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Visas & Work Permits in the US

The Guide to Visa Types and Work Permit Requirements

If you are not sure which type of residence permit best suits your needs, this guide is for you. It helps you differentiate between the types of US visas for those considered to be “nonimmigrants” such as skilled workers, professionals, and the self-employed. Note that most visa holders do not need a special work permit as their visa usually acts like one. However, there are some exceptions. Permanent residence in the US can be granted for people that are sponsored by their employer or relative or those who win the green card lottery.

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Getting a visa that allows a person to live in the US takes a lot of effort. This is mostly because of all the documentation you need to present in order for your temporary visa application to be processed. Additionally, your employer needs to vouch for you by submitting a petition, before you even apply for a US visa.

Petitioning is also the first step in obtaining permanent residence in the US. The permanent residence visa requirements actually differ depending on who petitions for you: your family or employer. The steps of the application process also depend on where you are residing when applying for residence. For example, if you are already in the US as a “nonimmigrant” (i.e. a person that holds temporary residency in the US for the purposes of business, work, study, tourism, or medical treatment), you do not need to go through a specific medical exam to get approval. However, if you are applying from abroad, the medical exam is a mandatory step.

Is there a way to avoid petitioning? Yes, but it involves relying on your luck. The American Diversity Immigrant Visa program, also known as the green card lottery, allows you a chance to “win” a US permanent visa. Entering the visa lottery is free of cost, and while the chances of winning are not high, millions of people still submit their entries in the hopes of being selected.

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Work Permits and Employment-Based Visas

Whether you are a professional in a specialized field or a skilled worker, you will need an employment visa and, in some cases, an additional work permit that allows you to pursue a career in the US.

Keep in mind that once you have determined which type of visa is appropriate for your situation, you will usually not be able to apply for it unless your employer petitions for your stay. The petition document is called form I-129 and the filing fee is 460 USD.

Unfortunately for self-employed workers, the US does not have any specific visa options for them. The government does not run any specialized programs for self-employed people that wish to enter the country.

If you need a business visa for a short-term stay, look into the type B visitor visa that allows you to stay in the country for under six months. The Visa Waiver Program might also be an option if your country of origin is on the list of eligible nationalities.

The US Work Visas

If you are moving to the US for work-related reasons, you will need to get yourself a work visa. Work visa acts as a work permit, allowing you to live and work in the US. Thus, you do not need to get any additional documents in order to start working in the country.

The US Work Visa Types

Visa Type Description Family Visa Equivalent
E-1/2/3 Visa for traders (E-1), investors (E-2), and special occupation professionals from Australia (E-3) E-1/2/3
H-1B Visa for special occupation professionals H-4
H-1C Visa for registered nurses H-4
H-2A/B Visa for agricultural (H-2A) and non-agricultural (H-2B) workers H-4
H-3 Visa for nonimmigrant trainees H-4
I Visa for foreign media representatives I
L-1A/B Visa for intracompany transferees L-2
O Visa for individuals with extraordinary abilities or achievements O-3
P-1A/1B/2/3 Visa for internationally recognized athletes (P-1A) or entertainment groups (P-1B) as well as performers performing under a reciprocal exchange program (P-2) and artists that are part of a culturally unique program (P-3) P-4
Q Visas for cultural exchange Q-1
TN NAFTA Visas for Canadian* and Mexican professionals Depends**

 

*Canadians are usually not required to get this type of visa in order to work in the country.

**If the family member has Canadian nationality, the visa is not necessary. If the family member is of Mexican nationality, they need a TD nonimmigrant visa (allows the immediate family of TN visa holders to stay in the US).

The Most Popular US Visa Types

Visa for People in Specialty Occupation (H-1B Visa)

H-1B type visa is the most popular work visa in the US. Physicians, engineers, IT specialists – all qualify as examples of a specialty occupation.

To be eligible for this type of US work visa, you should meet one of the following requirements:

  • Have a US or foreign equivalent of a bachelor’s or higher degree.
  • Have completed training and hold a significant amount of work experience that is equivalent to a bachelor’s or higher degree.
  • Hold a form of certification that authorizes you to practice your specialty in the US and proof that you are planning on doing so.

The position that you are applying for must require a bachelor’s or higher degree or an equivalent of it. Keep in mind that the specific diplomas and qualifications you hold need to meet US standards. In some cases, this means that you will need to get additional documentation proving your skills. You will find more information on that in the working section of this guide.

In order for you to get H-1B visa, your employer will need to file a Labor Condition Application form (form ETA-9035) that demonstrates your wage will not affect the wages of other employees. Additionally, they will also need to petition for you (form I-129).

The limit of H-1B visas granted per year is 65,000, with 20,000 of them given to applicants with masters or higher degrees. You are not subject to this cap if you apply for a job in a higher education institution or non-profit organization.

If you are granted an H-1B visa, you are allowed to stay in the country for three years. The period of stay may be extended to three more years after that (six years total).

Family members of individuals with H-1B visa can apply for an H4 visa.

H-1B visa also has three additional categories for specific positions:

Visa name Who is eligible? Employer-filed documents
H-1B1 – Free Trade agreement professional from Chile or Singapore Individuals from Chile or Singapore that hold a bachelor’s or higher degree, are not self-employed, and do not intend on staying in the US for long Labor Condition Application (form ETA-9035)
H-1B2 – Department of Defense researcher and development project worker Individuals who meet all of the H-1B criteria and are offered a position in a research and development project that is administered under the US Department of Defense None
H-1B3 – fashion model Renowned fashion models Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker (form I-129) and Labor Condition Application (form ETA-9035)

 

H-1B1 visa is often qualified separately from H-1B visas, as it has a few notable differences:

  • The visa is valid for 18 months with a possibility of extension.
  • The cap allows for 1,400 Chilean and 5,400 Singaporean workers under H1B1 visa (this number is a part of the overall cap for individuals applying for H1B visa).
  • The visa allows alternative credentials instead of the bachelor’s degree (specialized training and a sufficient amount of experience is still required).
  • The applicant can present their professional licenses after applying for a visa rather than before.
  • The visa does not allow for the change of status.
Visa for Intracompany Transferees (L visa)

If you are being transferred to a US-based workplace within your company, you will need to get an L visa. The type of L visa you need depends on your position within the company. Executives and managers qualify for L-1A type of visa, while L-1B is for workers with specialized knowledge.

To get the US L visa, you need to meet the following requirements:

  • You need to have worked for the company for at least a year before your admission to the US.
  • You need to be seeking an executive or management position (L-1A), or a position that requires specialized knowledge (L-1B).

Intracompany transfers can be made between affiliates, parent companies, branches, and subsidiaries.

Your employer will need to petition for you in order for you to get this visa (form I-129).

Employers that meet certain qualifications sometimes choose to file a so-called blanket petition that covers more than one transferring worker. In most cases, that means you will need to pay additional fees for your visa processing, but it can make it go faster. Workers that are being transferred to the US but are not staying in the offices of the company that is petitioning for them, also qualify for this visa.

L type visa allows workers to stay in the US for three years with possible extensions of two additional years (five years total for L-1B type and seven years total for L-1A type). Workers that are transferred to the US to establish new offices are allowed to stay in the country for one year with the same extension possibilities.

The family of an expat with an L type visa will need to apply for the L2 visa. Family members are usually allowed to stay in the US for the same period of time.

The US Visa Application Process

Once your employer has filed the necessary documents on their behalf and they get approved, it is your turn to take action. The steps you need to take might differ depending on the country you are in, so make sure to check if your local embassy follows the same standard procedures that are discussed in this section.

Step One: Complete the US Visa Application Form

The DS-160 form should be completed online. The following information is necessary when filling in the form:

  • A valid passport
  • A copy of your employment petition (form I-129)
  • Your travel itinerary (if you have one)
  • Your recent travel history
  • Your resume
  • Your photo

You may be asked to provide additional information as well, depending on the type of visa you apply for.

Once you have filled in your application, make sure to print the confirmation page as you will need to present it in your interview.

Step Two: Schedule and Prepare for the Interview

If you are between 14 and 79 years of age you will need to have an interview with a consular officer to get your visa. The wait times for the interview vary from embassy to embassy and can be anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

Once you have your appointment scheduled you will have to pay the appropriate fees. The fees for the US visa will depend on the country you are from as well as the type of visa you apply for.

Nonimmigrant Visa Type Visa Processing Fee (USD)
Petition-based 190
Non-petition-based 160
Trader/Investor or Australian Professional Specialty 205
Spouse/Fiancé(e) of a US citizen 265

 

These fees are non-refundable. Applicants of the US L type work visa will be required to pay additional costs (500 USD) if they are applying for a visa under a blanket petition. Other US visa costs, like the issuance fee, will have to be paid after your visa gets approved.

Another stage in the interview preparation process is getting all your paperwork in order. You should have the following documents on you when going to the interview:

  • Your passport
  • The printed confirmation page of the visa application form (form DS-160)
  • Receipt of payment for processing fees
  • Receipt number for your approved petition (form I-129 or form I-129S for L visa applicants)
  • Your photo (if you did not upload it when filling in the online application form)

Additional documentation may be required, depending on the visa you apply for. For some visa applications, you may be required to prove that you do not intend to stay in the US for an extended period of time.

This is also the perfect time to read about your rights in the US as a nonimmigrant.

Step Three: Attend the US Visa Interview 

On the day of the interview, make sure to dress appropriately and be on time. When answering the questions be convincing and do not hesitate. You might be asked about:

  • Why you want to go to the US
  • Who is coming with you to the US
  • How long you plan on staying in the US
  • Where will you be staying in the US
  • Any relatives in the US

At some point during your interview appointment, you will be asked to provide your fingerprints.

After your interview, the consular officer will inform you about the further processing of your visa.

Step Four: Finalize the Paperwork and Get Your Visa

Now you will enter the final visa application stage: waiting. Once again, wait times will depend on the embassy; however, the process should not take longer than 60 days.

Depending on the country you are from, at this step of the process, you might need to pay the visa issuance fee. In a lot of cases, the issuance is free; however, for some nationals, the nonimmigrant visa costs vary between 200 to 2,000 USD.

Some additional processing of your visa might be required as well. If your application is subject to it, that means that some facts you brought up during the interview might be checked in the appropriate databases (criminal record, security risks, prior overstays, etc.). If that is the case, you will be informed about it as it might delay your visa issuance.

You will receive your visa together with your passport by mail.

These rules and regulations are always in a constant state of change. That is why it is important to keep up with the latest news about visa processing in the US.

Who Needs a Work Permit in the US?

An Employment Authorization Document (EAD), or US work permit, is necessary for individuals that hold specific types of visas that limit their employment opportunities in the States. This is especially relevant for expat families as this document is necessary for spouses of employees with a US work visa that seek job opportunities.

You need a work permit in the US if you:

  • Have a nonimmigrant visa that allows you to work but requires evidence of this approval (U visa, or spouses of L-1 and H-1B visas, for example).
  • Have your permanent residence status application pending.
  • Have your asylum application pending.
  • Have an immigrant or a nonimmigrant visa that does not allow you to work without permission (F-1, K-1, K-3, M-1, E-21, E-22, E34, EW4, etc.).

Note that F-2 visa holders (family-based immigrant visas) are not eligible for the US work permit.

In order to get an EAD, you need to file a US work permit application form (form I-765). The eligibility requirements to get one vary depending on which visa you have. However, there is some general documentation you need in order to apply:

  • Your passport, travel document, or departure-arrival record (form I-94)
  • A copy of your last EAD or a government-issued ID
  • Two passport photos
  • G-28 form if you are represented by an attorney

Additional documents might include proof of your spouse’s visa status, marriage certificates, or an employment proposal letter.

The filing fee for the US work permit costs 410 USD. In addition to that, you might also need to pay an extra 85 USD for biometric services. Some applicants might be exempt from paying the fees in specific cases.

 

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Self-Employment Visas

E type visa for investors (E-2) is the closest you can get to a self-employed visa in the US. However, it is only available to a handful of applicants that wish to invest a substantial amount of money into a profitable US-based company. The law allows you to establish it yourself; however, it must be a company that hires other employees as well.

Visa for Traders (E-2 visa)

To qualify for an E type of visa, the applicant must meet the following requirements:

  • Be a national of one of the countries that the US maintains a treaty with.
  • Have invested or be in a process of investing a significant amount of capital in a profitable US-based company.
  • Be seeking to enter the US solely to invest in a US enterprise. This has to be shown by owning at least 50% of the company or having operational control in it.

Note that the business you are investing in cannot be classified as “marginal.” That means that it needs to generate sufficient funds for you and your family to live off of. If that is not currently possible, you need to be able to prove that your business will generate such income in the next five years.

The maximum stay for people holding this visa is two years. There is no limit for how much it can be extended, as long as it is for increments that are up to two years. Still, the person must have the intention of leaving the US when their status expires or is terminated.

The family of individuals with an E visa can seek for the equivalent type of visa (E-2) that will grant them the same period of stay in the US.

Process and Costs

When trying to obtain E type of visa, you will need to petition for yourself (form I-129). In general, the rest of the process, including the application form, follows the same aforementioned steps. The visa application fee on its own is 205 USD.

Other Requirements

If you start your own business in the US, you cannot consider yourself an employee and sponsor your own stay in the US with an H-1B visa. That is because this specific type of visa requires the sponsor and sponsored to have an employer-employee type of relationship. The work of the sponsored individual needs to be controlled (hiring, firing, payments, bonuses, overall supervision) by someone other than themselves.

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Residency Permits: Temporary and Permanent

Whether it is an employment contract or family ties, if you are looking to obtain a temporary or permanent residence status, you do need a reason to stay in the country. That is unless you qualify and win the green card lottery.

Temporary Residence Permits

The most common temporary residence visas are employment-based. Refer to the section above to find out about the typical requirements and fees for residence visas based on work.

These are other visa types that allow you to live in the country for a set period of time:

  • Attendants, servants, personal employees of diplomatic and other government officials and immediate family
  • Visitors for business or pleasure
  • Dependents of treaty traders, treaty investors, and their employees
  • Dependents of skilled professionals from Australia
  • Attendants, servants, personal employees of foreign government officials and immediate family
  • Dependents of temporary skilled or unskilled workers and trainees
  • Spouse of U.S. Citizen and minor child accompanying/following to join
  • Dependents of intracompany transferees
  • Parents and children of certain people who have been granted special, immigrant status
  • Attendants, servants, personal employees of NATO representatives, officials, employees, and immediate family members
  • Dependents of aliens with extraordinary ability and their assistants
  • Dependents of athletes and entertainers
  • Dependents of religious workers
  • Certain second preference beneficiaries
  • Dependents of Canadians and Mexicans under the North American free trade agreement (NAFTA)

Family members and other dependents of work visa holders should apply for the same visa as the employed individual. In this case, no petition is necessary, and the main requirement is usually the proof of relations with the primary visa applicant. There also must be proof that the employed individual will be able to support the dependents once in the US.

How to Apply for Temporary Residence Permit Extension

You can apply for an extension of these visas if you meet the following requirements:

  • You were lawfully admitted into the United States as a nonimmigrant.
  • You have not committed any act that makes you ineligible to receive an immigration benefit.
  • There is no other factor that requires you to depart the United States prior to extending status.

To apply for an extension of your temporary visa, you must file the application form I-539 either online using the USCIS ELIS or by mail. The fees may vary between the various visas. These can go from 160 USD to 265 USD, but you can check all the visa fees for nonimmigrant visas here.

How to Become a US Permanent Resident

There are three ways you can become a permanent resident in the US:

  • Through an employment-based application
  • Through a family-based application
  • Through the green card lottery

All of these approaches are comprised of a few stages, which means that the process can take a long time and you will need to be patient. In order for the procedure to go smoothly, make sure that the information you provide is accurate and supported by additional documentation.

Once you receive your permanent residence card, you are required to carry it with you at all times. Note that while residency is permanent, the card itself is valid for only ten years and will have to be renewed.

The US Permanent Residence Benefits

Getting permanent residence in the US:

  • Grants you the freedom to change jobs without the need of additional approvals.
  • Allows you to freely move within the country.
  • Makes it easier to re-enter the US after traveling abroad.
  • Gives you a chance to sponsor the residency of your relatives.

How to Get Permanent Residency in the US Through Employment

Workers that apply for permanent residence in the US are classified into five different categories. Some of these categories require you to already have a job offer as your employer needs to petition for you (form I-140). In most cases, you will also need a labor certification (ETA 9089). In it, your employer will need to prove that

  • no other US worker with appropriate qualifications and salary expectations was willing to fill your position;
  • hiring you will not affect the wages of the rest of the employees.

The US Employment-Based Permanent Residency Types

 

Name Who is Eligible? Do You Need Sponsorship? Visa for Family Members
First Preference EB-1 Individuals with extraordinary abilities in science, art, business, or athletics No* Receives the same preference
Second Preference EB-2 Individuals with advanced degrees or with exceptional abilities in science, art, or business Yes** E-21 or E-22
Third Preference EB-3 Professionals and skilled workers Yes E34 or EW4 (spouses), E35 or EW5 (children)
Fourth Preference EB-4 Special immigrants No Receives the same preference
Fifth Preference EB-5 Business investors No Receives the same preference

 

*Sponsorship is needed for professors, researchers, and businessmen.

**Sponsorship is not needed if the applicant obtains a National Interest Waiver.

First Preference EB-1

Eligible applicants:

  • Individuals with extraordinary ability (outstanding entertainers, sportsmen, or businessmen)
  • Outstanding professors and researchers
  • Multinational managers or executives

The US permanent residence visa EB-1 eligibility requirements:

  • Provide evidence of widely recognized achievements in the field (extraordinary ability).
  • International recognition of outstanding achievements and three years of experience teaching or researching the appropriate academic field (professors and researchers).
  • Three years of employment (in a management or executive position) before entering the US, with at least one year at the company the applicant is seeking to continue working for when in the US (managers and executives).

The necessary application documents:

  • In case of extraordinary ability, you can petition for yourself by filing form I-140.
  • If you are seeking permanent residence in the US as a professor, researcher, executive, or manager, your employer will need to petition for you by filing form I-140.
Second Preference EB-2

The US permanent residence visa EB-2 eligibility requirements:

  • The job must require an advanced degree and you need to have it; or
  • You must show exceptional ability in your field; or
  • Be eligible for a National Interest Waiver.

People who show exceptional abilities in their field and whose employment would benefit the US can apply for a National Interest Waiver. That means that their Labor Certificate would be waived as their work is advantageous to the country.

You are eligible for the waiver if you meet at least three of the following criteria:

  • Have a certificate of exceptional abilities from an educational institution.
  • Own a license or a certificate that allows you to practice your occupation.
  • Have ten years of experience in your occupation.
  • Have received salaries or other payments for your exceptional abilities.
  • Are a member of a professional association.
  • Have received recognition for your achievements from your peers, business organizations, or the government.
  • Other comparable evidence of eligibility.

The necessary application documents:

  • Your employer will need to petition for you by filing form I-140.
  • Unless you qualify for a National Interest Waiver, you will need to obtain a Foreign Labor Certification (ETA 9089).
Third Preference EB-3

Eligible applicants:

  • Professionals (accountants, engineers, teachers, etc.)
  • Skilled workers (cooks, mechanics, drivers, etc.)
  • Unskilled workers (waiters, janitors, factory workers, etc.)

The US permanent residence visa EB-3 eligibility requirements:

  • The US baccalaureate or an equivalent foreign degree that allows you to do a job that other qualified US workers are unavailable for (professionals).
  • Two years of job experience or training that allows you to do a job that other qualified US workers are unavailable for (skilled workers).
  • The ability to perform unskilled work of permanent and unseasonal nature that requires less than two years of training for which other qualified US workers are unavailable (unskilled workers).
  • A full-time job offer.

The necessary application documents:

  • Obtain a Foreign Labor Certification (ETA 9089).
  • Your employer needs to petition for you by filing form I-140.
Fourth Preference EB-4

Eligible applicants:

  • Broadcasters
  • Armed Forces members
  • Ministers of religion
  • G-4 or NATO employees and their family members
  • International employees of the US government aboard
  • Special immigrant juveniles
  • Panama Canal Zone employees
  • Certain physicians

The necessary application documents:

  • Your employer needs to petition for you by filing form I-360.
Fifth Preference EB-5

Eligible applicants are entrepreneurs who:

  • Invest 1 million USD into a general US enterprise or 500,000 USD into an enterprise in a rural or a highly unemployed area; and
  • Create full-time positions for at least ten employees.

The necessary application documents:

  • You need to petition for yourself by filing form I-526.

How to Get Permanent Residency in the US Through Family

If a close family member of yours is a US citizen or a lawful permanent resident, seeking their support when applying for the US green card could be an option. In this case, your relative will need to sponsor your stay in the US. However, there are a few requirements you and they need to meet in order for your family-based application to be approved.

There are two types of family-based visas you can apply for: immediate relative (IR) visa or family preference (F) visa. Both types have their own classifications that depend on your relationship with the petitioner.

Immediate Relative visa types (no immigration cap):

  • Spouse of a US citizen (IR-1)
  • Unmarried children of a US citizen (under 21 years old) (IR-2)
  • Child from abroad adopted by a US citizen (IR-3)
  • Child to be adopted in the US by a US citizen (IR-4)
  • Parents of a US citizen that is 21 years old or older (IR-5)

Family Preference visa types (with immigration cap in parentheses):

  • First preference (F-1): Unmarried sons and daughters of US citizens and their minor children, if any (23,400);
  • Second preference (F-2): Spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents (114,200)
  • Third preference (F-3): Married sons and daughters of US citizens and their spouses and minor children, if any (23,400);
  • Fourth preference (F-4): Siblings of US citizens and their spouses and minor children (65,000).

Once the annual limit of immigration visas is reached, the applicants will have to wait for new slots to become available. When they are, the applications will be processed chronologically.

Note that the process to obtain a permanent residence visa in the US for spouses of the same sex is the same as for spouses of the opposite sex.

Petitioning for a Permanent Residence Visa for a Family Member

As mentioned earlier, your petitioner can be a lawful permanent resident or a US citizen. In order to petition (form I-130), they will need to provide:

  • Proof of their legal status in the US (copies of birth or naturalization certificate, a US passport, a permanent resident card, etc.).
  • Evidence of your relationship (copy of marriage or birth certificate).
  • If petitioning for a spouse, you will need to provide evidence that your marriage has been made in good faith (proof of joint finances or property ownership, a joint lease, birth certificates of your children, etc.).

The Affidavit of Support

In order for you to be granted permission to stay in the US permanently, your petitioner will need to prove that they have sufficient funds to support you. They have to do that by filing form I-864 or the affidavit of support.

A sufficient amount of funds constitutes a household income that is at least 25% higher than the US poverty level at the time. The poverty level threshold depends on the size of your household and the set amount changes each year.

If you cannot meet the necessary level of income, you can make up for it with the value of your personal assets. Those can be money in savings accounts, property, bonds, and stocks. However, the criteria for the assets differ from the income criteria. To calculate the amount of money the value of your assets needs to cover follow the formula:

(125% of the US Poverty Level – Your Household Income) x 5 = The Cash Value of Your Assets

The affidavit of support will require the petitioner to present a copy of their most recent income tax return. Other required documents might include proof of employment, a copy of a US passport or a permanent residence card, and documents establishing ownership and value of your assets.

Once the affidavit is signed, the sponsor will be financially responsible for the permanent residence applicant until they receive their green card.

Diversity Immigrant Visa Program (the Green Card Lottery)

If you do not qualify for employment or family-based visas, you can take your chances with the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, also known as the green card lottery. The US government runs this program in order to diversify the migrants that are settling in the country. Millions of people enter this lottery each year with the hopes of being granted a permanent resident card even without prior residency in the US.

To qualify for the lottery, you only need to meet two requirements:

  • The applicant must be native of one of the qualifying countries.
  • The applicant must meet the education or work experience requirements.

The list of qualifying countries is updated each year according to the number of each country’s immigrants that get accepted to the US in the last five-year period. If the number exceeds 50,000, the said country’s nationals cannot participate in the lottery.

To meet the education requirements the applicant must hold a high school diploma or an equivalent. Two years of work experience in the last five years also makes a person eligible for the green card lottery. However, only certain occupations qualify for the work-related eligibility. The job has to require at least two years of training and needs to be classified under a specific job zone by the US Department of Labor.

The entry period dates change each year, but you can expect it to be around October or November. You can find out whether your entry was successful around May. The cap for accepted permanent residents is 50,000 people per year. The selection of applicants is computer-generated and randomized.

How to Enter the Green Card Lottery

You can submit your entry to the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program online. You, your spouse, and your unmarried children under 21 years old can enter the lottery under one application. Once you complete your application, the computer will generate a confirmation number that you are required to keep as it is the only way to check your application status. Entering the green card lottery is completely free of charge.

However, getting your application approved is only the beginning. When you find out that you are the lucky entrant, that is when the application process really begins.

Upon receiving your entry confirmation, you will be assigned a DV case number that you will need to use when signing form DS-260. This is the form you and the family members you have mentioned in the first online entry need to complete in order to officially apply for the diversity visa. After you fill in the form, print the confirmation page as you will need to present it in your visa interview.

Things to do before attending your visa interview:

  • Mail in the copies of official documents that support your application (birth certificates, criminal records, evidence of military service, and police certificates indicating residence);
  • Complete a medical examination by an authorized doctor and get all the necessary vaccinations;
  • Pay the Diversity Visa fee.

Your visa interview will be held in your local embassy or consulate and you will be notified about the exact time and date. All the applicants that are submitting their entries alongside with you need to be present during this appointment.

What you need to bring to your interview:

  • Interview appointment confirmation
  • Two passport-style photographs
  • Form DS-260 confirmation page
  • Your valid passport (and passports of applicants that apply with you)
  • The originals of documents you sent in prior to the interview
  • Medical exam results (in a sealed envelope)
  • English translations (if applicable)
  • Other documents (evidence of education and work experience, marriage certificate, etc.)

When your visa is approved, it will be placed in your passport and returned to you. You will also receive a sealed immigrant packet that you will need to present to border control upon entering the US. Keep in mind that you will not be able to enter the country unless you pay the US Immigrant Fee prior to your travel date.

You have six months after receiving your green card to travel to the US.

Application Process for US Permanent Residence: Adjustment of Status

When seeking permanent residence in the US, in some cases, you will be asking the government to change your worker status from temporary to permanent. The following steps explain the process of getting your permanent residence status in the US while you are in the country. However, if you are outside of the US when applying for permanent residence, you can do so through consular processing which you can learn more about below.

Step One: Get Your Petition in Order

If you are applying for an employment-based visa, you or your employer needs to file a petition for your permanent residence (form I-140). If your permanent residence status depends on your family, then it is your relative who needs to petition for you (form I-130). Note that forms differ if you apply for a fourth (form I-360) or fifth (form I-526) preference employment-based visa.

Step Two: Pay the Fees

Before you can submit the paperwork for the adjustment of your status, you will need to pay the appropriate fees for the document filing and the recording of your biometrics. The process should cost you around 2,000 USD, without accounting for the attorney and other additional fees. Exact costs are quoted in the tables below.

Step Three: File the Application to Register Permanent Residence in the US

Applicants seeking family-based or work-based visas that do not require labor certification can submit their applications once their petition is filed. Other employment-based visa applications are accepted once the applicant’s labor certification is received by the US Department of Labor. However, all of the applicants will still need to wait for a confirmation on whether there are enough visa slots available before they proceed. The US government provides updates on visa availability online.

The documents you need when filing your US permanent resident application (form I-485):

  • A copy of your passport.
  • A copy of your birth certificate.
  • A document issued by an immigration officer that states you have been either “inspected and admitted” or “inspected and paroled”.
  • Proof of your petition.
  • Proof that you have maintained the status of lawful immigrant throughout your stay in the US.
  • Two passport-style photos.
  • The affidavit of support (if applicable).
  • Confirmation of a job offer (if applicable).
  • Police and court records of all your criminal charges if you have any.
  • If you petition for yourself, you need to present a signed statement that you intend to work in the field of your occupation.

The dependent family members of the applicant will need to present:

  • Items listed above.
  • Proof of relation to the main applicant (birth certificate, marriage certificate, church records, etc.).
  • If you are filing the documents separately from the main applicant, you will need to present documentation proving the main applicant’s immigrant category and the copy of their filled in form I-485.
  • If applicable, evidence of previous marriages.

Keep in mind that in order to adjust your status from temporary to permanent residence, you need to be physically present in the US.

Step Four: Submit Your Biometrics

After your application is submitted, you will receive a notice in the mail requiring you to record your biometrics at the local Application Support Centre. The biometrics include fingerprints, photos and/or signatures. They are taken in order to verify your identity and check your background information. During the appointment, you will also be asked to approve that all the information you provided in your application is true.

The date, time, and place of your appointment will be indicated in the notice. You should bring your notice and your photo ID with you when attending the appointment.

Step Five: Attend the Interview

Another notice will be mailed to you, this time, indicating the date, place, and time of your interview. The interview is conducted in order for you to approve that the information provided in the form is still correct. In case of any changes, the interviewing officer will allow you to make alterations in the form and provide explanations for them. The officer might also ask you to clarify information that was not addressed or completed in your application form.

If you are applying for family-based permanent residence, your petitioner will be required to attend the interview as well.

In special circumstances, the request for the interview might be waived. After the interview, you might be asked to provide additional evidence to support the information you have provided.

Step Six: Receive Your Residence

Once the interview is complete and all the documents are in order, the waiting begins. While there is no set time on how long officers can take to make a decision about your application, Immigration Services strive to do it in roughly four months. You can check the status of your application online or by calling the contact center. In total, the whole application process can take from six months to about a year.

Note that you cannot leave the US while your application is pending without informing Immigration Services. To do so, you need to apply for a travel document by filing form I-131.

If your application is approved, you will first be notified about the approval and, later on, will get your permanent visa card (green card) in the mail. If your application is denied, in most cases, you cannot appeal the decision. However, you can file a motion to request a reconsideration (form I-290B).

Once you receive your permanent residence card, you are required to carry it with you at all times. After issuance, the card is valid for ten years.

The Application Process for the US Permanent Residence: Consular Processing

If you do not reside in the US when seeking permanent residence, you will need to go through consular processing in order to get your green card. In general, the process is similar to the adjustment of status, however, the forms and the fees differ from one another.

The main difference is that instead of application form I-485, you will need to submit form DS-260. This application requires similar personal details such as your address, marital status, criminal record, education and work experience, and other information.

However, before the application can be filed, you will need to get yourself an agent that can represent you during your visa processing. It can be your family member, a friend, or an attorney. To do so, you need to complete form DS-261.

After paying the fees for the appropriate form and processing, you will need to get all the documents (and their translations if applicable) that support your application. These include:

  • Passports
  • Birth certificates
  • Marriage certificates
  • Criminal records
  • Military records
  • Police certificates indicating your residence
  • Proof of financial support (if applicable)

The documents can be submitted through mail, e-mail, or an online application center. You will be notified about the appropriate method you should use. Then, an interview at a local embassy or consulate will be scheduled.

While your biometrics will be recorded during your interview, you do need to go through a medical examination before you attend your embassy appointment. You also will need to order courier services to deliver your passport back to you once the processing is over. When getting ready for the interview, do not forget to bring all the necessary documents with you.

After your application is approved, you will get your passport back with the visa already in it. Additionally, you will also get a sealed immigrant packet that you will need to present to the border control officer once you arrive in the US. You need to enter the country within six months after the issuance of your permanent residence.

The US Permanent Residence Fees

If you live in the US, the following payments can be made online, by mail, or in person. If you are applying from outside the US, different rules apply, so make sure to contact your local embassy or consulate for more information.

Document Filing Fees
Name of the Form Price (USD)
I-130 Petition for Alien Relative 535
I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Workers 700
I-290B Notice of Appeal or Motion 635
I-360 Special Immigrant Petition 435
I-485 Permanent Residence Adjustment of Status Application 750 – 1,140*
I-526 Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur 3,675

 

Visa Processing Fees
Name of the Visa Price (USD)
Family-based application (I-130 petition) 325
Work-based application (I-140 petitioners, I-526 self-petitioners) 345
Other applications (I-360 self-petitioners, special immigrants, etc.) 205

 

Other Fees
Name of the Fee Price (USD)
Diversity Visa Lottery fee (after the applicant is selected) 330
Affidavit of Support review (when reviewed domestically) 120
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services Immigrant fee (applicable to permanent residence applicants immigrating from abroad; paid before leaving for the US) 220
Biometric Services fee 85

 

*Depending on the age of the applicant

Note that you should not pay any fees unless instructed to do so.

 

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Updated on: October 24, 2019

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