The J-1 nonimmigrant visa classification is a temporary status issued to foreign researchers,  scholars, professors, and students to participate in designated exchange visitor programs in the United States. Just like some of the other temporary visas, most J-1 holders are required to return to their home countries after completing their programs. The marriage green card process can be complicated no matter which immigration route you pursue. VisaNation ensures that our clients are applying through the right pathway to increase their chances of approval, along with taking care of the entire application process. Get started today!

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However, some J-1 holders get married to U.S. citizens or green card holders, and would love to remain in the U.S. with their spouses after their program. While there is no law prohibiting such marriage, there is more to becoming a permanent resident than just getting married to a citizen or permanent resident.

If you are a J-1 visa holder seeking to obtain a marriage-based green card, you will need to follow the appropriate steps to achieve a lawful change of status.

How Do I Change My J-1 Visa to Marriage-Based Green Card?

The core principle behind the J-1 visa is its cultural exchange nature, which is aimed at promoting cordial relationships between the United States and participating countries. To fulfill this objective, participants are required to return to their home countries for at least two years after their J-1 stint to utilize the experience gained in the U.S. in advancing the growth of their own countries.

Even if you would like to spend more time in the U.S., you will still need first to go back to your country, complete the required two years, and then reapply for another nonimmigrant or immigrant visa to be able to return.

Fortunately, this two-year home country physical presence requirement doesn’t apply to certain J-1 visitors. In order to get started with the J-1 to marriage-based green card process, the first thing is to be sure whether or not this rule applies to you. If it does, another piece of good news is that there is a way around it. However, this will also require that you take some extra steps, which are explained below.

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J-1 to Marriage-Based Green Card: How to File Status Adjustment Petition

Your J-1 to marriage-based green card process will depend on whether you are married to a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident. Although the two marriage types will be processed using the same forms, they have different requirements and processing times.

J-1 to Green Card If You Are Married to a U.S. Citizen

Being married to a U.S. citizen puts you in an advantageous position as your application is going to be processed faster compared to a green card holder’s spouse. You and your spouse may file the following forms at the same time:

  • I-130: This is officially called Petition for Alien Relative, which must be completed by your U.S. citizen spouse. The I-130 petition is used to establish the marital relationship as well as to show your spouse’s willingness and readiness to sponsor your J-1 to marriage-based green card application.
  • I-485: This will be completed by you as the beneficiary of the green card petition. It is the application to adjust your status from J-1 to a marriage-based green card.

Each of the forms must be completed and submitted with the appropriate marriage-based green card supporting documents.

J-1 to Green Card If You are Married to a Permanent Resident

Just as in the case of a U.S. citizen, the I-130 is filed by your spouse, while you, the J-1 visitor, will need to file the I-485. The difference is that you cannot submit the two forms together at the same time. Your permanent resident spouse will need to first file an I-130 and wait until the petition is approved before you can continue the process.

Once the petition is approved, you will need to wait for a visa number. Unlike a U.S. citizen’s spouse, a green card is not always readily available to the immediate relatives of a permanent resident. This is because there is an annual numerical limit for the number of green cards issued to foreign nationals sponsored by a permanent resident.

Once a visa number is available, you can proceed to file your I-485 to adjust your status from J-1 to a marriage-based green card.

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J-1 to Marriage-Based Green Card Processing Time

The marriage-based green card processing time will depend on whether you are married to a citizen or permanent resident. As a spouse of a citizen, the availability of green card would mean that once your forms are received by the USCIS, the processing will commence. It will take 10 to 13 months to decide and issue a decision on your application.

For a marriage-based card sponsored by a permanent resident, you will need to factor in the time you will spend waiting for the priority date to be current. The overall processing time could be as long as two to three years.

What if My J-1 Visa Expires While Waiting for Marriage-Based Green Card?

Due to the long waiting time, your J-1 status may expire while the USCIS is processing your green card application. Every alien on a nonimmigrant status must depart the U.S. upon the expiration of their visa. It is a violation of immigration law to overstay your visa period unless you maintain valid immigration status by getting an extension of your J-1 visa or changing your status to that of another type of temporary visa.

If your J-1 status expires before the approval of your marriage-based green card and you can’t maintain valid status, you will need to return to your home country and continue the process there. Rather than adjusting your status from a J-1 visa to a marriage-based green card, you will attend an interview at a U.S. consulate or embassy in your home country. This is known as consular processing.

Can the Immigration 90-Day Rule Affect My Marriage-Based Green Card Process?

Filing your J-1 to marriage-based green card application at the appropriate time is crucial. The J-1 classification does not have “dual intent”, meaning you shouldn’t maintain the intent of getting a green card while applying for the J-1. For this reason, it is advisable not to file your change of status too early.

Submitting within 90 days after arriving in the U.S. on a J-1 status will suggest to the immigration officers that you had the intent from the onset. This is an immigration law violation known as willful misrepresentation. Although it does not automatically translate to denial, it will arouse suspicions from immigration officers and will make it more difficult to get approval for your marriage-based green card.

The best way to avoid this is to allow at least 90 days between your arrival time and commencement of your adjustment of status process.

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How VisaNation Law Group Immigration Attorneys Can Help

Generally, adjusting from a no dual intent temporary visa to a marriage-based green card is a complicated process that requires completing several steps of immigration and documentation. However, the good news is that you can improve your approval chances by retaining an experienced immigration attorney.

VisaNation Law Group’s team of qualified immigration attorneys are highly experienced in the J-1 to marriage-based green card process. They will help you file your petition with the required documentation. The lawyers will also guide you through the entire process and ensure that you have the best chances of approval. Get started today!