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From H-1B to Marriage Green Card: A Guide to Changing Your Status

What you need to know as you switch from H-1B to green card holder

What to expect from the H-1B to green card timeline and application process

If you’re an H-1B holder who fell in love and married an American or a lawful permanent resident (green card holder), you can apply for a marriage-based green card to ensure you’re able to stay in the United States permanently and continue working. A green card also gives you an eventual pathway to U.S. citizenship.

The process can be complicated, and there are important differences depending on whether your spouse is a U.S. citizen or a green card holder, so it’s worth making sure you understand the process.

Are you an H-1B holder who recently married a U.S. citizen or green card holder? Boundless can help. Answer our 5-minute questionnaire to get started.

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How to Switch from H-1B to Green Card

Unlike many temporary visas, the H-1B visa is a “dual-intent” visa that holders can use to come and work in the United States even while they’re seeking permanent residence. That’s important because it means H-1B holders can apply for green cards freely from inside the United States, without being suspected of having misrepresented their intentions when they first arrived.

The precise application process — and, crucially, the H-1B to green card processing time — varies significantly based on whether you’re married to a U.S. citizen or green card holder.

Immigration paperwork can be complicated. Boundless simplifies the green card application process by turning all the required government forms, including the work permit application, into simple questions you can answer online — typically in under 2 hours. Get started today!

Two Paths to a Green Card

There are two pathways for switching from an H-1B visa to a marriage green card. Which path you’ll follow depends on whether you are married to a U.S. citizen or a green card holder.

Let’s look at each path more closely:

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

Spouses of U.S. citizens have a straightforward route to a marriage green card. You’ll need to file the family sponsorship form (Form I-130) to establish your relationship and the green card application (Form I-485) to request a green card.

H-1B holders married to a U.S. citizen may file the family sponsorship form and the green card application at the same time. This process is known as “concurrent filing,” and it helps reduce how long it takes to go from H-1B to green card. See the “timeline” section below to find out how long you’ll have to wait.

Important:

Once you’ve filed Form I-485, you should obtain a travel permit before taking any trips outside the United States. If you travel without a permit, the U.S. government will consider you to have abandoned your green card application, and you will need to restart the process from the beginning.

Get a work permit

Due to the lengthy application process, it’s typically a good idea to apply for a work permit (officially called the “Employment Authorization Document,” or EAD) at the same time as filing your other paperwork. After submitting your marriage-based green card application, you’ll receive your work permit — usually within around 150 days, though USCIS processing times are getting longer due to a backlog of applications.

If your H-1B visa expires while your green card case is pending and you don’t have a separate work permit, you’ll have to stop working until you receive work authorization again.

The work permit application (Form I-765) is free to file and won’t impact the outcome of your green card application. Many applicants file work permit applications as a preventive measure in case their H-1B visa expires while they’re waiting for their green card.

Boundless helps you complete your entire spousal visa application, including all required forms and supporting documents, independent attorney review, and support from the moment your application is filed until you receive your green card. Learn more.


Path 2: If you’re married to a green card holder

IMPORTANT UPDATE (March 24, 2023):

The April 2023 Visa Bulletin saw a drastic change to the F-2A family-based category (Spouses and Unmarried Children (Under Age 21) of U.S. Green Card Holders). Due to an overwhelming amount of cases in this category, the “Final Action Dates” for these applications have lost their “current” status for the first time in years. “Final Action Dates” pertain to applications that have reached the front of the line and can now be processed. Although still able to file, applicants won’t be able to move forward with their green card applications until the priority date is current. For Mexican applicants, the “Final Action Date” (or priority date) has regressed to November 1, 2018 and for all other applicants, it has been set back to September 8, 2020. This change is likely to bring about increased wait times for green cards under the F-2A category. Boundless will continue monitoring this development — be sure to visit our monthly Visa Bulletin report for further updates.


H-1B holders seeking a green card through marriage to a permanent resident face a more complicated process and longer wait times than applicants married to U.S. citizens.

Like the spouses of citizens, H-1B holders married to green card holders must file the family sponsorship form (Form I-130) to establish their relationship, and the green card application (Form I-485) to request a green card.

However, spouses of green card holders can’t use concurrent filing to submit all their paperwork at once. Instead, they must file the family sponsorship form, then wait to receive a visa number. (Visa numbers are issued immediately to the spouses of U.S. citizens, but not to spouses of green card holders.) Only after receiving a visa number will you be able to submit your green card application.

That means significant additional delays. Most H-1B holders have to wait approximately two years after filing the family sponsorship form before they can continue the process by filing their green card application.

Important:

Once you’ve filed Form I-485, you should obtain a travel permit before taking any trips outside the United States. If you travel without a permit, the U.S. government will consider you to have abandoned your green card application, and you will need to start the process from the beginning again.

Get a work permit

Like the spouses of U.S. citizens, H-1B holders who marry legal permanent residents can apply for a work permit (officially called the “Employment Authorization Document,” or EAD) at no extra cost when applying for a green card. But there’s a catch: the work permit application (Form I-765) can only be filed alongside your actual green card application, not your family sponsorship form. Until you receive a visa number and submit your green card application, you’ll use your existing H-1B visa to remain in the United States and continue working.

That can cause problems if H-1B holders reach the 6-year maximum on their visas before becoming eligible to apply for a green card. In such cases, they will have to leave the United States and continue the green card application through what’s known as “consular processing.” Only after the green card is issued can the applicant return to the United States and continue working.

Due to the long waiting periods for spouses of U.S. green card holders, it is important to begin the green card application process as soon as possible after you are married. The more time you have left on your H-1B visa, the more smoothly your application is likely to go.

U.S. Immigration can be complex and confusing. Boundless is here to help. Learn more about what Boundless can do to help.


USCIS Fees Increase

Important:

Switching from an H-1B visa to a marriage green card could get significantly more expensive in the coming months, especially if you’re applying from within the U.S.

The government recently announced that it would be raising immigration fees as early as summer 2023. If the new government fees go into effect, the cost to file an adjustment of status application could increase by as much as 130%. Get informed about potential costs and stay up to date on any government changes on Boundless’ USCIS fees guide.


How Long Does It Take to Switch from an H-1B to a Marriage Green Card?

The timeline for getting a marriage-based green card depends on whether you’re married to a U.S. citizen or green card holder:

  • Spouses of U.S. citizens: 13.5–20.5 months
  • Spouses of green card holders: 13.5–20.5 months

Where you live in the United States can also impact your wait time. Boundless has more information about variations in field office processing times and wait times for work permits.


H-1B to Green Card FAQs

The timeline is especially important for H-1B holders, because they typically have to leave the United States after their sixth year in H-1B status, and must return to their home country for a year before being eligible to re-apply for another H-1B visa. If your visa expires before you file your green card application you’ll have to leave the United States and continue via consular processing, even if you’ve already had your family sponsorship form approved.

To avoid a long separation, it’s sometimes possible to obtain another temporary visa, such as an F-1 student visa, when your H-1B visa expires. Unfortunately, while such visas allow you to remain in the United States, they aren’t employment visas, so you won’t be able to keep working for your H-1B employer.

If you’re in H-1B status, check your options early, and keep an eye on current H-1B processing times, since it’s much easier to move to a marriage-based green card if you have plenty of time left on your visa.

Layoffs are an unfortunate reality for many industries in the U.S. right now. This can feel especially stressful if you’re on an H1-B visa or have a pending marriage green card application. You can learn more about what to do if you lose your job on a work visa in Boundless’ guide.

Green cards based on marriage to a U.S. citizen can be obtained more quickly and easily than those based on marriage to a green card holder, so one way to speed up an H-1B holder’s green card application is for the sponsoring spouse to seek citizenship.

If the sponsoring spouse gains U.S. citizenship while their partner is seeking a marriage-based green card, they can notify USCIS to upgrade the case. Spouses of U.S. citizens can immediately file their complete green card application, along with a work permit application. This significantly speeds up the process, and allows the H-1B spouse to continue working in the United States even after their H-1B visa expires.

Even if the H-1B spouse has already left the United States, you should still notify USCIS to upgrade your case. This will likely help you to reunite with your spouse sooner.


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