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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, applying for a Green Card is the most plausible visa choice if you wish to remain in the US after exhausting your 6 years of H-1B visa time.
H-1B is an employment-based visa that allows foreign nationals to work in the US temporarily. Once you go through your US H-1B visa process and your H-1B visa application is approved, it is issued to you by the US Immigration Department. It indicates that you have received adequate education and training, and that you are performing a respected job.
The process of how to get an H-1B visa includes an application form as well as an interview. You cannot apply for it on your own - the company that wishes to employ you must apply for the visa for you. The H-1B visa requirements include your valid original passport, one photograph, the appointment letter, and the fee payment receipt, among other documents. The H-1B visa validity is initially 3 years, which can later be extended further for 3 more years. Learn all about H-1B visas here.
If you wish to remain in the US after your H-1B visa ends, you’ll need to:
- Have already begun the Green Card application process, or
- Return to your education and an F-1 study visa, negating some work privileges.
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 through employment. When you are living in the US on your H-1B visa, permanent residency is the most natural next step to consider.
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, officially called a Permanent Resident 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.
In other words, having a Green Card allows you to live and work permanently in the US.
Green Card Validity
Most Green Cards are valid for 10 years. You need to get your Green Card renewed/replaced every 10 years, and there is no limit to the number of times you can get it renewed. However, if you’ve been granted conditional permanent resident status, you’ll have to get your Green Card renewed every 2 years.
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 number of Green Card 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 these 140,000 Green Cards, 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:
- Immigrant worker
- Physician National Interest Waiver
- Immigrant investor
The majority of employment applicants fall under one of the 3 preference tiers of the Immigrant worker sub-category.
- Through family (highest preference)
- Through employment
- As a special immigrant
- Through refugee or asylee status
- For human trafficking or crime victims
- For victims of abuse
- Through other categories
- Through registry (you’ve resided in the US since before 1972)
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)
You may qualify for this US Green Card preference level 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.
2nd preference (E-B2)
You may qualify for this US Green Card preference level if you:
- Have a career that requires an advanced degree (For example, for a masters degree holder, their Green Card approval will fall under E-B2).
- 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 masters degrees are most likely to fall into this preference level.
3rd preference (E-B3)
You may qualify for this US Green Card preference level 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 for a Green Card through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program - and these can change from year to year. Countries like Brazil, China, India, Pakistan and the United Kingdom (excluding Northern Ireland) are usually excluded.
- 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 getting 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 Green Card lottery chances vary 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 US 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.
When should you apply for a Green Card?
Because applications take years to complete, many working internationals hope to begin the H-1B to Green Card process as soon as they receive their H-1B visas - in other words, as soon as it’s safe to do so.
While the steps for Green Card through employment are quite straightforward, you should be 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 US Green Card application process, 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 visa before you apply for a Green Card through your H-1B visa, to ensure your job and location are a great match for your goals and priorities. After you receive your H-1B visa, chat with your employer, your immigration lawyer and any relatives involved in your decision before starting the H-1B to Green Card process.
Green Card process steps for H-1B visa holders: a step-by-step guide
The process to get a Green Card in the USA is fairly simple. When you’re ready to begin, here’s what you need to know to apply for your Green Card - and what to do if your H-1B visa will expire before you can submit your application. Here are the steps involved in the Green Card application process:
Step 1: Your employer applies for your PERM certification
Your employer must apply for a Permanent Labor certification, which establishes the extent of your salary and other benefits. A recruitment process is also undertaken to ensure that there are no qualified US workers for the same position.
The processing time for your PERM certification is usually 4 to 6 months, although, for those of you who are worried about how to get a Green Card fast, you can speed up the process for an additional fee of USD $1,225.
Step 2: Your employer submits Form I-140
The next step in the H-1B to Green Card process entails your employer submitting form I-140, which determines your preference level and your priority date. The cost of submitting this form is USD $580. Your priority date is of utmost importance because you can’t move on to the next step until you receive a priority date.
Step 3: Submit Form I-485
Form I-485 is the actual Green Card application. Following the submission of the form, you will be asked to appear for an interview. Once your form is approved, you get a stamp on your passport, after which your Green Card arrives by mail.
Once you have applied for your Green Card, you can check the status of your application online.
It is also possible to apply for your Green Card without an H-1B visa, but getting a Green Card is a long process and having an H-1B visa makes the process a lot easier.
H-1B to Green Card Timeline
How long does the processing time take to get a Green Card? The processing time varies depending on the type of application, and it can take anywhere from just 10 months to over a decade for you to get your Green Card. Your immigration attorney can help you with an estimate on the processing time.
Frequently asked questions
Can I convert my F1 visa to a Green Card without an H-1B visa?
To obtain a Green Card, you would either need to have been issued an H-1B visa, or, if you only hold an F1 visa, you would first need to successfully apply for an EB-1 visa, also known as first-preference employment-based visa.
Can you apply for an H-1B visa and Green Card at the same time?
Yes - as an H-1B visa is classified as a dual-intent visa for both residence and work, you can apply for both a Green Card and H-1B visa at the same time. In many cases, it is in your best interest to begin applying for both simultaneously.
Can I use my H-1B visa to become a permanent resident?
Yes - however, you can only do so through applying for and later obtaining a Green Card.
What happens to my H-1B visa after I get a Green Card?
Once you’ve obtained a Green Card, you’ll no longer need or be eligible for an H-1B visa.
What are the benefits of getting a Green Card vs an H-1B visa?
While an H-1B visa can be used to live and work in the United States, a Green Card allows for permanent resident status and can be renewed every 10 years - it will also enable its holder to pursue US citizenship, which no visa currently offers.
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.
Ready to improve your US credit? Investigate these detailed resources now!
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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. 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.