The L-1 visa category is a temporary work visa that falls under “dual intent” visas. Dual-intent visas refer to temporary nonimmigrant visas that can be adjusted to immigrant visas. This means that people with L-1 visa status may adjust their status to a green card without penalty. This article will explain specifically how to change status from an L-1 visa to a marriage green card, when to apply for the change, and whether it’s a good idea to get a marriage green card instead of an employment green card.
Is it a good idea to get a marriage green card instead of an employment green card?
The L-1 visa is for alien workers working in the United States due to an intracompany transfer. If you are deciding whether to apply for permanent residency through a marriage green card or employment green card, keep in mind two factors. Your case depends on your type of L-1 status and whether your spouse is a permanent resident or green cardholder. Spouses of U.S. citizens can apply for a green card right away. In contrast, spouses of green card holders have to wait for a visa to become available.
If you have an L-1A visa
If you have L-1A status as a manager or executive, you are likely to qualify for an EB-1C visa. This visa category is for multinational managers and executives. The EB-1C category doesn’t require you to undergo the labor certification process, which is expensive and complex. It will be much easier to get a green card. You will generally have to show that you worked for a foreign employer for at least a year and then worked in the United States for a U.S. employer with a “qualifying relationship” to the foreign employer. “Qualifying relationship” means the two companies must have common ownership.
If your spouse is a green card holder, filing an EB-1 green card application would probably be more uncomplicated and straightforward.
If your spouse is a U.S. citizen, a marriage green card may be easier. You won’t have to involve your employer or document your employment.
If you have an L-1B visa
Suppose you have L-1B status as a temporary U.S. worker with specialized knowledge. In that case, you fall in the category of eligibility for an EB-2 visa. This employment-based green card application is for skilled workers or employees with advanced degrees. Your U.S. employer would have to sponsor your visa and obtain a PERM labor certification through the U.S. Department of Labor to prove there are no American workers who can do your job. This process is expensive and could take years.
If you’re married to a green card holder, you should consider adjusting status based on your marriage. Even though you will have to wait until the “priority date” when a visa number becomes available for you, the processing time will be shorter than that of an EB-2 visa. L-1B visa holders can also upgrade their visa application if their spouse becomes a U.S. citizen while their application is pending. That will shorten processing time even more.
If your spouse is a U.S. citizen, pursuing a marriage green card is a better option. You won’t have to wait for a visa to become available, and you can apply for permanent resident status right away.
How to change status from L-1 visa to marriage green card
The L-1 visa is for intracompany transferees of U.S. companies or foreign companies moving from a foreign office to a new office in the United States. The visa allows for “dual intent” under immigration law. In other words, even though L-1 is a temporary or nonimmigrant visa, L-1 visa holders can still enter the United States while planning to seek permanent status. As a result, you can apply for a green card from inside the United States through adjustment of status, even if you initially were a nonimmigrant worker.
However, if you want to, you can choose to return to your home country and apply via “consular processing.” In this case, an officer at the U.S. embassy or U.S. consulate in your home country will process your immigrant petition. Generally, this is less appealing because you already live and work in the United States as an L-1A visa or L-1B visa holder.
If you have dependents on an L-2 visa, they can also apply for a green card. You can include them on your application to change your status.
If your spouse is a U.S. citizen
If your spouse is a U.S. citizen, you will follow the typical procedure for most applicants living in the United States while married to a U.S. citizen. You and your spouse will file these forms, usually at the same time:
- Form I-130, “Petition for Alien Relative,” or the family sponsorship form, which your U.S. citizen spouse should complete and sign.
- Form I-485, “Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status,” or the green card application, which you should complete and sign.
You will need to prove to the U.S. government that you married your spouse “in good faith” and not for a green card. You should receive your green card within 10 to 13 months of when you sent in your application.
While your green card application is pending, you can continue living and working in the United States through your L-1 visa. However, you can also apply for a temporary work permit or “Employment Authorization Document” (EAD) along with your green card application. By filing Form I-765, you can get a work permit that will allow you to keep working even if your L-1 visa expires before you get your green card.
You also don’t need a travel permit or “Advance Parole Document” to travel outside of the United States because you have an L-1 visa. However, you can only re-enter the United States as long as you maintain your L-1 status. If your visa may expire or you may change employers while overseas, you should get a travel permit. Otherwise, the government will mark your application for a green card as “abandoned,” and you will have to start the entire visa petition process again.
If your spouse has a green card
If your spouse has a green card, you cannot submit all your forms simultaneously, unlike spouses of U.S. citizens.
First, you will file Form I-130, “Petition for Alien Relative,” or the family sponsorship form. You will have to wait for a visa number to become available for you.
If your visa number becomes available while you still have L-1 status, then you will follow the typical process for applicants living in the United States and married to a green card holder. You will file Form I-485, “Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status,” or the green card application. If the U.S. government approves your application, you should receive a green card within 29 to 38 months of sending in your application.
If your visa number becomes available after your L-1 visa expires, you will have to leave the United States and complete your application via consular processing. This process is for spouses of green card holders applying abroad. You will use the online green card application, Form DS-260, “Immigrant Visa Electronic Application.” If the U.S. government approves your application, you should receive a green card within 23 to 32 months of sending in your application.
If at any point your spouse becomes a U.S. citizen while you are waiting for a visa number, you should immediately alert U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). In that case, USCIS will expedite your green card application process.
When should you apply to change status from an L-1 visa to a marriage green card?
When applying for a marriage green card, it is essential to keep timing in mind. If you’re married to a green card holder, you will have to wait for a visa number to become available. Because L-1 visas are renewable for up to seven years, you should ensure you have enough time to adjust your status before your visa expires.
Additionally, it’s important not to overstay your visa. Keep in mind how long you’re allowed to stay in the United States. If you overstay, the U.s. government could bar you from re-entering the United States for many years, depending on how long you overstayed. If you stayed longer than your visa allowed, seek legal advice from an immigration lawyer. You may be able to still apply for a green card if you are married to a U.S. citizen.
Applying for a permanent resident status can be complicated, but working with a good immigration attorney can make it easier. If you can't afford the attorney fees and don't want to handle your green card case alone, we may be able to help. If you are eligible, our free web app will walk you through the process and help you prepare and file your application with the U.S. government. Click "Get Started" to see how we can help make your American dream come true!