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How to Transition from an L-1 Work Visa to Permanent Residency in the U.S.

Maybe you’re looking into applying for the L-1 work visa, or maybe you’ve already spent a number of years working on the L-1 visa in the U.S. Either way, you may be wondering - what does the green card process look like for an L-1 visa holder?

For context, the L-1 work visa is a temporary work visa that allows foreign workers to live and work for a U.S. company for up to five or seven years, depending on the type of L-1. The L-1 visa is a great way to begin working in the U.S. However, in order to live and work in the U.S. permanently, and have the flexibility to work for any U.S. company, you’ll need to secure permanent residency.

Regardless of what type of work visa you are on, our team of experienced immigration attorneys recommend looking into the green card process at least two years before your visa is set to expire. 

The L-1 is a great visa for individuals interested in permanent residency

Unlike many U.S. work visas, the L-1 work visa allows for dual intent. Nonimmigrant visas like the L-1 have an expiration date and require visa holders to return to their home countries when their visas expire. However, since the L-1 allows for dual intent, L-1 visa holders are allowed to easily work on the “nonimmigrant” L-1 status while also applying for permanent residency in the U.S. 

In addition, L-1 visa holders can travel in and out of the U.S. as much as they want while their green card is processing, which is not the case for other visas. Overall, applying for permanent residency on the L-1 is significantly easier than applying for permanent residency on other non-dual intent visas. To be clear, it is not impossible to apply for permanent residency on visas that do not have dual intent, but dual intent visas like the L-1 make it easier. 

Possible paths: L-1 work visa to green card 

We often get asked about which green card path is best for L-1 visa holders. Thankfully, there are no restrictions associated with the L-1 that prevent L-1 visa holders from pursuing various green card paths. Because of this, L-1 visa holders should choose a green card path based on their own background and qualifications, and how quickly they would like to receive the green card. 

Possible green card paths can be broken down into three categories:

  1. Company-sponsored employment-based green cards

If your employer is willing to sponsor your green card, you can apply for the EB-1, EB-2 NIW, EB-2 PERM, EB-3, EB-4, or EB-5. You can read more about each of these options here

  1. Self petitioned employment-based green cards

Even if your employer is not willing to sponsor your visa, or you are self-employed, there are still employment-based green card options that could work for you! Both the EB-1 and the EB-2 NIW can be self-petitioned. Even if your employer is willing to sponsor your visa, having the company pay for the visa fees but filing an EB-1 or EB-2 NIW. When you file an EB-1 or EB-2 NIW, typically you need to establish an employer-employee relationship, but establishing such a relationship can be difficult if you are the founder of your company. This makes self-petitioning advantageous for founders and entrepreneurs. If you are trying to determine whether to file a company-sponsored or self petitioned EB-1 or EB-2 NIW, connect with our experienced team to discuss your unique situation. 

  1. Family-based green cards

If you have a spouse or other family member who is a U.S. citizen, you may be qualified to file a family-based green card. If you qualify for both an employment-based green card and a family-based green card, it is a good idea to discuss which immigration is best for you. Our team can help you weigh your options. 

Filing your application

You need to file two applications to get your green card:

  1. Form I-140 (for employment-based green cards) or I-130 (for family-based green cards): These applications get you a “place in line” to get your green card. Along with the associated government forms, you’ll need to submit evidence that establishes your eligibility for the associated employment-based (EB-1, EB-2, etc) or family-based application.
  2. Form I-485: This is the actual green card application. Regardless of if your green card is based on your employment or family, you’ll need to file Form I-485. If you are “current” on the visa bulletin, you can file the I-485 at the same time as the I-140. If you are not current, you can file the I-140 or I-130 first and wait until you become current. Some individuals choose to file the I-485 after the I-140 or I-130 is approved even if they are current. There are many things to consider when deciding when to file I-485 and it can be helpful to chat with an experienced immigration expert, such as someone on our team

When you file the I-485, you can choose to also file Form I-765, which is an application for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). The EAD will be approved more quickly than the green card, and with an EAD, you can begin working for any U.S. company. If you are eager to leave your L-1 sponsor company, filing I-765 is a good option so you can begin working for a new company even if your green card takes a while to be approved. However, if your I-485 gets denied for any reason, your EAD will no longer be valid and you will either need to get a new work visa or leave the country.  

In addition, it is helpful to know that while your I-485 is processing, you’ll need to attend a biometrics interview and submit a medical exam. Your Legalpad immigration team will help you prepare for the interview and give you instructions on how to submit the medical exam.

Processing times vary greatly. Once you have submitted Form I-140, I-130, I-485, and/or I-765, you should receive a receipt notice from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In the left bottom corner, the receipt notice will indicate which USCIS service center your application is processed at. Your various applications may process at different locations, so make sure to check each individual receipt notice. Once you know which service center your application is at, you can check USCIS’s estimated processing times here.

What to expect after green card approval 

Once your I-485 is approved, USCIS will mail you a welcome notice, and shortly after mail your physical green card (permanent resident card). Once you have your green card, you can use it to work for any U.S. company. If your welcome notice does not arrive within 30 days of being approved, or your green card does not arrive within 30 days of receiving your welcome notice, you should contact USCIS.

Conclusion

As an L-1 visa holder, any employment-based or family-based green card path is available to you. You can apply at any time, as long as your visa status is still valid, and you can travel in and out of the U.S. while you await green card approval. The key is to select the best possible green card path based on your unique qualifications. Chat with our experienced team to learn more about your options.

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.