If you’re among the thousands of students living and going to school in the U.S. on an F1 visa, then you know two things better than the average person: getting an F1 visa is quite difficult and involves several independent background checks (DHS, USCIS, etc.) and the moment you arrive in the U.S. the clock starts ticking down on your stay.
As such, if you’re reaching the end of your F1 visa eligibility period, then you may be wondering — or perhaps rather worried — about your next steps. Obviously, you can return to your home country and apply your knowledge and skills. But you may want to stay in the U.S. and write the next chapter of your life in the Land of Opportunity (and home of the most Starbucks!).
If so, then here are four ways that you may be able to trade in your F1 visa for a Green Card:
1. Apply for EB2 or EB3 Visa.
If you find an employer who meets certain eligibility requirements, you may be able to apply for either an EB2 or EB3 employment-based visa. The EB2 visa is for professionals who have an advanced degree, or a bachelor’s degree and at least five years of experience. The EB3 visa has three sub-categories: skilled workers (have at least two years of experience), professionals (hold at least a bachelor’s degree), and other workers (capable of performing unskilled labor).
2. Apply for an EB5 Visa.
If you have a significant amount of capital to invest (either $500,000 or $1 million — all figures USD), then you may be able to apply for an EB5 visa. Also known as the Immigration Investor Program, the EB5 visa program was created in 1990 to stimulate the U.S. economy and job creation by facilitating foreign investment. Keep in mind that United States Citizenship and Immigration (USCIS) does not allow for F1 visa holders to have “dual intent” — which means that your F1 visa must be valid during the application process. If approved, you will be allowed to switch your status to the EB5 visa. As this is a very complex process and USCIS and DHS are on high alert for potential fraud, working with an experienced EB5 attorney is an absolute must!
3. Enter the Green Card Lottery.
It’s a matter of luck instead of strategy, but if you’re willing to pay the requisite fees and fill out the proper forms, then you can enter the Green Card Lottery and keep your fingers crossed that your name will be randomly picked. Just keep in mind that USCIS receives hundreds of thousands of petitions for the lottery each year, and that if your native country has sent more than 50,000 immigrants to the U.S. in the last five years then you won’t be able to apply.
4. Marry a U.S. Citizen.
Several decades ago, marrying a U.S. citizen in order to obtain permanent residency was a relatively straightforward process. However, because of a surge in marriage fraud, getting a Green Card through marriage is much tougher and far more complex. With this being said, USCIS isn’t heartless or unrealistic: they accept that students on F1 visa can certainly meet Mr. or Mrs. Right while studying in the U.S. If you’re among these happy and loving couples, then keep in mind that you’ll need to convince USCIS that your marriage is legitimate (there are multiple interviews, background checks, etc.). Plus, if you’re granted a Green Card, it will be a conditional Green Card for 2 years instead of a permanent Green Card for 10 years (but you can usually apply for a permanent Green Card after you’ve been married for a couple of years).
The Bottom Line.
If your F1 student visa eligibility is winding down, then make no mistake: if you want to legally remain in the U.S., then you need to take action now and get an appropriate United States visa — not later. Make sure that you get the facts (with articles like this!), and work with an experienced immigration attorney to safely guide you forward. Good luck!