To obtain an employment-based green card, you must first qualify under one of the categories established by U.S. immigration law. In many cases, your employer will then help petition for your green card through a two-step process of:
- Applying for labor certification with the U.S. Department of Labor
- Filing Form I-140 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
You are always free to look for new work, but labor certification is tied to the employer rather than a specific employee. This means you will likely need to restart the process with your new employer if you switch jobs before getting your green card.
The Employment-Based Green Card Process
When your employer sponsors you for a green card, they offer you a permanent job which will begin when your application is approved. This may be the same job you are now doing for them temporarily under your visa, or it might be a different position.
When you apply for permanent resident status under your employer’s sponsorship, you promise to accept the position being offered to you. You also pledge to work for this same employer for a reasonable amount of time after getting your green card.
Unless you are a first preference priority worker (EB-1), your employer must start by applying for permanent labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor. This certification process is also known as Program Electronic Review Management (PERM).
By taking part in PERM certification, your employer demonstrates that they tried to fill your job with an American before offering the position to you as a foreign worker.
USCIS Form I-140
Once certified, your employer can then file Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker, with the USCIS. This form, which allows you to become a permanent resident of the U.S and get a green card, must be filed:
- No more than 365 days before the six-year limit on your H-1B or other work visa expires.
- Within 180 days after the labor certification approval.
Once USCIS approves this petition, you will submit your Form I-485, Adjustment of Status Application, and wait for the approval. Changing jobs at any point during this process can jeopardize your efforts to obtain a green card.
If you change jobs before your employer’s labor certification application is approved while their sponsorship petition is pending, your employer can continue the sponsorship process. However, this is only possible as long as you pledge to return to work for them once you get your green card.
Job Portability Under AC21
The American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act of 2000 (AC21) allows some immigrants to continue a pending green card application even after changing jobs. This is known as job portability.
To qualify for job portability under AC21, you must meet all the following conditions:
- Be the beneficiary of a successful employer-sponsored Form I-140 petition
- Qualify for an employment-based green card under one of the three preference categories
- Have an adjustment of status application (Form I-485) that has been pending with USCIS for more than 180 days
- Have a new job offer in an identical or similar occupation as your previous position
- File an official request for job portability using Form I-485 Supplement J
How to Get Employment Authorization for Your Spouse
If your spouse has been admitted to the U.S. with an H-4 visa because of your job, they can apply for a work permit or Employment Authorization Document (EAD). They can receive this authorization to work even if you change jobs or run into delays with your green card application.
Your spouse will need to file Form I-765, Employment Authorization Application, to acquire a work permit. They will also need to prove that they are here on an H-4 basis because of your job and that your employer has filed their labor certification application.
On the other hand, your employer may already be certified, or certification may not be required in your situation. In this case, your spouse can demonstrate that USCIS has approved or is reviewing the employer’s petition for your green card.
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