Switching from a temporary work visa to green card status is more straightforward than you might think. Temporary visa holders can follow the adjustment of status process to become permanent residents if they apply within the U.S.
Visa holders can also apply for permanent residence from outside of the U.S. That process is longer and typically not recommended by immigration attorneys.
Work Visa to Green Card: Key Immigration Terms to Understand
Work visa: A visa that allows foreign nationals to work temporarily in the United States. Often nonimmigrant visas.
Nonimmigrant visa: A temporary visa, such as an H-1B or O-1 work visa.
Immigrant visa: A visa that secures a foreign national a "spot in line" to file their green card application. Examples include EB-1, EB-2, and EB-3. To receive an immigrant visa, applicants must file an I-140 petition.
Green card: A permit allowing foreign nationals to live and work in the U.S. permanently. Also called a permanent resident card.
Adjustment of status: The process of becoming a permanent resident from within the U.S. This process involves filing an I-485 application and often attending a green card interview.
How to Adjust Status from a Work Visa to Green Card Status
Step 1: Understand the limitations of your current status
An immigrant visa, such as an EB-1 or EB-2, does not give you a valid immigration status. In other words, you cannot stay in the U.S. on "EB-1 status". You have to maintain a valid status (via your work visa) to remain in the U.S. throughout your green card process.
Since it can take some individuals years to receive a green card, it's wise to consider whether or not you can remain on your current work visa until receiving your green card. Does your current visa expire in less than a year? Have you begun the green card process yet? If not, you will likely need to renew your visa before receiving your green card.
You should also consider any restrictions your current status may have that will impact your ability to travel while waiting for a green card. For instance, if you have single-intent visas like the TN or E-3, you cannot travel internationally while your green card application is being reviewed.
If you wish to travel internationally with a pending green card, you must apply for advance parole concurrently with your green card application. There may be a few months when you get stuck in the U.S. awaiting advance parole. Meanwhile, dual-intent visa holders (H-1B and L-1) can travel internationally without needing advance parole.
Step 2: Assess immigrant visa eligibility
Before applying for a green card, you must file a qualifying petition. The qualifying petition is associated with an immigrant visa, such as the EB-1, EB-2, or EB-2 NIW. Criteria and requirements vary between these different visas:
Self-petitioned immigrant visas:
These immigrant visas can be filed without an employer sponsor. They are ideal for extraordinary professionals and entrepreneurs.
- EB-1A: Qualify by meeting three or more Extraordinary Ability criteria.
- EB-2 NIW: Qualify if you can show that your future work has national importance to the U.S.
Employer-petitioned immigrant visas:
These immigrant visas must be sponsored by a U.S. employer.
- EB-1B: Qualify as an outstanding professor or researcher.
- EB-1C: Transfer from a managerial or executive position from abroad to your company's U.S. office.
- EB-2 PERM: Qualify with an Advanced Degree or Exceptional Ability.
Unsure which immigrant visa is the best fit for you? Consult with our global mobility team to find out.
Step 3: PERM Labor Certification Process
Some employment-based green cards require the PERM Labor Certification Process, including the EB-2 PERM and EB-3. The PERM process takes about a year and must be completed before moving to the next step.
Step 4: File an immigrant visa petition with USCIS
Next, you can file your immigrant visa petition. Work with a skilled immigration team to prepare a strong petition, then submit the petition to USCIS for review.
Depending on your country of birth and the current visa bulletin, you may be able to file your green card application concurrently with your petition, or you may have to wait to file your green card application. Read more about priority dates and the visa bulletin to understand when you can file your green card application in relation to your immigrant visa.
Step 5: File an adjustment of status application (1-485)
Finally, you can submit your adjustment of status application (green card application) to USCIS for review. Many immigrants concurrently file an Advance Parole (travel authorization) application and an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) application. USCIS approves these documents more quickly than the green card, allowing the applicant to travel and work while awaiting their green card.
Step 6: Receive your green card
Upon approval of your adjustment of status application, your legal status in the U.S. will change from your work visa to permanent resident. You'll also receive your physical green card in the mail.
Final Thoughts: Adjusting Status from Work Visa to Green Card
Switching from a work visa to a green card is one of the most common ways that foreign nationals become legal permanent residents in the U.S. The green card timeline varies greatly depending on country of birth, priority level, and USCIS processing times. But in general, the adjustment of status process is one of the best ways to become a U.S. green card holder.