Once you are in the United States, you may decide to change your visa status or pursue permanent residency and get a green card.
Changing Your Visa Status
Foreign nationals living in the United States can change from one visa status to another in one of two ways:
- Travel outside of the United States, visit a consular post, and re-enter the U.S. with your new visa. This is the fastest option for most foreign nationals.
- Request the change of status from within the U.S. by submitting an application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. This takes at least 90 days.
J-1 exchange visitors who are subject to the two-year home residency requirement must leave the U.S. to change their status or get a waiver.
To change your status, you must first discuss your plans with your department. Once your department approves, your department should notify OISS. We will then work with you to start the process.
You must be in legal immigration status the entire time your application for change of status is pending. If you change your status without OISS assistance, you must notify our office upon approval.
Changing to J-1 Status
We recommend that you travel outside of the United States to change your visa status to J-1. You will need to apply at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad and re-enter the United States once you receive the J-1 visa.
If you decide to change to J-1 status inside the U.S., you can request it through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Approval takes at least 90 days and you must remain in legal immigration status while your application is pending. If your application is approved and you leave the country, you will need a new visa to re-enter.
Changing to H-1B Status
USCIS permits a change of status to H-1B if you are holding a status in most visa categories. J-1 exchange visitors who are subject to the two-year home residency requirement cannot change status to H-1B unless they request a waiver.
You cannot begin employment until your change of status to H-1B is approved, unless you are currently in a status that allows you to work, such as OPT.
Foreign nationals currently on H-1B at another institution may work at Lehigh University once USCIS receives their application. OISS will let you know when to begin work.
Lehigh University will sponsor certain employees who want to pursue permanent residency, or “green cards,” in the United States.
Most international scholars at Lehigh hold an H-1B or J-1 visa. Lehigh typically sponsors H-1B visa holders for green cards. J-1 exchange visitors do not qualify for green card sponsorship.
H-1B visa holders seeking a green card will need to be sponsored by their departments before the end of the fifth year of their H-1B to continue working during the application process.
Lehigh may sponsor you if:
- your position is full-time and permanent (not temporary or based on grant funding),
- your department plans to hire you indefinitely, and
- your position at Lehigh is a faculty position or equivalent to a faculty position
Postdoctoral researchers are not sponsored by the university because those position do not meet the immigration standards needed to file permanent residency.
Permanent Residency Categories
OISS can help file permanent residency applications for the following categories:
EB-1 Outstanding Professor or Researcher: Only for those scholars who are recognized internationally as leaders in their field through awards, publications and statements from other experts in that field. A labor certification is not required for the EB-1. (Note that some Lehigh departments or colleges will not sponsor the EB-1.)
EB-2 Special Handling: Only for those with teaching responsibilities at Lehigh. It requires a Labor Certification through the Department of Labor but the process is not as tedious as standard filing.
EB-2 Standard Filing: Foreign nationals who are not teaching at Lehigh and do not qualify for the EB-1 will use this category. A Labor Certification is required for this category and your department must pay the recruitment fees and attorney fees.
Applying for Permanent Residency
First, your department must initiate the permanent residency process through OISS. Once OISS receives the request, we will begin helping you file your application with the assistance of outside counsel.
Depending on the category you request, the process may include filing a Labor Certification with the Department of Labor, submitting Form I-140 to USCIS and an adjustment of status. The adjustment of status is the final stage of the process that allows you to officially become a permanent resident and where you will pay a fee.
H-1B visa holders with a pending permanent residency application can travel outside of the United States and seek re-admission. The H-1B visa is a dual intent visa, which means that you do not have to prove ties to your home country when requesting a visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
It is always best to check with an advisor in OISS before making travel plans outside of the U.S., regardless of your visa type.
Other Ways to Get a Green Card
Foreign nationals who qualify and can prove that they meet certain requirements can self-petition their green cards. OISS can recommend outside attorneys that can assist with your self-petition.