H-1B or L-1 Visa to Marriage-Based Green Card: Five Things to Know

It's not uncommon for a foreign national here in the U.S. on an H-1B visa, L-1 visa, or other temporary visa classification (F-1, E-2, J-1, etc.) to fall in love with a U.S. citizen or green card holder, get married, and apply for a marriage-based green card. We love advising clients on going from H-1B or L-1 visa to marriage-based green card as this aspect of U.S. immigration law draws on our experience with employment-based immigration and family-based immigration. Here are some Frequently Asked Questions about the process of transitioning from an H-1B or L-1 visa to a marriage-based green card:;

Q: How long will the H-1B or L-1 visa to marriage-based green card process take?

A: It depends! As of the time of publishing this blog post, it's taking approximately 6-12 months from the time the I-130/I-485 package is filed with USCIS to the time of approval. However, the processing time can be longer than that. In addition, if yor spouse is a permanent resident, you may have to wait for a green card to become available, depending on the visa bulletin.

Q: Can I travel while the green card application is in process?

A: In general, the H-1B and L-1 visa classifications are dual intent. That means that in general, a person in valid H-1B or L-1 status can hold that status and also pursue permanent residence. In many instances, a person holding H-1B or L-1 status can travel outside the U.S. while the green card application is pending, and return on a valid H-1B or L-1 visa without a problem, assuming they are still working for the sponsoring H-1B or L-1 employer. However, other temporary visa classifications are not dual intent and therefore international travel can be a problem. This includes but is not limited to the F-1, J-1, E-2, and TN visa classifications. As part of the green card application package, you will also apply for an advance parole document (AP document, sometimes called a travel document). Once this is approved, it is possible to use this to travel even with the green card application still in process. Be sure to confirm with your immigration attorney before making travel plans, regardless of your current immigration status.

Q: Can I work while the green card application is in process?

A: Yes, it is possible to hold your current immigration status (H-1B or L-1, for example), and continue working in that status while you wait for the green card application to be approved. As part of the green card application package, you will also apply for an employment authorization document (also called the EAD or work permit). Once you receive the EAD, you can choose to continue working on your current immigration status, or use the EAD to work. Using the EAD may allow you to change jobs if needed, or you may choose to use the EAD if your current status expires and your employer chooses not to extend the status. Because the EAD is tied to the marriage-based green card, you can work for any employer with the EAD.

A note for the both the EAD and advance parole (AP): these are interim benefits. That means that they are benefits to use (if you choose to) while the green card application is in process. We have seen many cases where the green card itself is approved before the EAD and/or AP are approved. That's okay. If that happens, you will simply use the green card to work and travel.

Q: What happens if I move while the H-1B or L-1 visa to marriage-based green card application is in process?

A: As with any other immigration petition or application, you must timely notify USCIS of your change of address. In addition, it is possible that because of your move (to a different state, for example), your file would be transferred to a different immigration office for processing. That could possibly slow down USCIS's processing of your case. While not ideal, it is critical to notify USCIS of a change of address, whether the move is local or long-distance. Further, not all marriage-based green cards require an interview, so it's possible that the processing time would remain unaffected, even if you move.

Q: Do I have to maintain my H-1B (or L, etc) status while I'm waiting for the green card?

A: Once you have filed Form I-485, you are in a period of stay authorized by the attorney general. That's a legal term that means that you have permission to remain in the U.S. while the application is in process with USCIS. If you are not maintaining your temporary status (by continuing to work in that status) while the green card is in process, and if by chance your green card application is denied, then you would no longer have that status to fall back on. However, the question of whether or not to maintain status is a strategic decision to make in consultation with your immigration lawyer.

If you have a bona fide relationship with a U.S. citizen (or permanent resident), the marriage-based green card can be a wonderful path to a green card, with less stress and less time required than most employment-based options.

If you are not yet a Sumner Immigration Law client and you’re looking for an experienced, empathetic, and efficient team to help you navigate the process with confidence, please contact us today to set up your initiation consultation to get the process started! You can set an appointment online. You can also call us at 804-396-3412 or send us an email at info@sumnerimmigration.com. We are immigration lawyers in Richmond, VA but we serve clients throughout the U.S. and around the world. For more information on our firm visit Who We Are and What Makes Us Different! We look forward to hearing from you!

As always, the above information is for educational purposes only and is not legal advice. Please speak with a qualified immigration lawyer before taking action.