H-1B Visa to a Green Card Process Explained

Updated on April 12, 2024

Transitioning from an H-1B visa to a green card in the United States involves a multifaceted process that demands meticulous planning and understanding of immigration laws. This guide illuminates the various stages of this transition, from confirming eligibility to navigating sector-specific considerations and family-based immigration options. Whether you’re in the high-tech industry, healthcare, finance, or international business, comprehending the nuances of each pathway is crucial for a successful transition to permanent residency.

30 Second Recap:

Transitioning from an H-1B visa to a green card in the U.S. is a complex process involving eligibility confirmation, documentation, and sector-specific considerations. Understanding the various employment-based visa categories, such as EB-1 to EB-5, is essential, as is navigating challenges like processing delays and backlogs. Whether in technology, healthcare, finance, or international business, individuals must grasp the intricacies of each pathway for a smooth transition to permanent residency.

Understanding the H-1B to Green Card Process

Transitioning from an H-1B visa to a green card involves several stages and requires a clear understanding of immigration law, eligibility criteria, and the necessary paperwork. This transition is made possible because the H-1B is a dual-intent visa, which allows you to pursue employment-based permanent residency.

Eligibility and Visa Categories

To be eligible for a green card as an H-1B holder, you must fall into one of the employment-based (EB) visa categories:

  • EB-1: For outstanding professors and researchers, or those with extraordinary ability in certain fields.
  • EB-2: Requires an advanced degree or its equivalent, or a foreign national who has shown exceptional ability.
  • EB-3: For skilled workers, professionals, or other workers.
  • EB-4: Special immigrants, including certain religious workers.
  • EB-5: For investors in new commercial enterprises.

Required Forms and Legal Documentation

The green card process typically begins with your employer filing a Form I-140, known as the Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker. You will need a PERM labor certification approved by the Department of Labor (DOL), except in some EB-1 and EB-2 categories. Essential forms also include:

  • ETA Form 9089: For labor certification.
  • Form I-485: Adjustment of Status application when residing in the U.S.

Need help with your H-1B visa?

The H-1B visa process is complex, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. If you’re struggling to understand all of the moving parts, let Stilt help. Our team of H-1B visa experts can help you make sense of all the eligibility requirements, documents, and the application process.

The Adjustment of Status Procedure

Once your I-140 petition is approved and a visa is available in your category, as indicated by the visa bulletin, you can file for Adjustment of Status using Form I-485. During this process, you may apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and Advance Parole.

Paths to Employment-Based Permanent Residency

You maintain lawful H-1B status while your green card application undergoes processing. Visa availability varies by country and category, with five distinct paths correlating with the EB-1 to EB-5 categories.

Overcoming Challenges and Delays

Delays often occur due to backlogs and shifts in immigration policies. If confronted with delays, you can renew your H-1B visa to maintain lawful status. An immigration lawyer can provide guidance, especially if encountering complex challenges such as job portability or filing deadline confusions.

Life After Receiving the Green Card

Upon receiving your green card, or Permanent Resident Card, you become a lawful permanent resident with nearly all the rights of U.S. citizens, barring some exceptions like voting. Naturalization can be the next step, typically after five years of permanent residency.

How to Transition from an H1B Visa to a Green Card

Image shows the steps to transition from an H1B visa to a green card.

Transitioning from an H1B visa to a Green Card involves a systematic process. Most H-1B visa holders generally apply under the EB-1, EB-2, or EB-3 categories. It’s recommended to initiate this H1B to Green Card process early. Here are the three primary Green Card process steps to guide your application:

  1. Apply for PERM Labor Certification
  2. Submit Form I-140
  3. Submit Form I-485

Read on to learn about each step.

Step 1: Apply for PERM Labor Certification

The first step is the PERM Labor Certification.

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. The employer must begin the recruitment process to ascertain that no qualified US candidates can fill your position.
  2. The employer must publicize the job vacancy. This encompasses two Sunday newspaper advertisements, a listing with the state workforce agency, and three supplementary ads.
  3. The employer must apply for a Permanent Labor (PERM) certification on your behalf.
  4. The employer must meet the prevailing wage for your role and ensure your salary aligns.
  5. The employer must complete the ETA 9809 form.
Advice Icon Frank’s Advice: The PERM Labor Certification is your first big hurdle. You’ll want to work closely with your employer throughout this process. Ensure they understand the meticulous nature of the recruitment steps – this isn’t just a formality. Also, it’s crucial that they pay you at least the prevailing wage for your role. Any discrepancy here can be a red flag. The ETA 9809 form? Make sure it’s filled out accurately; any errors can set you back months.

Step 2: Submit Form I-140

With your PERM certification in hand, it’s time to elevate your status.

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Submit the I-140 form, known as the Immigration Petition for Alien Worker.

Once USCIS acknowledges your petition, you’ll be assigned a priority date. Keep an eye on this date; it’s your gate pass to the next step.

Advice Icon Frank’s Advice: Once you’ve got your PERM, it’s time for the I-140 form. Here’s the thing – this form is all about showcasing your qualifications and the necessity of your role. Don’t just passively submit it. Work with your employer or an attorney to make a compelling case. And once it’s in, keep a vigilant eye on your priority date. That date is your ticket to the final stage, so mark it in your calendar, set reminders, and stay informed.

Step 3: Submit Form I-485

The last step is to complete and submit Form I-485. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Wait until your priority date is up.
  2. File Form I-485 with USCIS (This is your official request to adjust your status).

Upon approval, a fresh stamp graces your passport, signifying your metamorphosis from H1B to Green Card status. And in a blink, your Green Card will find its way to your mailbox.

Advice Icon Frank’s Advice: Filing Form I-485 is like crossing the finish line, but it’s not without its challenges. Timing is everything. File too early, and you risk a rejection; file too late, and you might miss your window. Also, prepare for a possible interview. It’s like the final exam after a long course of study – be prepared to validate your application and showcase your readiness for permanent residency. And remember, patience is key.

H1B to Green Card Fees

Like with nearly all visa and immigration-related applications, moving from an H1B visa to a Green Card has a cost. These fees are paid in part by an H1B visa holder’s employer, but also in part by the visa holder himself. Below is a breakdown of the fees required to make the transition from an H1B visa to a Green Card.

  • $2,000 to $5,000 to file a PERM certification
  • These fees are paid for by the employer

Application Fees

  • $700 to file the I-140 form
  • $1,140 to file the I-485 form
  • These fees may be paid by the employer or employee

Generally speaking, the cost of applying to transition to Green Card from an H1B visa could cost up to $10,000, with $20,000 or more of the financial burden falling onto the employee, depending on the situation.

H1B to Green Card Processing Times

The journey from an H1B visa to a Green Card is not uniform. It’s imperative to research and understand the timeline to preemptively tackle any potential visa expiration issues.

  • PERM certification: This step typically ranges between 6 to 18 months.
  • I-140 approval: This is contingent on your priority date.
  • Priority date: The waiting time can fluctuate significantly based on one’s country of origin, ranging from almost no wait to up to nine years. Stay updated with the visa bulletin.
  • I-485 processing: The time taken can differ. For a clearer picture, check the current wait times here.

Sector-Specific Considerations for H-1B Holders

When you’re looking to transition from H-1B to a green card, the sector you work in can drastically influence the process and requirements. These nuances are governed by immigration law and specific visa categories.

High-Tech and IT Industry

Information Technology (IT) and high-tech industry professionals often pursue the H-1B visa because it is a specialty occupation visa suitable for industries requiring precise expertise. If you have an advanced degree or exceptional ability in these fields, you might be eligible for an EB-2 visa. To stay in compliance with USCIS regulations, ensure your employment authorization document (EAD) is up to date throughout the transition period.

Healthcare, Education, and Research

If you work in healthcare, education, or research, you are well aware of the importance of acquiring a dual intent visa, such as the H-1B, which will allow you to seek permanent residency while in the U.S. Your sector does not only demand a high level of skill but often requires extended periods of training and education, which can work in your favor when applying under the EB-2 or EB-3 immigrant visas due to advanced degrees.

Finance, Engineering, and Science

Your expertise in the finance, engineering, or science sectors means you are typically regarded as a highly skilled foreign worker. This can streamline your green card application, particularly if your skillset falls under a specialty occupation or if you have a proven record of exceptional ability. The EB-2 category often aligns with your professional qualifications, while the EB-3 may be applicable for skilled and other workers.

Religious, Translation, and Cultural Fields

Working within religious, translation, or cultural sectors supports applications under the EB-4 visa category. Special considerations are given to religious workers, translators, and those involved in cultural exchange programs. In these respective fields, it’s essential to demonstrate that your role has a direct impact on promoting cultural interests and to comprehend the nuances of the EB-4 classification.

International Business and Investment

For professionals in international business and investment, immigrant investor visas, most notably the EB-5, could be your pathway. Your substantial investment and role in the U.S. economy are seen as a benefit, providing you with an alternative green card strategy. Consulting with an immigration attorney is highly advisable to navigate the complexities of the EB-5 investor class application.

Family-Based Immigration Considerations

When considering family-based immigration, it is essential to recognize that being the direct relative of a U.S. citizen may offer an expedited route to a green card. An immediate family member could be eligible for an adjustment of status to obtain lawful permanent residency, which circumvents the H-1B lottery and employment-based categories. It’s wise to monitor visa availability regularly and maintain your nonimmigrant status while your green card application is being processed.

Green Card: Legal vs Illegal Paths

During my recent travels, I encountered individuals who claimed to have entered the United States illegally, yet obtained work permits and even green cards within just a few years. This seemed to directly contradict the long waits and bureaucratic complexities I’ve heard about for employment-based green card applicants going through the legal H-1B visa pathway. So what’s really going on here?

The Reality Check

The overwhelming consensus from immigration commentators is that these individuals were likely not being fully truthful. As Flat_Shame_2377 bluntly states, “I would assume they are not telling you the truth at all.”

There are only very limited circumstances where illegal entrants can quickly gain legal status and a pathway to a green card. As jasutherland explains, these could include “granted asylum, Cuban, married an American and got advance parole for consular processing.” But the standard route of entering illegally provides no special benefits.

The Asylum Possibility

Some speculate these individuals may have claimed asylum upon arrival, which can allow them to obtain a work permit while their asylum case is pending. However, as multiple commenters point out, most asylum claims are ultimately denied after years of waiting.

RoyalAd9796 shares the stark reality: “Worth noting that the full majority of asylum applications get denied as well.” So while able to temporarily work, an asylum seeker faces potential deportation if their claim fails.

The Legal H-1B Struggle

In contrast, the legal employment-based green card process for H-1B visa holders is unquestionably arduous, especially for nationals of oversubscribed countries like India. As arnott explains, “There is a country cap for EB based green cards: Max 7% of GCs for each country out of the 140,000 per year. People from countries like India, China get stuck in the backlog.”

While frustrating, this lengthy process at least provides certainty for those approved to remain in the U.S. long-term. The so-called “faster” illegal paths are often dead-ends leading to deportation.

The Takeaway

My travels highlighted just how convoluted and unfair the U.S. immigration system can seem from the outside. But the reality is that playing by the rules as an H-1B visa holder, while difficult, remains the most reliable option for eventually gaining permanent residency. Unscrupulous claims of faster illegal “shortcuts” are likely too good to be true.

Need help with your H-1B visa?

The H-1B visa process is complex, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. If you’re struggling to understand all of the moving parts, let Stilt help. Our team of H-1B visa experts can help you make sense of all the eligibility requirements, documents, and the application process.

Frequently Asked Questions

Transitioning from an H-1B visa to a Green Card is a critical step for many foreign workers seeking permanent residency in the U.S. The FAQs below provide a clearer understanding of the process and its specific challenges.

What is the usual timeline for transitioning from an H-1B visa to a Green Card?

The timeline for transitioning from an H-1B visa to a Green Card can vary significantly but typically ranges from several months to several years. It includes the PERM Labor Certification process, which alone can take 6-12 months, then filing the I-140, which can take 6 months to several years depending on your priority date, and finally the I-485, which can add another 8-14 months.

How does the Green Card process differ for Indian nationals on H-1B visas?

Indian nationals on H-1B visas often experience longer waiting times due to annual per-country visa limits, which create significant backlogs. It’s not unusual for Indian nationals to wait many years for a Green Card because of this.

Is it possible to apply for an H-1B visa and a Green Card simultaneously?

Yes, you can apply for a Green Card while on an H-1B visa as they are considered dual intent visas. This means you can hold H-1B status and lawfully seek permanent residency at the same time.

What are the options for obtaining a Green Card without an employer sponsor if on an H-1B visa?

Without an employer sponsor, options for obtaining a Green Card include self-petitioning as an Alien of Extraordinary Ability (EB-1A) or applying for a National Interest Waiver (NIW) under the EB-2 visa category. These options do not require an employer sponsor but have stringent eligibility criteria.

What steps should be taken once you reach the 6-year limit on an H-1B visa?

Before reaching the 6-year limit on your H-1B visa, you should have your employer file an I-140 petition on your behalf. If approved, it can provide the basis for requesting a H-1B extension beyond the 6-year cap.

Does holding an H-1B visa position one for eligibility to pursue U.S. citizenship?

Holding an H-1B visa positions you to pursue permanent residency (Green Card), which is a mandatory step before becoming eligible for U.S. citizenship. After obtaining a Green Card and fulfilling residency requirements, you may apply for U.S. citizenship via naturalization.

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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.

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