore, a personal loan can help you cover the cost without breaking the bank.