One of the first steps that many foreign professionals take to getting a green card is applying for a nonimmigrant visa. Working in the U.S. through visas such as the H-1B, E-2, or L-1B creates the perfect platform from which a green card can be achieved. Getting from an L-1B visa to a green card can be a great way to live and work permanently in the U.S. Here’s how to do it.
How the L-1B Visa Works
First, let’s recap the steps to getting an L-1B visa in case you are considering applying for this visa in order to get your green card.
The L-1 visa is designed for multinational companies to transfer their foreign employees to a branch, subsidiary, office, or affiliate in the U.S. These employees, however, must fall into one of these two categories:
- L-1A for managers and executives of the company, or;
- L-1B for employees with specialized knowledge
If you qualify for or already hold an L-1A visa and are interested in getting your green card, be sure to read our article covering the transition from L-1A visas to EB1C green cards. However, for the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the process of going from an L-1B visa to a green card.
In order to qualify as an employee with specialized knowledge, you must have knowledge of the company’s product, research, techniques, service, or equipment that makes you indispensable to the company’s functions in the U.S. This must extend further than simply having experience in the field. You must have been working for the company for at least one consistent year in the three years prior to petitioning.
Which Green Cards are Available?
Because the L-1B is a work visa, we’ll take a look at the employment-based green cards that would be available to L-1B visa holders.
EB-2 Green Card
The first is the EB-2 green card. This immigrant visa is designed for people who possess exceptional ability in their field or hold an advanced degree in that field. To qualify for the EB-2, you need to have a job that clearly requires either your exceptional ability or your advanced degree. Speak with your immigration attorney to learn what evidence qualifies you for this green card. According to the USCIS, to qualify for EB-2 green card, you must have at least three of the following items:
- Official academic qualifications showing that you have a certificate, diploma, degree, or similar award from an institution of learning relating to your area of exceptional ability
- Letters documenting a minimum of 10 years of full-time experience in your profession
- A license to practice your occupation or certification for your occupation or profession
- Proof that you have commanded a large salary and/or other compensation for the services which proves your exceptional ability
- Evidence of being a member of one or more professional associations
- Recognition and awards received from government entities, businesses, or professional bodies in your field.
EB-2 National Interest Waiver (NIW) Green Card
The National Interest Waiver (NIW) is a provision under the EB-2 green card which has a different process from the regular EB-2 visa. Getting a National Interest Waiver means that the requirements to find a U.S. employer and PERM labor certification processing will be waived for qualified applicants. This means you can sponsor yourself by submitting your petition directly to the USCIS without being sponsored by an employer.
An L-1B holder seeking an EB-2 NIW green card must be able to prove that waiving the PERM labor certification process will be in the interest of the United States. In other words, the applicant’s endeavor in the U.S. will benefit the country.
To qualify for an NIW, you must meet the above EB-2 requirements. In addition to those, you must also demonstrate that you meet the following three National Interest Waiver requirements:
- Your proposed endeavor in the United States has both national importance and substantial merit
- You are well-positioned to advance the endeavor
- It would be in the benefit of the United States to waive the requirements of a job offer as well as the requirement to undergo the labor certification processing
Though the EB-2 NIW may be more stringent compared to the regular EB-2 application requirements, it has many advantages if you meet the criteria. Apart from the opportunity to self-petition, the process may also be faster as you will not need to undergo the PERM labor certification, which usually takes 8 months to complete. However, premium processing will not be available for an NIW petition, so your processing time may remain unchanged.
EB-3 Green Card
The second is the EB-3 green card for professionals (bachelor’s degree holders), skilled (experienced) workers, and unskilled (inexperienced) workers. A professional is an applicant whose occupation requires a minimum of a U.S. bachelor’s degree or equivalent foreign degree and is also a member of that profession. A skilled worker is an applicant whose job requires at least two years of work experience or training. An unskilled worker is an applicant whose unskilled labor requires less than two years of training. Each of these 3 categories of EB-3 applicants has its own requirements.
To qualify as a professional, you must:
- Be able to demonstrate that you have a U.S. bachelor’s degree or foreign degree equivalent. You must also prove that a bachelor’s degree is the normal requirement for entry into the job
Note: Experience and education may not be substituted for a bachelor’s degree.
To qualify as a skilled worker, you must:
- Be able to demonstrate that you have at least two years of experience, training, or education that meets the job requirements shown on the labor certification
- Have a job offer for a position in your field.
Note: Having relevant post-secondary education may be considered as training
To qualify as an unskilled worker, you must:
- Demonstrate the ability required to perform unskilled labor
- Have a job offer that is not of a seasonal or temporary nature
Most L-1B holders may find themselves in this category due to the specialized nature of their positions.
Other Green Cards
The other green cards, while not impossible to obtain, would be difficult for L-1B holders to qualify for and therefore unlikely candidates for your green card. These include:
- the EB-1 green card for international award winners, outstanding researchers, professors, managers, and executives.
- the EB-4 for religious workers, translators, military members, and certain Iraqis.
- the EB-5 visa for investors who are investing significant capital ($900,000 or $1.8 million) in a U.S. endeavor.
If you think that you qualify for any of the above green cards, make sure that you work with your immigration attorney before taking any steps to be sure that you qualify and that your case has the best chance of approval.
How to Transition from an L-1B Visa to Green Card
Fortunately, the L-1B visa is considered by the USCIS to be a “dual intent” visa, which means that you are able to seek permanent resident status while on L-1B status. This is in contrast to other work visas such as the J-1 or TN.
L-1B Visa to Green Card Steps
Generally, there are three steps to moving from L-1B nonimmigrant status to a green card. No matter which green card you choose, the first step will be to ask your employer to sponsor you for your green card. If that is unavailable to you, you need to find an employer that will sponsor you. The only exceptions to this rule are the EB-1C and the EB-2 with a National Interest Waiver. The three steps are as follows:
PERM Labor Certification Process
Now that you have a sponsoring employer, he or she will need to obtain a PERM Labor Certification on your behalf. This involves having your employer go through a recruitment process to ensure that no qualified U.S. workers are available to fill your position and that you are going to be paid the prevailing wage for your area.
I-140 Form, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker
After the PERM process is done, your employer will have to file an I-140 petition for you. The date that the USCIS receives your petition will become your “priority date”. You will need to wait until that priority date becomes current with the final action dates released in the Department of State’s monthly visa bulletin. The amount of time that you will need to wait depends on the kind of green card that you apply for and your country of origin.
I-485 Form, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status
Once your priority date is current, you can submit your I-485 form to have your status adjusted to that of a legal permanent resident. If you are outside the U.S., you will need to go through consular processing, which involves going to a U.S. consulate or embassy for a one-on-one interview with an immigration officer.
If you make it through all of these steps, you’ll have your green card! However, each step is complicated and difficult to do right the first time. Always be sure to hire an immigration attorney before going into the L-1B to green card process.
L-1B to Green Card Processing Time
Now that we’ve laid out the steps, we can learn how long you can expect to wait during the L-1B to green card process.
The PERM Labor Certification usually takes about 8 months to complete. This includes the 30-day job order requirement, the extra 30-day waiting period after the job order, and the 6-month processing time for the ETA-9089 application. If your employer is subjected to supervised recruitment or an audit, this can potentially extend the PERM processing time to two years.
The I-140 has an average processing time of 6 months depending on the Service Center that is processing your petition. Once your petition is filed, however, you will need to wait until the priority date is current. For EB-1 and some EB-2 areas, there is no wait time. However, for most others, there will be a waiting period of anywhere from a few months to several years.
The I-485 form also has an average time of 8-14 months. Once it is processed and approved, you will be an official legal permanent resident, though it could take another 6 months for the USCIS to mail your green card.
All said, the best-case scenario has an L-1B to a green card processing time of a year and eight months. The worst-case scenario depends on the waiting time for your priority date.
A Breakdown of the I-485 Processing Time
The I-485 processing time may vary depending on the green card category you are opting for. However, the following are the steps involved and the average processing time for each step:
Notice of Action: 2 to 3 Weeks
For a properly filed adjustment of status petition, the USCIS will send a confirmation receipt letter known as a Notice of Action, I-797C. This will be sent to you 2 to 3 weeks after the USCIS has received your petition.
Biometric Appointment Notice: 3 to 5 Weeks
The next notice you will get is for your biometric appointment schedule. This is to let you know the date and the location for your biometrics appointment. The biometrics appointment notice is usually sent out 3 to 5 weeks after submitting your petition.
Going for Biometric Appointment: 5 to 8 weeks
The biometric appointment involves the collection of fingerprints as well as your signature and photograph. This is to run a criminal background check on you, which is part of what determines your eligibility for a green card. Biometrics appointments usually take place 5 to 8 weeks after the petition was submitted.
Receive Your EAD Card: 12 to 16 Weeks
If you submitted your I-765 and I-131 forms along with your I-485, you should receive your EAD during the process. The I-765 is the Application for Employment Authorization Document while the I-131 is the Application for Travel Document. Once your EAD is issued, it will serve as official authorization for employment (work permit) as well as advance parole travel document while waiting for your green card. This should be within 12 to 16 weeks of submitting your petition.
Notice of Interview: 4 to 10 Months
Not all I-485 cases require an interview. If your case requires it, you and your employer will be sent a notice stating the location, date, and time of your interview. Status adjustment interviews typically take around 30 minutes. You should receive this notice within 4 to 10 months after submitting your petition.
Attending an Interview: 6 to 12 Months
The adjustment of status interview usually takes place within 6 to 12 months after submitting your petition.
Receive Your Permanent Residence Status: 8 to 14 Months
In some cases, permanent residence status may be issued after the completion of your adjustment of status interview. All things being equal, you should get your permanent residence status within 8 to 14 months of filing your petition. If your petition is approved, your green card will be mailed to you. Once you receive your green card, you will no longer need the EAD—the green card is all you need as a legal document to live, work, and travel in and out of the U.S.
Can This Process Be Shortened?
Fortunately, if this processing time is too long for you, there are ways to expedite the process. This can be done in two areas: the I-140 petition and the priority date wait time.
The I-140 processing time can be shortened from six months to 15 calendar days by using the premium processing service for a fee of $1,440. If the USCIS fails to process your petition in the allotted time, then you will receive a refund of your fee.
The priority date wait time can only be shortened by upgrading or “porting” your green card petition. This is not as easy as it sounds, as you will need to acquire a new job as well as the qualifications for the higher preference level. Work with your immigration attorney to navigate this delicate process.
How Much Will It Cost?
Here is a breakdown of the fees associated with transitioning from an L-1B to a green card:
- PERM cost: free
- I-140 filing fee: $700
- I-485 filing fee: $750-$1,140. This fee is dependent on your age and refugee status. Take a look at this chart under the “special instructions” section to see where you land.
- Biometrics fee (if applicable): $85
- DS-260 fee (if applicable): $230. This is only applicable if you are going through consular processing. You will also be responsible for the $88 affidavit of support fee.
- Premium processing fee (optional): $1,440
- Attorney fee: These vary depending on the attorney. You can see the flat fee we charge for our services here.
It is important to note that your employer will be responsible for all mandatory and auxiliary costs associated with the PERM and I-140 petition. You or your employer can pay for the I-485, attorney, and premium processing fees. However, you will be responsible for all costs that go along with consular processing such as the biometrics, DS-260, and affidavit of support fee.
Working While Waiting for Adjustment of Status
As an L-1B worker, you are allowed to continue working while your adjustment of status is pending. However, there are certain rules you must follow if you still want to maintain your L-1B nonimmigrant status until you receive your green card.
During the waiting time for your green card, you have two options: working with your L-1B visa or working with an employment authorization document (EAD). Keep in mind that you can obtain an EAD and choose not to use it as long as you still have your valid L-1B status and continue working with the same employer that sponsored the visa. Merely obtaining an EAD does not affect your status—it only has an impact when you use it either for your current employer or another employer.
However, the moment you choose to use your EAD to work, your L-1B status will be terminated. To continue staying and working in the U.S., you will need to file for and get an advance parole document to travel out and then re-enter the United States as a parolee. You will no longer be considered as an L-1 holder but rather a parolee. While an advance parole document gives you the eligibility to return to the U.S., it does not guarantee you will be admitted upon arrival at the border or airport.
Another implication of moving from an L-1B to a parolee status is that if your I-485 petition is not approved, there will be no nonimmigrant status to fall back on, and this will put you at the risk of being flagged for an unlawful stay and unauthorized employment.
Traveling Out While Adjustment of Status Is Pending
Although you can travel in and out of the United States while your I-485 petition is pending with the USCIS, certain precautions must be put in place to avoid forfeiting the green card application. This is because being away for too long or traveling out of the country without proper regulations may be considered as abandoning the green card application. So, to avoid this, there are two things you can do before starting international travel:
Apply for I-131 Advance Parole
The USCIS allows all green card adjustment of status applicants to submit both the I-765 and I-131 forms simultaneously with their I-485 petition. The I-765 is an application for an employment authorization document while the I-131 is an application for a travel document. Because AOS is a long process, these two accompanying documents are issued to allow applicants to work and travel lawfully while their green card application is pending.
You can submit both forms together with your I-485 petition or file them separately later. The I-131 is processed usually within three months. If your I-131 application is approved, you will be issued advance parole which will allow you to reenter the U.S. after your journey. Leaving the U.S. without advance parole may lead to being denied re-entry as well as denial of your I-485.
Maintain Valid L-1B Status
While having an approved I-131 gives you the legal ability to travel out and return to the United States, you may still be left stranded if you don’t maintain your L-1B status for the entire duration of the I-485 process. This is because, if the I-485 is denied, the accompanying advance parole may also be denied, resulting in an inability to re-enter the U.S. In addition, even with a valid I-131, you will still need to pass through with the Custom and Border Protection checks, and if you are found inadmissible, you may be denied entry.
However, with your valid L-1B status, you may travel without obtaining advance parole as long as your visa will still be valid as at the time you return to the United States. This is one of the privileges the L-1 and H-1B visas have over some other nonimmigrant visas. While some other nonimmigrant categories must obtain advance parole, the law makes it optional for L-1 and H-1B workers, provided they meet the following requirements:
- They are not under deportation, removal, or exclusion proceedings
- They are under a lawful nonimmigrant status
- They are currently in possession of a valid L-1 or H-1B visa
- They remain eligible for L-1 or H-1B status upon return
- They will be returning to resume work with the same employer with which they currently have been authorized to work for as L-1 or H-1B nonimmigrant worker
The same privilege is extended to your spouse and children as long as you (the principal nonimmigrant visa holder) maintain valid status.
Reentering the U.S. with Both Advance Parole and L-1B Valid Visa
If you reenter the U.S. with both a valid L-1B status and I-512, advance parole document, you will be eligible to re-enter either as a parolee or L-1B nonimmigrant. The fact that you have obtained advance parole doesn’t mean you must use it. So, it is your prerogative to choose which status to be readmitted on. While it is generally advisable for most to be readmitted as L-1B status instead of a parolee, please consult with your immigration attorney before making any decisions.
Being Readmitted as a Parolee
If you don’t have valid status and you are readmitted as a parolee upon your arrival from international travel, your L-1B nonimmigrant status will be terminated. This means you are now a parolee. You can only hope that your I-485 petition is approved. Otherwise, you will be at the risk of being out of status.
How Our Immigration Attorneys Can Help
As we’ve stated before, it’s never a good idea to go into something as complex as immigration law without an experienced guide and helper. Retaining an immigration attorney can help make sure that each step along the road from an L-1B visa to a green card is done right. You will also have an expert to fight for you if unexpected issues arise.
If you’re interested in making the transition from L-1B to a green card status or you want to apply for an L-1B in the first place, you can fill out this contact form and schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today.