How to Get a Green Card Visa for F1 International Student?

International students who wish to study in the U.S. must acquire an F-1 Visa to enter the country and attend high school, college, university, or any other academic institution of their choice. Once their study program is over, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) expects these students to return to their home countries.

However, some international students may desire to continue living in the U.S. after their studies for many reasons, such as finding a high-paying job or starting a family with their U.S. citizen fiancé.

It’s possible to switch from a F-1 visa to green card. And, this article goes into detail about how that’s possible. But first, let’s briefly discuss the F-1 Visa and how it allows international students to get a green card.

What Is an F-1 Visa?

An F1 visa is a non-immigrant visa issued to a foreign national who wishes to study in the US. This visa allows the student to enter the U.S. and remain there for up to 60 days after they complete their academic program. The student can stay longer if approved to work for a certain period under the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program.

Read more | Can I Apply for Green Card While on OPT?

What is F-1 Visa OPT Practical Training?

Optional Practical Training is the period the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services allows F-1 student visa holders to temporarily work in the U.S. to get practical training that compliments their major field of study. A student visa holder can apply for OPT before or after graduating from their course. 

Students who apply before their graduation, usually called pre-completion OPT, must have been pursuing their degree(s) for at least one academic year. Otherwise, OPT applicants must maintain their F-1 student visa status and be physically present in the United States by the time of their application.

Additionally, these applicants shouldn’t have previously used their OPT authorization at the same education level because they can only be approved once for OPT per educational level.

For example, if you get OPT approval during your second academic year in a three-year Bachelor’s degree program, you won’t be eligible for another OPT after graduation. Once you enroll for a Master’s degree, you’ll have another chance for OPT approval.

What is the F-1 Visa Grace Period After Graduation and After OPT Expires? 

If you don’t apply for OPT or are not eligible to apply after completing and graduating from your program, the USCIS will allow you a 60-day grace period to leave the country.

However, if you get the optional practical training authorization for temporary employment after graduating from your program, you can live in the U.S. for up to 12 months. Once the OPT expires, the USCIS will allow you an additional 60 days grace period to depart the country.

How Can a F-1 Visa Student Get a Green Card in the USA? 

Now that you understand how long you can stay in the U.S. with an F-1 visa and the OPT program, let’s discuss other ways to change from student visa to green card. 

Employer Sponsorship

You can change your status from a student visa holder to a green card holder by obtaining an employment-based green card. This is possible through the EB-1, EB-2, and EB3 visa, and the EB-5 investment visa.

F-1 Visa to EB-1 Visa

The EB-1 Visa is also called the first preference employment-based visa for foreign nationals who wish to work and live permanently in the U.S. The eligibility requirements for an EB-1 visa include:

  • You have extraordinary abilities in sciences, arts, education, and business, or athletics through a nation or international acclaim 
  • You’re a multinational executive or manager
  • You’re an outstanding researcher or professor

Your employer can sponsor you for the EB-1 visa if you’re an F-1 visa holder and eligible under these three categories. The employer must follow all the applicable labor visa laws and pay the necessary fees for filing a petition. You don’t need an employer to petition for you if you are an individual with extraordinary abilities.

Unfortunately, only a few F-1 visa holders meet the eligibility requirements for the EB-1 visa. For this reason, foreign students rarely use this option to obtain permanent resident status. Instead, they use the EB-2 and EB-3 employment visas. 

F-1 to EB-2 or EB-3 Visa

The EB-2 and EB- 3 visas are the second and third preference employment-based immigration visas, respectively. The eligibility requirements for the EB-2 visa include: 

  • You’re a member of the professions holding an advanced degree
  • You have exceptional ability
  • You have a National Interest Waiver for a job position

Additionally, each subcategory has further eligibility criteria that you must meet.

On the other hand, the EB-3 visa is reserved for skilled workers who meet the following requirements:

  • Minimum of two years of work experience
  • A full-time position employment offer that no U.S. citizen can fill
  • A work permit or labor certification

F-1 Visa to EB-5 Visa

You can change your F-1 status to an EB-5 visa by investing in a business in the U.S. and hiring U.S. workers. This visa also allows you to obtain a permanent resident card.

What Additional Benefits does an EB-5 Visa Offer?

Other benefits of the EB-5 visa include:

  • Freedom to live and work anywhere in the U.S.
  • Employment and education opportunities for the applicant’s children
  • Faster path from an EB-5 visa holder to a permanent resident and U.S. citizen
  • No sponsorship requirement

EB Visa Application Timeline

The application timeline for EB visas varies depending on the EB visa categories. For example, some applicants may receive their visas within a few months, while others may have to wait several years.

This is because the EB visas have caps that limit the number of immigrants the USCIS can admit into the country under these visa categories. Factors such as USCIS backlogs and new legislation can delay the waiting timelines. 

F-1 to H-1B to Green Card Holder

Another way to convert your F-1 visa to obtain permanent residence is by acquiring an H-1B visa. Although this is a non-immigrant visa, it is a possible path to a green card. This is because an H-1B visa worker can become eligible for a green card after six years of working in the US. 

The H-1B visa is for workers in specialty occupations that need a high level of education or experience. To apply, you must have a sponsoring U.S. employer to file a petition and meet all the eligibility criteria required in this visa category.

The Transition From OPT to H-1B

You can also apply and get the H-1B visa during your OPT program. However, this visa has caps limiting the number of immigrants who can get the visa in a fiscal year. As a result, the USCIS often conducts an H-1B Cap Lottery to select the lucky applicants.

To get the H-1B visa, you must find a U.S. employer willing to petition for the visa on your behalf. Next, the employer must submit an electronic registration during the H-1B Cap registration period.

If the number of applicants exceeds the Cap limit, the USCIS will conduct the lottery at this stage. If you’re among the selected applicants, your sponsoring employer will file a petition with the USCIS to continue the process.

F-1 Student to O-1 Visa Holder

The O-1 visa is also a non-immigrant visa for individuals with extraordinary abilities, including international students. However, it only allows temporary residency in the country unlike the EB-1 visa.

The O-1 visa lasts up to three years although in some cases, it only lasts for a shorter period to cover a specific event. This visa has unlimited one-year extensions, allowing the applicant to live and work in the U.S. for as long as they need.

Marry a U.S. Citizen

If you’re an international student with an active F-1 visa status, you can apply for a permanent residency card through marriage using the Adjustment of Status process.

Your fiancé must be a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident to be eligible. The type of green card you will be eligible for, whether permanent or temporary, depends on how long you have been married to a U.S. citizen.

What is the Right Time to Switch From Visa Holder to Permanent Resident?

Timing is a crucial consideration when applying for a marriage green card as an international student living and studying in the U.S. If you get married and apply for U.S. green card within the first 90 days of arriving in the U.S., the USCIS will presume that you misrepresented your original intentions of entering the country. As a result, they will deny your green card application.

For this reason, it’s best to wait until the 90-day rule expires before marrying your U.S. citizen fiancé or adjusting your F-1 visa to a marriage green card.

Can I Work In the U.S. While Waiting for My Marriage-Based Green Card?

You can continue to work under the OPT program as you wait for your marriage green card. However, you must apply for a work visa after applying for your marriage-based green card to work in the U.S. without the work restrictions of the F-1 student visa.

What If My F-1 Visa Expires While Waiting for My Marriage-Based Green Card?

Suppose your F-1 visa expires while awaiting your marriage green card. In that case, you can apply for an extension or seek another temporary visa to allow you to stay in the U.S. legally. Alternatively, you can return to your home country to continue the green card application process

Can I Go On A Short Trip Overseas While Waiting For My Marriage-Based Green Card?

You can travel abroad while awaiting your marriage green card. However, you must obtain a travel document to avoid nullifying your green card application. 

Some Students Apply for Asylum

You can apply for asylum if returning to your country endangers your life or exposes you to harsh conditions and persecution. You can do this 12 months after entering the United States on your F-1 student visa.

This process includes filing Form I-589, Application for Asylum. If your application is successful, you may live and work in the U.S. and eventually be able to apply for permanent residency.

Can International Student Apply for Green Card Lottery

Many F-1 students apply for the Electronic Diversity Visa Lottery every year to stand a chance of receiving a U.S. green card. However, there’s no guarantee for success given that the visa has Caps limits and the winners are drawn through random selection. 

If your application is successful, you’ll submit a green card application by filing Form I-485 and providing the necessary supporting documents. If you’re an eligible candidate, you’ll attend an interview, receive your green card, and become a permanent resident in the U.S. 

Military Service and International Students

Non-American students who wish to serve in the U.S. military may be eligible through the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program. The students must be legally present in the country and have critical skills needed in the U.S. military. 

You can only apply for the MAVNI program when the U.S. government starts accepting applications. Usually, the process involves proving your legal presence in the U.S. and undergoing security screenings and background checks. Additionally, you must meet all the eligibility requirements for becoming a U.S. citizen.

Keep in mind that you cannot join the U.S. military without a green card.

Receive Parent or Child Sponsorship

If you have a child (under 18 years) or parent who is a legal U.S. citizen, they can petition for a green card on your behalf by filing Form I-485, Adjustment of Status. This path is more direct, although it may take longer to receive a green card, depending on availability.

Sponsorship by a Relative Who Owns a Business

If you’re a non-US student with a relative who owns a business in the U.S., they can sponsor you for an immigrant visa. However, they must prove that they are hiring you because of your qualifications and not because of your relationship. Your relative must prove they could not find a U.S. worker suitable for the position they recruited you to fill.

What Is The Main Problem When F-1 Students Apply for Green Card?

Changing the status of your F-1 visa to green card has many challenges. The process of changing a student visa to green card status involves many steps, and documentations, and there’s no guarantee you will get approved for a green card.

It’s best to seek the help of an F-1 visa attorney to help you weigh your options among the different ways to get a green card as a non-US student.

FAQs About Becoming a U.S. Permanent Resident

Can Criminal History Affect Your Ability To Go From F-1 to Green Card?

Your criminal record may complicate your green card application. However, it doesn’t necessarily affect your green card visa eligibility. If you’re worried about your criminal record, consult an F-1 visa attorney to find out more about your options.  

Do You Need To Maintain a Student Visa While Waiting for Green Card Approval?

You don’t need to maintain your student visa status when you have a pending green card application. However, maintaining this status may help if your green card application isn’t successful. You can remain in the U.S. and continue with your education.

How Long Does It Take for a Foreign Student To Secure a Green Card in the USA?

The green card waiting time varies depending on the application category and other factors. As of December 2022, it may take 8 to 33 months for a foreign student to receive a green card.

Can You Get Citizenship Through Student Visa?

A student visa doesn’t allow you to become a U.S. citizen. You may be eligible to transition from a student visa to another visa that will enable you to apply for a green card and eventually become a U.S. citizen. 

Do International Ph.D. Students Get Green Cards?

Ph.D. students can also apply for a green card by filing an H-1B visa petition for workers with a high level of education in high-specialty occupations.

What Is Self-Petition as a Person With Extraordinary Abilities?

A person with extraordinary abilities doesn’t need a US.. employer to file the EB-1 petition on their behalf. Instead, these individuals are permitted to file the petition without a sponsor. However, they must provide extensive evidence to prove their extraordinary abilities.

Do I Need To Change My Student Visa Status to a Dual Intent Visa?

You can change your student visa to a dual intent visa, a nonimmigrant work visa, if you want to seek a green card later. Once you have changed the F-1 visa to a dual intent visa, you can find a U.S. employer to sponsor you for a green card.

How to Stay in the U.S. Legally After Graduation?

You have a grace period of 60 days to stay legally in the U.S. after your graduation before leaving for your home country. You can stay longer if you have legal authorization through various means, such as the OPT program, an employment-based visa, and a marriage-based green card.

How Many International Students Apply for Green Card After Graduation?

Most foreign students desire to stay in the U.S. after graduation. However, they must have legal authorization, such as obtaining a green card for foreign students, given that their F-1 student visa expires after their academic program ends.