How to Change Your Status from an L-1 Visa to a Marriage Green Card


Navigating from L-1A or L-1B status to a spousal visa


If you’re working in the United States on an L-1 visa, then you’re probably eligible for an employment-based green card — but you’ll usually need your employer to sponsor you, and even then could face a long and complicated pathway to permanent residence.

Fortunately, if your spouse is a U.S. citizen or green card holder, then you’re also likely eligible for a marriage-based green card, or spousal visa. This is often a quicker and more straightforward option for L-1 visa holders.

In this guide, you’ll learn about the process of switching from an L-1 visa to a marriage green card, so you can decide how to proceed. We’ll cover:

Remember, Boundless can help you navigate the entire process of applying for a marriage green card. For a single flat fee of $950, we’ll walk you through a series of easy questions to help you fill out all the necessary forms. You’ll also get an independent attorney who’ll review your application and supporting documents. Learn more about how Boundless can help, or check your eligibility for a marriage green card today.


Not sure if you qualify for a marriage-based green card?
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Who should consider a marriage green card?


Whether a marriage-based green card makes sense for you will depend on whether you’re in L-1A or L-1B status. It also depends on whether your spouse is a green card holder or a permanent resident. That’s because the spouses of U.S. citizens can typically apply for a green card right away, but the spouses of green card holders must wait for a visa to become available for them.

If you’re an L-1A visa holder

If you’re a manager or executive in L-1A status, then you likely qualify for an EB-1 visa — a category of employment-based green card that’s specifically intended for multinational managers and executives. The good news is that EB-1 visas don’t require labor certification — an expensive and complicated process — so you’ll probably find it relatively easy to obtain a green card.

If your spouse is a green card holder

Because the EB-1 visa is generally a straightforward option, if you’re in L-1A status and married to a green card holder then applying for an EB-1 green card might be the best option for you.

If your spouse is a U.S. citizen

If you’re in L-1A status and married to a U.S. citizen then you might find that a marriage green card will offer a simpler and easier path to permanent residence, because you won’t need to document your employment or get your company involved.

Boundless takes the hassle out of shipping your green card application — your complete application package arrives at your doorstep, ready for you to sign and drop back in the mail to the correct government address. Find out more, or check your eligibility today.

If you’re an L-1B visa holder

If you’re a specialized employee in L-1B status, then your main option is an EB-2 visa — a category of employment-based green card intended for people with exceptional skills or advanced training. In most cases, this will require your employer to sponsor your visa and seek labor certification showing there are no American workers willing and able to do your job. That’s an expensive and complicated process, and can take years to complete.

If your spouse is a green card holder

Because the EB-2 visa can be hard to obtain, if you’re in L-1B status and married to a green card holder, it’s worth considering a marriage green card. You’ll have to wait for a visa to become available, but could find that a spousal visa is your quickest and most straightforward option. You’ll also be able to upgrade your application, and potentially get a green card more quickly, if your spouse obtains U.S. citizenship while your application is pending.

If your spouse is a U.S. citizen

If you’re in L-1B status and married to a U.S. citizen then the potential advantage to pursuing a marriage green card is clear. The spouses of U.S. citizens don’t have to wait for visas to become available, so you’ll be able to apply for a green card right away, without having to worry about the complexities of seeking an EB-2 visa.

Whatever your status, and whether you’re married to a green card holder or a U.S. citizen, Boundless can help you make sense of the immigration forms and supporting documents that you’ll need to file to obtain a green card. Learn more about how Boundless can help, or check your eligibility for a green card today!


How to switch from L status to a marriage green card


The L visa, which allows international companies to transfer managers and executives (L-1A) and specialized workers (L-1B) to the United States, is a “dual intent” visa. In other words, even though the L visa is a temporary (or “nonimmigrant”) visa, you’re allowed to use it to enter the United States even if you’re planning to seek permanent immigrant status by obtaining a green card. That makes it easy to apply for a green card from inside the United States using the Adjustment of Status (AOS) process — an option that’s usually much more complicated for people on temporary visas.

If you wish, you also have the option of applying for a green card from your home country. In this case, your application will be processed via “consular processing”, meaning that an officer at your local U.S. consulate or embassy will handle your application and make the final decision on whether you’ll be given a green card. This will generally be a less attractive option for L-1 visa holders, since you’re likely already living and working in the United States. Check out the Boundless guide for overseas applicants if you want to consider this option.

If you’re using the AOS process to apply for a green card from inside the United States, you’ll face a slightly different path depending on whether you’re married to a U.S. citizen or a green card holder.

Path 1: If you’re married to a U.S. citizen

You will need to follow the same procedure for most other spouses living in the United States and married to a U.S. citizen. You and your spouse must first file the following forms, typically at the same time (you can file these separately, but doing so is unusual in most cases):

  1. The family sponsorship form — or Form I-130 (officially called the “Petition for Alien Relative”) — to be completed and signed by your spouse who is a U.S. citizen
  2. The green card application — or Form I-485 (officially called the “Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status”) — to be completed and signed by you, the J-1 exchange visitor

As long as you married your U.S. citizen spouse “in good faith” — meaning you did not marry just to obtain a green card, which you’ll need to prove to the U.S. government — your green card should arrive within 10 to 13 months from the time you send your application package.

WORKING IN THE UNITED STATES AND TRAVELING ABROAD

You’ll be able to continue working in the United States under your L-1 visa while your green card application in pending. Still, it doesn’t hurt to apply for a temporary work permit (officially called the “Employment Authorization Document,” or EAD) along with your main application. There’s no extra fee, and if you secure a work permit you’ll be able to continue working in the United States even if your L-1 visa expires before you receive your green card.

As an L-1 visa holder, you won’t need to obtain a travel permit (officially called the “Advance Parole Document”) in order to travel outside the United States, but you’ll only be able to reenter as long as you remain in valid L-1 status. If you think your visa might expire or that you might change employers while outside the United States, you should request a travel permit when you travel overseas. Otherwise, the U.S. government will consider your marriage-based green card application “abandoned,” and you will need to start the application process all over again.

Boundless takes all the required government forms — including the work permit application — and turns them into simple questions you can answer online. Learn more about the way that Boundless can help, or check your eligibility for a marriage green card.

Path 2: Married to a green card holder

If you’re married to a green card holder, you’ll follow the same procedure for most other spouses living in the United States and married to a green card holder. Unlike the spouse of a U.S. citizen, you won’t be able to file all your forms at the same time. Instead, you will first file the family sponsorship form — or Form I-130 (officially called the “Petition for Alien Relative”) — to establish your relationship to your spouse.

Once your family sponsorship form is approved, you’ll need to wait for a visa number showing that a green card is available to you. (Green cards are immediately available for the spouses of U.S. citizens, but not the spouses of green card holders.)

If your visa number becomes available while you are still in L-1 status then you will follow the same green card application process for most other spouses living in the United States and married to a green card holder. That means filing Form I-485 (officially called the “Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status”). If the U.S. government approves this marriage-based green card application, you will typically receive a physical green card about 29 to 38 months after you originally sent your Form I-130.

If your visa number becomes available after your L-1 visa expires you’ll need to leave the United States according to the terms of your visa. You’ll then complete your application via consular processing, using the same process as most other spouses living abroad and married to a green card holder. You will need to use the online green card application, or Form DS-260 (officially called the “Immigrant Visa Electronic Application”). If your application is approved, you can expect to receive your green card about 23 to 32 months after USCIS originally received your Form I-130.

IMPORTANT! If your spouse is a green card holder when you begin your application, but becomes a U.S. citizen while you’re waiting for a visa number, you can notify U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to get your green card application expedited. You’ll then follow the process described in Path 1 above.

WORKING IN THE UNITED STATES AND TRAVELING ABROAD

You’ll be able to continue working in the United States under your L-1 visa while your green card application in pending. Still, as the spouse of a green card holder it’s worth applying for a temporary work permit (officially called the “Employment Authorization Document,” or EAD) along with your main application. There’s no extra fee, and if you secure a work permit you’ll be able to continue working in the United States even if your L-1 visa expires before you receive your green card.

As an L-1 visa holder, you won’t need to obtain a travel permit (officially called the “Advance Parole Document”) in order to travel outside the United States, but you’ll only be able to reenter as long as you remain in valid L-1 status. If you think your visa might expire or that you might change employers while outside the United States, you should request a travel permit when you travel overseas. Otherwise, the U.S. government will consider your marriage-based green card application “abandoned,” and you will need to start the application process all over again.

Boundless takes all the required government forms — including the work permit application — and turns them into simple questions you can answer online. Learn more about the way that Boundless can help, or find out if you’re eligible for a marriage green card.


Special considerations for L-1 visa holders


  • Be careful with the timing. If you’re married to a green card holder and want to apply for a green card from within the United States, you’ll need to remain in L-1 status while waiting for a visa number. Since an L-1 visa is generally renewable for a maximum of seven years, you should ensure you are likely to have enough time left on your L visa to begin your adjustment of status before your visa expires.
  • Don’t overstay on your visa. If you’re on an L-1 visa, it’s important to understand how long you’re allowed to remain in the country, and not to stay beyond the term of your visa. If you do overstay, you could be barred from re-entering the United States for several years, depending on how long you stayed in the United States without a valid visa. If you find you’ve stayed longer than you were entitled to, check with a lawyer before leaving the country: if you’re married to a U.S. citizen, you may be able gain a green card even if you’ve fallen out of status.
  • Weigh the risks and benefits. In many cases, the processing time for filing through a U.S. citizen spouse or an L employer are about the same – but in general, spousal visas will be more readily approved than employment-based green card applications. Marriage based cases are usually less complex than employment based cases, which are much more highly scrutinized and have more rigorous standards. It is usually less risky and less complicated to seek a green card through your U.S. citizen spouse, if that option is available.


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