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Working on H-1B? Is a Green Card your next step?

Prodigy Finance - September 30, 2019

How to go from H-1B visa to Green Card

The United States Green Card is a Permanent Resident Card. It’s also a requirement if you someday hope to become a naturalised American citizen.

Whether you’re after citizenship or not, it’s also the most plausible visa choice if you wish to remain in the US after exhausting your 6 years of H-1B visa time.

If you wish to remain in the US after your H-1B visa ends, you’ll need to:

In short, after 6 years on your H-1B, you need to be in the process of changing visa classes or in the process of packing up and leaving the US. For most H-1B workers who want to stay in the US, that means going for a Green Card.

Applying for a Green Card is a lengthy process, with several categories and caveats to consider. You’ll want to learn the ins and outs long before you begin.  

What is a Green Card?

The Green Card isn’t a specific visa class; it encompasses several categories. Whichever one you fall under, however, holding a Green Card means you have permanent residency status in the US.

And, permanent means permanent as long as you follow local, state and federal laws as well as terms specific to your status, such as retaining residency. 

How many Green Cards are available?

The US government limits the number of Green Cards issued annually, and availability depends on the preference level for each immigration category. Additionally, it’s not a strict case of first-come-first-serve.

Within each group, there are preference levels and limits on the numbers of applicants per country of birth annually (which may be different from citizenship).

For example, family-sponsored visas have the highest preference and are allocated 226,000 visas annually.

Green Cards issued based on employment are subject to a cap of 140,000 globally. Individual countries receive 9800 of that number, whether they have large populations (like China and India) or smaller populations (like Norway and Benin).

This combination of factors and levels leads to a great deal of competition for a limited number of Green Cards. It’s also the key reason to begin the Green Card application process early if you’re sure it’s what you want. 

Who’s eligible to apply for a Green Card?

There are several Green Card eligibility categories. If you’re an international graduate working in the US on an H-1B visa, you’ll most likely apply for a Green Card based on employment.

Within this category, there are 3 sub-categories:

  1. Immigrant worker
  2. Physician National Interest Waiver
  3. Immigrant investor

Green Card eligibility categories

  1. Through family (highest preference)
  2. Through employment
  3. As a special immigrant
  4. Through refugee or asylee status
  5. For human trafficking or crime victims
  6. For victims of abuse
  7. Through other categories
  8. Through registry (you’ve resided in the US since before 1972)

The majority of employment applicants fall under one of the 3 preference tiers of the Immigrant worker sub-category. 

The difference between employment visa preference levels

Each immigrant worker preference level has:

  • A different visa classification (E-B1, E-B2 or E-B3), though they’re all Green Card categories.
  • 2802 visas per country (of birth, not citizenship) annually.
  • Varying eligibility requirements, making some preference levels more competitive than others.

The more education and experience you have, the higher you fall within this preference structure, and the sooner you’ll be able to apply, and hopefully, receive your Green Card. 

US Green Card immigrant worker preference levels

1st preference (E-B1)

2nd preference (E-B2)

3rd preference (E-B3)

You may qualify if you:

  • Have extraordinary ability in science, business, education, arts or athletics.
  • Are outstanding as a researcher or professor.
  • Are a multinational executive or manager that meets additional criteria.

If you qualify, you can expect less competition and speedier Green Card processing times.

You may qualify if you:

  • Have a career that requires an advanced degree (including masters).
  • Have exceptional ability in the sciences, business or arts.
  • Are a physician willing to work in underserved areas for a time.

Current H-1B visa holders with master’s degrees are most likely to fall into this preference level.

You may qualify if you:

  • Are a professional with a bachelor’s degree.
  • Are a skilled worker with more than 2 years of experience.
  • Are an unskilled worker (your labour requires less than 2 years of training).

With the lowest level of talent or training required, there are more applicants than visas available and a backlog of petitioners. 

What is the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program?

The US also has a Diversity Lottery (DV) programme with 50,000 Green Cards available for nationals of under-represented countries. You can begin the process of applying for your E-B2 (or relevant visa class) and participate in the DV lottery annually if you choose. But, before you do, here’s what you need to know:

  • Only nationals of under-represented countries are eligible to apply - and these can change from year to year. Countries like Brazil, China, India, Pakistan and the United Kingdom (excluding Northern Ireland) are usually excluded. See if your country has eligibility here.
  • Eligible countries receive a quota of 7% of the total DV visas issued for the year (the number changes annually based on the number of eligible countries).
  • If you’re selected, your spouse and dependents (who were on your lottery application) are also selected.
  • Entry into the DV lottery is free (though you’ll pay for processing if you’re selected), but you must submit a new application annually as they don’t rollover.
  • Details regarding the current year’s lottery are released in October, and the lottery itself takes place over November and December (specific dates change annually).
  • Winning the lottery doesn’t automatically equal a Green Card. You must still meet the minimum criteria for immigration if selected (such as having a high school diploma or relevant years of work experience).

Keep in mind that several million people enter the DV lottery annually - and they’re all from under-represented countries. Your chance of “winning” varies from year-to-year based on the number of applicants.

The DV lottery isn’t necessarily the only immigration strategy you want to pursue - especially if you qualify for another category (such as the E-B1, E-B2 or E-B3).

It’s best to consult an immigration attorney before entering the DV lottery or beginning the application process for any Green Card class. 

What are the chances you’ll get a Green Card?

In general, anyone who wants a Green Card and meets basic criteria can apply. The 3 basic criteria require that you:

  • Don’t pose criminal, health, security or financial threats to the United States.
  • Have not previously broken American immigration regulations.
  • Meet the minimum standards for the class you wish to apply under (such as education, family relationships, or minimum financial investment)

Simply meeting these obligations doesn’t guarantee you a Green Card. Moreover, there aren’t any odds or stats you can use to predict whether you’ll make it through.There are many paths to permanent residency and the number of applicants in the running changes daily.

However, if you wish to remain in the US on the career path that you’re on, you don’t have any other choice but to apply for a Green Card, whether you pursue an employment-based, family based, investment-based or any other permanent resident category. 

Ready to apply for your Green Card?

Because Green Card applications take years to complete, many working internationals hope to begin as soon as they receive their H-1B visas - in other words, as soon as it’s safe to do so.

But, you should be absolutely certain it’s the path you want to follow before you start the process. You’ll especially want to consider:

  • Your employer starts the process and files the initial petition for you. This costs time and money. And, your employer must advertise a job opening for your position, which could put you out of your current job.
  • After your employer petitions to start your Green Card application, you’ll need to stay in your current position (or very close to it) until it’s time to submit your application - which can take years. This limits promotions, raises and the ability to move between states.

In some cases, it makes sense to work for a few years on your H-1B to ensure your job and location are a great match for your goals and priorities. After you receive your H-1B, chat with your employer, your immigration lawyer and any relatives involved in your decision before launching an application.

When you’re 100% to begin, here’s what you need to know to apply for your Green Card - and what to do if your H-1B will expire before you can submit your application. 

Do this 1 thing while waiting for your Green Card

As Green Card processing can take years, most applicants put a lot of energy into improving their credit profiles. If it hasn’t been your focus before, it’s critical to get started now. 

Will a US master's degree help you achieve a career in the US?

We'd love to help you with that. Prodigy Finance offers international student loans to attend master's programmes at top universities in the US and across the world.

The purpose of this guide is to provide prospective students with an overview of the application process for a US student visa and should not be regarded as legal or immigration advice or as a substitute for the official information published by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) from time to time or any instructions and/or advice provided by US embassies and consuls. Whilst we have carefully compiled the guide in accordance with the information published by USCIS, Prodigy Finance Limited does not accept liability for any inaccuracies, mistakes, omissions or outdated information in the guide and we encourage prospective students and other readers to consult the USCIS’s website at https://www.uscis.gov. Prodigy Finance Limited is not authorized by the Department of Justice (DOJ)'s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) to provide immigration services and will not provide any additional information or assistance to any person to apply for a US student or other category visa.

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