F-1 Visa to Green Card: How You Can Go From Student to Permanent Resident
What is an F-1 Visa?
When you enter the United States on an F-1 student visa, you may be able to adjust your status in one of several ways.
The five most common ways to turn an F-1 visa into lawful permanent residency are:
- Self-petitioning as a person of extraordinary ability
- Receiving employer sponsorship
- Adjusting status to a dual-intent visa
- Becoming an investor
- Marrying a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
You can also enter into military service, win the diversity visa lottery or receive sponsorship through a parent or child, but those are a little less common (and sometimes more difficult) than these five methods.
However, in order to do any of those things, you must first understand the F-1 visa and your responsibilities as an F-1 nonimmigrant.
F-1 Visa to Green Card: Transitioning From Student Status to Lawful Permanent Residency
The F-1 student visa allows foreign nationals to study as full-time students in the United States. If you apply for and receive this type of visa, you must have the intention to study here at an accredited college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school or another academic institution (language training programs count). You must be enrolled in a program or course of study that results in a certificate, diploma or degree, and your school must be authorized to accept international students.
You cannot enter the U.S. on an F-1 visa if your ultimate intent is to gain lawful permanent residency. If you do, you are committing a form of immigration fraud, which is grounds for removal from the country and a bar to reentry.
If you are in the U.S. on a student visa and your plans change, you may be able to change your immigration status and receive a green card. Here’s a closer look at each way to do so.
#1. Self-Petitioning as a Person of Extraordinary Ability
Some people are eligible to apply for an EB-1 visa after completing a course of study in the United States. Although these visas are difficult to obtain, you may be eligible for one. EB-1 visas, available to people with extraordinary abilities in the arts, sciences, education, business or athletics, may be a solid way for you to gain lawful permanent residency and, eventually, citizenship in the United States. However, the requirements are very strict. You must provide evidence of a one-time achievement (like a Pulitzer Prize) or three or more of the following:
- Your receipt of a nationally or internationally recognized prize or award for excellence
- Published material about you in major media or a trade publication
- Membership in an association that demands outstanding achievement
- Your having been asked as an expert to judge others’ work
- Original scientific, scholarly, artistic, athletic or business-related contributions of major significance in your field
- Your authorship of scholarly articles in professional or major trade publications, or in major media
- Your work being put on display in exhibitions or showcases
- Your performance of a critical or leading role in a distinguished organization
- Your ability to command a high salary compared to others in your field
- Commercial success in the performing arts
EB-1 visas are also available to outstanding professors and researchers, as well. You must meet different criteria if you’re applying as one of these – and your Texas immigration attorney can help you determine what you need to prove to qualify. This type of visa eventually allows you to apply for permanent residency, which is the next step on the path to citizenship.
#2. Receiving Employer Sponsorship
If you are unable to meet the criteria for an EB-1 visa, you could still be able to meet the requirements for an EB-2 or EB-3 visa.
Getting an EB-2 Visa From an F-1 Visa
EB-2 visas are for people who fit into one of these categories:
- Those who receive a job offer for a job that requires an advanced degree with at least five years of progressive job experience
- Those who have exceptional ability (which is not the same as extraordinary ability) in the sciences, business or arts
- Those who have a national interest waiver
You’ll have to submit your academic records that prove your advanced degree, letters that demonstrate your work experience, and proof that you can command a high salary in your field because you have exceptional ability. If you hold a professional license or certification, or if you’re a member of a professional organization or have been recognized by your peers for significant contributions in your field, you’ll have to show documentation of that, as well. Your employer will also have to file the appropriate forms with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Using an EB-3 Visa to Get a Green Card
EB-3 visas are for skilled workers, professionals and some other workers. You must have at least two years of experience or training in your field, and your employer must have a permanent, full-time position available for you (and must have offered the job to you specifically). Your employer sponsor must file for this type of visa on your behalf.
#3. Adjusting Your Status to a Dual-Intent Visa
Although it’s an indirect way of adjusting your status, you may be able to switch your F-1 visa to a dual intent visa. After you complete your course of study, you can continue to work in the United States for around a year through curriculum practical training or optional practical training. If you engage in either type of training and get the appropriate visa, you may be able to petition the U.S. government for a green card.
Curriculum Practical Training
Curriculum practical training occurs when an F-1 student is employed by the educational institution that he or she attends. During the time you work for your school, you can attempt to convince the school to sponsor you and allow you to stay as an associate professor.
Optional Practical Training
Optional practical training is a program that allows you to get some work experience in the United States. You may be able to find a job with a qualifying U.S. employer and work for 12 months – and your employer may opt to sponsor you to get an H-1B visa.
Related: How to get an H-1B employment visa
#4. Becoming an Investor
Becoming an investor in the U.S. in order to obtain immigration benefits is expensive – but it can be done. If you can invest between $500,000 and $1 million (or more) in a U.S. commercial enterprise that creates more than ten permanent jobs, you could be eligible for an EB-5 investor green card.
#5. Marrying a U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident
As an international student, you’ll spend plenty of time in the U.S. – and for some people, that means falling in love and getting married. If you marry a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, you become eligible to adjust your status and obtain a green card. However, be careful of the 90-day rule. The 90-day rule is a guideline that USCIS uses to determine whether a person likely committed immigration fraud. Plainly, it means that a person came to the U.S. by declaring one intent (in this case, to study here) but really having a different reason for entering the country. It’s called the 90-day rule, and it’s triggered when someone applies to change his or her immigration status within 90 days of arriving in the country.
Do You Need to Talk to an Attorney About Turning an F-1 Visa Into a Green Card?
If you entered the United States on an F-1 visa and would like to explore your options for obtaining a green card, we’ll be happy to help. Call us now to schedule a free consultation with an experienced immigration attorney who can answer your questions and explain what you need to do to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States.