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F-1 to Green Card: A Step-by-Step Guide
Most international students studying in the U.S. have an F-1 student visa. While this is a great option while studying abroad, it does not provide students the option of staying in the U.S. after graduation. This may present a problem for those who plan on staying in the U.S. after university for work or other purposes. Fortunately, there’s a solution: getting a green card!
To learn how you can transition from your F-1 student visa to a green card, keep on reading.
Don’t miss: Scholarships360’s free scholarship search tool (includes opportunities for international students)
What is an F-1 visa?
Great question! An F-1 visa is one of the three types of student visas that international students may obtain in order to study in the U.S. It is specifically for those who plan on attending university, high school, or a language program. It has a grace period of 60 days, meaning that individuals with it may stay in the U.S. up to 60 days after their graduation before departing. Unfortunately, breaching this grace period means that you will no longer be eligible for any U.S. visa in the future. However, a great way to remain in the U.S. after your graduation is by obtaining a green card!
So, what exactly is a green card?
What is a green card?
Also known as a Permanent Resident Card, a green card is proof of your permanent resident status in the U.S. It serves as a valid identification document and allows you to live and work permanently in the United States. While some have no expiration date, the majority are valid for 10 years. However, if granted conditional permanent resident status, the card is only valid for two years.
Can F-1 students apply for a green card?
Certainly! In fact, you even have a slight advantage when doing so as you are already legally living in the U.S. If you are considering making the switch from an F-1 visa to a green card, we would also recommend looking into health insurance plans for green card holders.
For now, though, let’s get into the many ways you can switch from an F-1 visa to a green card!
Transitioning from a F-1 visa to a green card: 8 ways
There are actually many, many ways that one can switch from an F-1 visa to a green card. Some seem more doable, like receiving employer sponsorship. Others, however, may seem a little harder. On the bright side, having so many options means that there’s likely one that’s perfect for you!
So, let’s get into the first way to transition from an F-1 visa to a green card: receiving employer sponsorship.
1. Receive employer sponsorship
If you find employment while studying, your employer may be able to sponsor you. Simply ask the company you’re working for to make an application for you for an EB-2 or EB-3 employment-based green card.
How do you know which one is right for you, though? Good question. Let’s take a look at what differentiates the EB-2 and EB-3 visas.
Those who meet one of the following categories may qualify for an EB-2 visa:
- Those with a job offer that requires an advanced degree with a minimum of five years of progressive job experience
- Those with exceptional (different from extraordinary) ability in business, sciences, or the arts
- Those with a national interest waiver
Meet one of the above criteria? If so, you can apply for an EB-2 visa! Bear in mind that you’ll have to submit academic records as proof of your advanced degree, letters to show your work experience, and proof that you can earn a high salary in your career due to your exceptional ability. If you hold a professional license or are part of an organization that has been recognized for their significant contributions, you should also show evidence of your membership. Your employer will also have to file forms with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on your behalf when applying.
The criteria to attain an EB-3 visa are slightly less intensive than those for EB-2 visas. These visas are for skilled workers, professionals, and certain other workers. The basic criteria for EB-3 visas are that one must (1) have at least two years of experience in their field and that (2) one’s employer must have or will offer you a permanent, full-time position. As is the case with an EB-2 visa, your employer must also file for an EB-3 visa on your behalf.
2. Obtain parent or child sponsorship
If you have a relative who is a U.S. citizen, then you may also be able to receive a green card through their sponsorship. Currently, any U.S. citizen may petition for their spouse or children to receive a green card. Additionally, U.S. citizens of at least 21 years of age may petition for their parents or siblings to obtain a green card as well.
In order to do this, your U.S. citizen relative must file the I-130 form for you and pay the $420 filing fee. Depending on your relation to them, they may also be asked to submit their birth certificate, a copy of your Certificate of Naturalization, your U.S. passport, and additional documents as needed. However, you will learn of these when the time comes.
To learn more about this process, check out the Department of State’s “Immigrant visa process.”
3. Receive sponsorship from a relative who owns a business
If you have a relative who owns a business in the U.S., you can also potentially receive sponsorship from them. To do so, they must hire you and prove that they are doing so due to your qualifications, not because you’re related to them. Specifically, they must show that they have a recruitment process for the position you would fill and made an effort to hire a U.S. candidate, but couldn’t find one for the role.
4. Adjust status to a dual intent visa
If you cannot switch from an F-1 visa directly to an employment-based visa/green card, another option is to switch to a dual intent visa. These are nonimmigrant work visas which allow you to apply for a green card after some time has passed. Dual intent visas make up some of the “H” visas, including the H-1B visa.
After finishing their degree, students can continue working in the U.S. for 12 months with these visas. They may work through either Curriculum Practical Training (CPT) or Optional Practical Training (OPT). While you engage in either type of training with an H-1B visa, you may apply for a green card.
Curriculum Practical Training (CPT)
Curriculum Practical Training occurs when students on an F-1 visa are employed by the educational institutions they study at. These CPT positions can begin nine months after one enrolls at said institution and can last for up to 12 months. During that time, you can attempt to convince the school to sponsor you and keep you as an associate professor.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training also allows individuals to gain some work experience in the U.S., but this experience may only begin after one receives their degree. After finding a job in the U.S., one can work up to 12 months under OPT.
Once the 12 months are up, students will have to return to their home country. This is unless they are successfully able to convince their employer to sponsor them for a dual intent visa. If your employer agrees, they must petition for you to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and receive approval.
And those are all the differences! If you receive a dual intent visa through either form of training, you may then apply for a green card. Although this method is certainly more indirect than applying for a green card directly, it is quite a common route for international students to take. This is because many find it easier than obtaining an EB-1 visa directly (but we’ll get into that later).
5. Seek asylum
Another way to obtain a green card is to seek asylee status in the U.S. However, this requires that one is first granted asylee status.
Obtaining asylee status
One can obtain asylee status if their circumstances are as follows:
- You are present in the U.S. (either by lawful or unlawful entry)
- You are unable or unwilling to return to your home country due to past persecution or fear that persecution will continue if you return
- The reason for persecution involves one of the following: race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political beliefs
Further, the USCIS requires that you not be involved in any activity that would bar you from asylum. If you meet all of those requirements, you can apply for asylum by filing the I-589 form within one year of your arrival to the U.S. There is no fee to apply for asylum.
Applying for a green card through asylee status
If your application is approved, congratulations! You can then apply for a green card one year after having been granted asylee status. You are eligible to do so if:
- You are in the U.S. at the time of filling your application and you have consistently been in the U.S. for at least one year after being granted asylum
- You still meet the definition of an asylee (or are the spouse or child of an asylee)
- You have not rejected or abandoned your asylee status
- Your grant of asylum has not been terminated
- You are not resettled in another country
- You continue to be admissible to the U.S.
If you meet all of the above criteria, then you can apply to be a green card holder! Simply do so by submitting the I-485 (Application to register permanent residence or adjust status) and the I-693 (Report of medical examination and vaccination record) forms.
For a more detailed look at applying for a green card through asylee status, we would recommend checking out how to “Become a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) through asylee status.”
We wish you the best of luck, and hope it all works out.
6. Marry a U.S. citizen
If you happen to fall in love with a U.S. citizen whilst studying in the U.S., you’re in luck! If you marry a U.S. citizen, your status will be adjusted to a 1R-1 or spouse visa. While this may seem like an “easy” way to receive a green card, we would highly recommend against marrying someone solely to gain permanent residency. Not only will it make for an unhappy relationship, but the USCIS will also do extensive checks to make sure the relationship is legitimate. This may involve interviews, background checks, and a close examination of the documents you provide to the USCIS.
Also bear in mind that foreign spouses of U.S. citizens are only given a CR-1 (conditional) visa for the first two years of marriage. Besides being valid for only two years, CR-1 visas will also remove a foreign spouse’s permanent residence status if the couple divorces. This means that non-U.S.-citizen divorcees would promptly have to depart the U.S. after a divorce. However, if there is no divorce within the first two years, then the foreign spouse can change their status. They will go from a conditional status to a permanent one and finally receive a green card. Congratulations!
7. Win the green card lottery
Another option to obtain a green card is to participate in the annual Electronic Diversity Visa Lottery. This event takes place every year from October to November and randomly selects fifty-thousand individuals to “win” a green card. Just bear in mind that countries that have sent over 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. in the past five years are ineligible. Such nations include: Canada, South Korea, and Mexico.
To learn more about this “lottery,” check out how to obtain a “Green card through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program.” Good luck!
8. Self-petition as a person with extraordinary abilities
Last, but certainly not least, you can obtain a green card by self-petitioning as a person with extraordinary abilities! If successful, this will earn you an EB-1 visa. Just keep in mind that many consider this to be one of the hardest (but not impossible) ways to obtain a green card. This is because EB-1 visas are available only to those with extraordinary abilities in business, science, education, athletics, or the arts.
In order to qualify for the EB-1 visa, one must show proof of such “extraordinary abilities.” This may include evidence of an amazing, one-time achievement (e.g. winning a Pulitzer Prize). Alternatively, one can submit proof that they have earned or done three or more of the following:
- A nationally or internationally recognized prize or award for excellence
- Published material about you in a major publication
- Have been asked to serve as an “expert” and judge others’ work
- Original contributions of major significance in your field
- Your authorship of scholarly articles in major publications or in major media
- Your work being put on display in exhibitions, showcases, or galleries
- Have/had a critical or leading role in a distinguished organization
- Membership in an association demanding outstanding achievement
- Have an ability to command a high salary compared to others in one’s field
- Have commercial success in the performing arts
However, these are not the only ways one can obtain an EB-1 visa. They are also available to extraordinary professors, researchers, and managers of major U.S. companies. To learn more about the specific requirements to earn an EB-1 visa, we would recommend checking out the USCIS’s “Employment-based immigration: First preference EB-1” visa page.
If you do fulfill some of the above criteria, you can apply for the EB-1 visa by either (1) finding a job in your field of specialty or (2) self-petitioning. If you choose the former, just bear in mind that your employer must sponsor you and pay for the petition. They must also be sure to follow labor and visa laws. Alternatively, if you self-petition, you will have to complete the whole process yourself. Just bear in mind that this will not guarantee your approval for an EB-1 visa. If you are approved, you are able to work in their field of specialty within the U.S. permanently.
Do you sense that the EB-1 visa may not be right for you? Don’t be discouraged! There are many other ways to obtain a green card or employment-based visa, as seen from options #1-7 above.
And that’s it (for the most part)! While you can also obtain green card status by entering the military or investing lots of money, we’ve covered some of the more common options up above. No matter which path you choose, we wish you the best in your journey towards obtaining a green card. We’re happy to have you here!
Frequently asked questions
Are F-1 holders considered permanent residents?
Not necessarily. During their first five years living in the U.S., F student visa holders are considered “non-resident aliens (for tax purposes).” This means that they are not U.S. citizens and have not met either the “green card” or “substantial presence” tests. To learn more about what this means, check out the “Nonresident aliens” page straight from the IRS.
After five years in the U.S., those who hold F student visas are considered “resident aliens (for tax purposes.” This means that they are either a U.S. citizen or foreign national who have met either the “green card” or “substantial presence” tests. To learn more about what this means, check out the IRS’ page on “Resident aliens.”
How much money do I need to get a green card?
Great question! Including all the government filing fees, it costs $1,760 for applicants living in the U.S. to get a family-based green card. For those living outside the U.S., it costs $1,200 to receive the same green card. Just bear in mind that these costs do not include the typical price to undergo the required medical examination.