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Dual Intent vs. Single Intent U.S. Work Visas

If you are looking into coming to the United States to work, you may also be considering a path to permanent residency. A key concept to understand is the difference between Dual Intent visas and Single Intent visas. These two types of visas will impact the way you can apply for permanent residency when the time comes.

Dual Intent work visas

When you enter the U.S. on a temporary visa, you are required to state your intent for your visit. For example, when you enter the U.S. on a visitor visa, you must tell U.S. immigration authorities that you intend to visit the country for tourism or leisure only for a short period and will leave the country once your time is up. Likewise, if you are entering on a temporary work visa, your intent should only be to work temporarily in the U.S. during the period approved by U.S. immigration authorities.

Certain kinds of work visas, however, are considered “Dual Intent” visas. These visas allow you to enter the U.S. with the intention to stay and work on a temporary basis while simultaneously seeking permanent residency and a green card. An added benefit of Dual Intent work visas is that you can travel in and out of the U.S. before and while your green card application is processing, without any negative effect on your green card process. 

Both the H-1B and L-1 are Dual Intent visas. H-4 dependents of H-1B workers and L-2 dependents of L-1 workers also get the Dual Intent benefits. 

Single Intent work visas

Many work visas, such as the TN or E-3, are “Single Intent” visas. If you hold a Single Intent visa, you usually will need to demonstrate ties to your home country and will need to state that you only intend to work in the U.S. temporarily each time you enter the country. 

There is no way to say that you only intend to work in the U.S. temporarily when you have a green card application processing, so you must be cautious if you have a Single Intent visa but do intend to apply for permanent residency in the future.

If you enter the U.S. on a Single Intent visa but do have intentions to apply for a green card during your time in the U.S., this could indicate that you misrepresented your intention when you entered the U.S. In addition, if you already are in the U.S. on a Single Intent visa and have a green card processing, you should know that traveling in and out of the U.S. is highly risky. There is a possibility that you will not be allowed to reenter the U.S. after your trip to resume work on your Single Intent visa, or U.S. immigration authorities could consider you as having abandoned your green card application. 

Thankfully, there are pathways and mechanisms to file a green card application and travel in and out of the country while working on a Single Intent visa. However, you need to make sure that you do it right, or you could risk being denied re-entry to the U.S. or getting your green card denied. 

The key is taking into account two things: 1) the type of Single Intent visa through which you entered the U.S., and 2) the timing of your green card process. In many cases, even if you most recently entered the U.S. under a Single Intent visa, you may not yet face issues if you have not yet reached the “Adjustment of Status” step of the green card process, also known as the I-485. In this situation, you may be able to continue international travel and working in the U.S. on your Single Intent visa until you are ready to file the Adjustment of Status application for a green card.

If you do file the Adjustment of Status after you have entered the U.S. on a Single Intent visa, you may be able to resume international travel later on. When you file your Adjustment of Status, you may concurrently file an I-131 Advance Parole application for a travel document and I-765 Employment Authorization Document (EAD) application. With approved Advance Parole and an EAD, Single Intent visa holders can travel in and out of the U.S. without disrupting the pending Adjustment of Status.

It is important to note that some Single Intent visas such as the B-1 or B-2 business/tourist visa, are highly restrictive and that it is very risky to try to apply for a green card while in the U.S. on this type of visa. As always, you should consult with a licensed U.S. immigration attorney if you have questions about your specific situation.

Frequently asked questions for individuals on Single Intent visas:

  1. How do you demonstrate ties to your home country when applying for a Single Intent visa?

At your visa interview, you may be required to provide evidence of your ties to your home country. This article describes what documents you should bring and what to do in the unlikely event that your visa is denied because of a lack of ties to your home country. 

  1. Why do some websites state that the O-1 is a Dual Intent visa?

The L-1 and H-1B visas are the only true Dual Intent visas. However, there are some special provisions relating to the O-1 that make it easier for individuals seeking permanent residency. Unlike other nonimmigrant visas, O-1 visa holders are not required to show that they will maintain a residence in their home country. In addition, filing a family-based or employment-based immigrant petition (such as EB-1 or EB-2 NIW) does not prevent the O-1 worker from continuing to work and travel on the O-1. However, once the O-1 visa holder files an Adjustment of Status application, they will be restricted from traveling until the I-131 Advance Parole is issued. O-1 visa holders must still exercise care when pursuing a green card.

  1. Can you adjust status on a B-1/B-2 visa or under Visa Waiver/ESTA?

While possible, it is generally risky to file for Adjustment of Status on a B-1 or B-2. To apply for a B-1 or B-2, you have to state to a U.S. consulate that you have no intention to permanently immigrate to the U.S. This makes it highly risky to attempt filing a green card when you are on this type of visa. If this is something you are considering, you should consult with a U.S. immigration attorney.

Individuals in the U.S. on the Visa Waiver or the “ESTA” program are typically not allowed to apply for a green card or Adjustment of Status. There are some very narrow exceptions for individuals applying through a U.S. citizen spouse or parent. If you are considering this route, you should consult with a U.S. immigration attorney.

  1. Is the “90-day rule” still applicable?

In 2021, USCIS confirmed they are no longer following the "90-day" rule. Instead, they are looking at the intent that the person held when they last entered the U.S., as well as any responses the person gave to consular officers or Customers and Borders Protection (CBP) officers when asked about what their intent was in traveling to the U.S. 

Our team is here to help with any questions you may have about Dual Intent and Single Intent work visas. Reach out to our team if you’d like to get the conversation started!

About the author:

Annie Blay

Content Marketing Specialist

Before joining the marketing team, Annie helped over 60 Legalpad clients navigate U.S. immigration on the client services team.