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


Navigating from F-1 student status to a spousal visa


If you’re an F-1 student who recently married a U.S. citizen or green card holder (permanent resident), you can apply for a marriage-based green card to stay and live with your spouse in the United States. This process is officially known as “adjustment of status.”

Before applying, it’s important to be aware of your eligibility and any potential issues you may face in the process. It’s also crucial to understand how timing can affect the success of your application.

In this guide, we’ll cover these important details to help you determine the best approach based on your situation.

Boundless can help you transition from F-1 student to marriage green card holder, making it easy to complete your green card application and avoid common problems. Learn more about what you get with Boundless, or get started today!


The 90-Day Rule


As mentioned earlier, timing makes a big difference in the outcome of a marriage-based green card application.

When evaluating this type of application, immigration officers apply a special guideline called the “90-day rule” to determine whether a spouse seeking a green card was truthful about their original intention for coming to the United States.

In short, if you apply for a green card during your first 90 days in the United States, the U.S. government will presume that you “willfully misrepresented” your intentions for coming — that is, that you had no plan of returning to your home country before your F-1 visa expired.

You may still be able to convince the U.S. government that you originally intended to honor the terms of your student visa, but you’ll be facing an uphill battle. Please see this article for more details on the 90-day rule.

Calculating 90 days

To determine when that 90 days would conclude, find the date of your most recent entry to the United States by checking your I-94 travel record (officially called the “Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record”), then add 90 days. For example, if the entry date on your I-94 is January 1, 2018, 90 days later would be April 1, 2018.

It’s important to note that the 90-day rule applies only to your most recent entry to the United States.

If, for instance, you first entered the United States with a B-2 visitor (tourist) visa and then returned to the United States with an F-1 visa, the 90-day rule would apply to the date you entered the United States with the F-1 visa.

But let’s say you entered with a B-2 visa, then applied and were approved for an F-1 student visa before your B-2 visa expired and while you were still in the United States. In this case, the 90-day rule would apply to the date you entered with a B-2 visa, not the date when you obtained an F-1 visa.

Do you have confidential questions about how your situation might affect your green card application? With Boundless, you get an independent immigration attorney who can help you understand your options. Learn more, or get started today.


Two Paths to a Green Card


There are two different pathways for transitioning from international student to marriage green card holder. The path you must follow depends on whether you are married to a U.S. citizen or to a green card holder.

Let’s discuss each path in more detail:

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

You must follow the same procedure for most other spouses living in the United States and married to a U.S. citizen. You and your spouse will first need to file the following forms — typically at the same time (filing these separately is an option but would be 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 F-1 student

As long as you married your U.S.-citizen spouse “in good faith” — that is, you did not marry for the sole purpose of obtaining a green card, which you’ll need to prove to the U.S. government — you should be able to receive your green card within 10 to 13 months from the time USCIS receives your application package.

IMPORTANT: While your Form I-485 is pending, you must not travel outside the United States until you’ve obtained a travel permit. 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.

Avoiding the 90-day rule

The best way to avoid triggering the 90-day rule in this situation is to wait at least 90 days after last entering the United States before applying for a marriage-based green card (submitting forms I-130 and I-485 together or submitting Form I-485 separately). Form I-130 can be filed on its own at any time before or after the 90 days is up and will not trigger the 90-day rule — but again, it’s unusual to file these forms separately.

If you aren’t married already, it’s also generally a good idea to wait 90 days since your last entry to get married.

If you apply — that is, if you file Form I-485 — within 90 days of your last entry, the immigration officer evaluating your marriage-based green card application will presume “willful misrepresentation” — that is, they will likely suspect that you had intended to live permanently in the United States when you applied for a temporary student visa.

Proving that your plans changed

Overcoming the U.S. government’s presumption of “willful misrepresentation” can be difficult but not impossible. To prove that you did not misrepresent your original intention for obtaining an F-1 visa, you could provide documentation that a job or internship is waiting for you in your home country upon your return, for instance. See this article for other ways to demonstrate to the U.S. government that you have commitments and strong ties to your home country.

Boundless can help you respond to government questions and prepare for your green card interview. Learn more about what Boundless does, or start your application now.


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

As the first step in this process, your spouse who is a green card holder must file the family sponsorship form, or Form I-130 (officially called the “Petition for Alien Relative”). Once the Form I-130 is approved, you must wait to receive a visa number. (Only once your visa number becomes available will you be able to apply for a marriage-based green card. Visa numbers are immediately available to spouses of U.S. citizens but not to spouses of green card holders.)

The next step depends on whether your visa number becomes available before or after your F-1 visa expires:

If a visa number becomes available before your F-1 visa expires, you will be able to stay in the United States and follow the same green card application process for most other spouses living in the United States and married to a green card holder using Form I-485 (officially called the “Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status”).

Once your marriage-based green card application is approved, your physical green card will arrive, typically 29 to 38 months after USCIS originally received your Form I-130.


If a visa number will become available after your F-1 visa expires, you will need to leave the United States and follow the same green card application process for most other spouses living abroad and married to a green card holder using the online green card application, or Form DS-260 (officially called the “Immigrant Visa Electronic Application”).

Once your marriage-based green card application is approved, you will typically receive your physical green card 23 to 32 months after USCIS originally received your Form I-130.

You must follow this procedure unless you can secure an extension of your F-1 visa or get a different type of temporary visa (such as a B-2 visitor visa) to stay legally in the United States, in which case you must follow the the process for spouses living in the United States and married to a green card holder.


If your spouse who is a green card holder becomes a U.S. citizen while you are waiting for a visa number, you can switch to the process described in Path 1 above.

Avoiding the 90-day rule

As would be the case if you married a U.S. citizen (see “Path 1” above), the best way to avoid triggering the 90-day rule in this situation is to wait at least 90 days after last entering the United States before applying for a marriage-based green card (submitting Form I-485 only).

If you aren’t married already, it’s also generally a good idea to wait 90 days since your last entry to get married.

If your visa number will not become available before your F-1 visa is set to expire, the next logical step is to apply for an extension of your F-1 visa status — or apply for another type of visa — in order to continue residing legally in the United States while you wait for your green card.

Otherwise, you must leave the United States before your current visa expires and continue the marriage-based green card process from abroad.

Boundless can guide you through every important milestone in the marriage-based green card process. Let’s get started!


Special Issues


If your visa expires and you do not leave the United States

Be careful not to “overstay” — that is, to remain in the United States past the expiration date of your visa. Overstaying is an immigration violation that could bar you from re-entering the United States for several years, depending on how long you remained in the United States without a valid visa.

If you’ve overstayed, it’s a good idea to leave the United States within six months following your F-1 visa’s expiration date in order to avoid being barred from re-entering. If you overstay for six months or longer, you will not be able to return to the United States for three years. If you overstay for more than one year, you will be barred from the United States for 10 years.

If, however, you’ve overstayed and your spouse who is a green card holder becomes a U.S. citizen before you leave the United States, you can generally then switch to the process described in Path 1 above. Any amount of time that you overstayed would then be waived as a benefit of being married to a U.S. citizen. It’s important to be aware, however, that new USCIS policy may increase risks of overstaying, even for spouses of U.S. citizens (please read full details in this policy alert).

Returning from a short trip abroad after filing Form I-130

As discussed earlier, Form I-130 can be filed on its own before or after the 90 days is up and will not trigger the 90-day rule.

But if you file Form I-130, and afterward you travel abroad with F-1 status and return with that same status, you may have trouble re-entering the United States. That’s because immigration officers at U.S. borders and ports of entry (where you would physically enter the United States) have much discretion when screening travelers from abroad. If the immigration officer screening you discovers that you have a spouse in the United States, they are likely to suspect that you intend to live here permanently, which would conflict with the terms of your temporary F-1 visa. In such a case, they may deny you entry or even revoke your F-1 visa, and you likely would need to return to your home country.

You would be able to continue the marriage-based green card process from abroad at that point. But later, you’d need to prove to the U.S. government that you did not intend to deceive immigration officers when you returned to the United States as an F-1 student who was married to a U.S. green card holder.

With Boundless, you get the confidence of an independent immigration attorney who will review all of your materials and answer any questions you have — for no additional fee. Learn more, or start your application today.


What Happens Next?


Getting your green card

Not all marriage-based green cards are created equal. The type of green card you receive — temporary or permanent — will depend on how long you’ve been married to your spouse at the time your application is approved. See this article for more details.

Working in the United States

As you probably already know, F-1 students can apply for up to 12 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT) — more commonly known as “on-the-job training” in the United States — either before or (more typically) after completing their academic studies. During this period, graduates are authorized to work with a U.S. employer in their field, and their F-1 visa will remain valid. (Graduates with degrees in STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math — may stay for an extra 24 months of OPT, for a total of three years.)

Once OPT ends, the F-1 visa will expire, and the graduate will need to return to their home country unless they apply and get approved for another visa to continue living in the United States.

If you are working through the OPT program when you apply for a marriage-based green card, you may generally continue working under your F-1 visa.

After submitting your marriage-based green card application, however, you will receive a new work permit (officially called the “Employment Authorization Document,” or EAD) within about 150 days (in some cases longer due to a rising backlog of work permit applications at USCIS). Unlike the work authorization tied to your F-1 status and OPT plan, this new work permit allows you to work for any U.S. employer. You can either continue working with your OPT employer or seek new employment. In either case, you must use your new work permit to be legally employed in the United States. Once you receive your marriage-based green card, you will no longer need a separate work permit. As a permanent resident, you can work for any U.S. employer.

With Boundless, you get a professionally assembled green card application package — including your work permit application — arranged in the precise format the government prefers. Let’s begin!



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