The US green card is highly sought-out by many international students across the world. It’s popularly known as a non-US citizen’s ticket to permanent residency and, for many, obtaining a green card is the ultimate goal.
There are many reasons for this, but perhaps the most common is that of opportunity. The American Dream is chased by many students — often cropping up in literature, popular culture, and more. It speaks of the US as a land that fosters growth, development and success, making it possible for anyone to achieve their dreams.
However, the pathway to permanent residency isn’t easy. It requires a lot of hard work and patience, and even then there’s no guarantee that you might be granted a US green card. Commonly, you’ll inch towards a green card by advancing your career in the US through a valid work visa.
Many also see marriage as a quick way to obtain a green card. This may be true — mostly, spouses are granted pathways into permanent residency without having to go through the long processes that international students and temporary workers are faced with. Still, this comes with a high level of risk, what with foreign spouses being dependent on the status of their marriage to continue living in the US.
Here’s a breakdown of these two pathways into a US green card status.
Optional Practical Training (OPT) and STEM OPT Extension
International students on an F-1 visa are eligible to apply for OPT provided that they’re studying in the US for a minimum one year period. Under this, international students are permitted to stay and work in the US for 12 months without being sponsored by an employer.
Many students select this option after graduation, as it takes the pressure off securing a job immediately after graduation. Note that you can only work in jobs that are in the same field or related to your degree subject.
The STEM OPT is an extension of the standard OPT, allowing students 24 months instead of 12 to work in the US after graduation.
Does OPT count towards permanent residency?
The short answer is: no, it does not.
Your OPT status is granted under your F-1 student visa, which doesn’t allow for “dual intent.” This means that you’ll have to apply for a different visa after completing your studies if you want to stay in the US beyond your 12 or 24 month date.
Of course, there are some cases where graduates on OPT manage to apply for a green card. However, there are many factors that play into chances of achieving permanent residency. For example, there is a cap on the number of green cards available to nationals from specific countries, so some graduates may have a higher chance of qualifying than others.
Either way, there’s no denying that applying for a US green card on OPT is a very long and arduous process.
Still, working under OPT can widen your opportunities to stay and work in the US for a longer period of time — namely through connections you’ll be able to form with employers. Most F1 students manage to secure a H-1B work visa because of this.
The H-1B visa is commonly referred to as the US’s staple work visa. It’s a temporary work visa that allows non-US residents to work in the country for up to six years. They need to have graduated with a minimum bachelor’s degree in the same or related field of the job scope.
You can’t apply for this visa yourself — your employer has to file it for you. This is why it’s important to network and build connections while you’re still on OPT status.
Does the H-1B offer a pathway towards permanent residency?
The H-1B visa allows for “dual intent,” making holders eligible to apply for permanent residency. Essentially, this means that once your H-1B visa reaches its maximum six-year limit, you’ll be either able to apply to renew your H-1B status or directly appeal for a US green card.
Under the green card, you’ll be able to lawfully work and live in the US without needing an employer to sponsor you. Your work won’t be limited to a specific field like they would have been under the H-1B or OPT pathways, giving you the freedom to seek employment in any area of your choosing.
The green card also gives you a direct pathway into US citizenship after five years of permanent residency.
Obtaining permanent residency through marriage
There are, of course, circumstances in which individuals gain permanent residency in the US through marriage to a US citizen or green card holder. For this, visas typically granted are the K3, CR1 and IR1.
The K3 visa is essentially a temporary non-immigrant visa. Through this, a non-US resident can enter the country to be with their American spouse while waiting for their green card to be processed. They’ll have temporary legal status in the meantime, but if the marriage ends or they get a divorce, K3 holders will be deported.
The CR1 visa stands for “conditional resident” and is intended for foreign spouses who have been married to an American citizen for less than two years. It automatically grants the foreign spouse a US green card, though this is conditional on the marriage.
The IR1 visa is an extension of that, allowing immediate green card status that is not dependent on the marriage. This is only granted to spouses who have been married to a US citizen for more than two years. If the couple chooses to divorce, IR1 visa holders won’t generally have their green card status revoked.
What are the differences between the K3, CR1 and IR1 visas?
For one, K3 visas are geared towards couples who have gotten married outside the US and now seek to live together in the country. They’re multiple-entry visas, which means that K3 holders will be able to exit and enter the US multiple times. The CR1 visa, however, doesn’t allow for this. If CR1 spouses wish to leave the country, they need to apply for a re-entry permit to come back to the US.
K3 visas also don’t come with a work permit. Instead, these visa holders will have to apply for one once they arrive in the US. CR1 and IR1 visa holders, however, automatically gain the right to work in the US once their visa is approved.
We hope you found this guide useful. If you’re an Indian student looking to work in the US after graduating, check out this article.