Applying for Green card while you are in USA is one of the most important thing, if you are planning to stay here for long term. H1B and L1 visas only allow you to stay here for a fixed number of years unless you have started the GC process.
One of the most common and most used path to green card is via the employer sponsorship. Here, I am trying to share the snapshot of the whole process for any new comers and the knowledge that I have gathered after going through various information sources.
STEP 1 – Labor Certification (PERM)
Takes 15 months (1.2 years) in total, approximately. No premium processing available. Check current PERM processing times here.
This is the very first step in starting your Green card process and has multiple sub-steps. They all have to be completed by your sponsoring employer.
The employer must engage in a variety of recruitment efforts, including the placement of two Sunday newspaper ads, over a period of two to six months before the application can be filed, under the PERM process.
The employer must also be able to provide financial documents to prove that they have the ability to pay the wage offered at the time of the filing of this application.
More questions and answers related to PERM processing.
The U.S. Department of Labor issues this certification to affirm that there are no qualified Americans available or qualified to perform the job, and that hiring a foreign national in the position described will not harm the wages and working conditions of American workers.
- The first sub-step is to publish job advertisements in local and national newspapers for the job profile. Your employer will have to maintain all the paper work for the job applications received, interviews done (if any), interview rejections (if any).
DOL can ask for all these if your case comes under Audit later.
This step takes about 2-3 months.
- The second sub-step is to file for prevailing wage determination. This helps to identify the minimum salary that you (employee) should get at the location that your employer wants you to work.
At the time of writing this article, it was taking about 2 months (60 days) including holidays and weekends, to get this certificate.
- Once your employer has completed the above two steps, they are ready to file the PERM application.
They might also ask you to procure the ‘Skill letter for Green card’ and ‘Experience letters’ from your past 5 years. You would need to reach out to all your employers to get this letter.
Sample Skill letter is available here.
Experience letter is a standard letter listing your years of work with organization.
These letters are not required immediately, but would be required if your PERM application lands in audit.
- The PERM application is generally filed electronically; and the DOL (Department of labor) reviews the application and requests an audit, or issues the certification.
- There is no filing fee for this application.
- Timing: At the time of writing this article, approvals currently are arriving within a 7-8 months of filing, depending on whether a case is audited.
Audited cases can take approximately 20 months.
PERM Total time
The total sub-steps are 3 and their time frames (3 months, 2 months and 8 months) can be added to reach at 13 months. This is an approximate time (you can say minimum) at this time.
STEP 2 – Immigrant Visa Petition (Form I-140)
Takes 6-8 months in normal, 15 days in premium processing. Check current standard I-140 application processing times here.
I-140 Purpose and Process
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) issues a petition approval notice to certify that an individual may apply for an immigrant visa, in one of the specific immigrant visa classifications.
The petition approval notice specifies the individual’s priority date, immigrant visa category, and country of changeability.
- The immigrant visa petition is prepared on Form I-140 and signed by the employer. It is submitted to one of the four regional CIS offices, depending on the location of the job.
- The I-140 must be accompanied by the approved PERM application (Step 1 above), and evidence that the applicant meets all the requirements listed on the PERM, as well as a filing fee.
- The USCIS reviews the I-140 petition and supporting documents, including the financial documents confirming that the employer has the ability to pay the wage offered (as of the date of the filing of the labor certification application); and issues the petition approval notice on Form I-797.
- The USCIS permits the filing of a request for premium processing (decision in 15 days) for certain I-140 cases, with a filing fee of $1,225.
I-140 Total time
6-8 months in standard application.
Starting 26 May, 2015, USCIS has opened up H4-EAD applications if the primary H1B visa holder has moved pass this I-140 (Step 2) in green card process.
STEP 3: Application for Permanent Residence (Form I-485)
12-15 months, premium processing not available
I-485 Purpose and Process
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) issues an immigrant visa from the appropriate visa category, to the principal applicant and any derivative applicants (spouse and/or child/ren) under 21).
The status of the applicants is adjusted from “non-immigrant” to “immigrant.” In doing so, the USCIS has also checked that no ground of exclusion applies to any of the applicants.
The USCIS issues an approval notice indicating that the applicant was adjusted to lawful permanent resident status as of the date of approval.
- The application for adjustment of status to permanent residence (filing fee: $1,070) is completed on Form I-485 for each adult family member.
The biographic information form is completed for each family member age 14 or older; and the filing fee is $635 for applicants under the age of 14, if filing with at-least one parent.
Work and travel authorization (EAD) will be issued within approximately 90 days of submitting the applications for periods generally of one year, and each is renewable throughout this final stage of the permanent residence process.
- The I-485 and related forms and documents are submitted to one of two regional USCIS Service Centers, depending on where the applicant lives.
- All applicants are given an appointment to appear at a local USCIS application support center to be fingerprinted.
I-485 Total Time
Generally takes 10 to 12 months for the USCIS Service Center to issue an approval notice for the I-485.
The USCIS will send the actual “green” card within one to three months or the applicant can go to their local CIS office to have his or her passport stamped at that time to permit foreign travel.
The new permanent resident should be sure to present their new card or stamped passport to the H.R. department so the I-9, Employment Eligibility form can be updated in their records.
What is the total green card processing time?
The total time from start to finish for an employer sponsored Green card is based on the country specific country queue, which is defined by YOUR country of BIRTH.
Most of the countries have immediate GC availability except China and India.
What this means is that if you are an Indian and started the GC process in 2014, you can’t really complete the STEP 3 (as mentioned above) unless your country’s date reaches 2014.
So, the total time apart from the timings mentioned above (for 3 mandatory paper work) is this waiting time for your country’s queue to reach your year.