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H1-B holders: Get your US permanent residency in ~1 year
Guide on how to go about your EB1-A process
This is a guide on how someone on their H1-B visa can fast-track their permanent residency process (aka getting a green card) in the United States and get it within 1 year. This is by no means a guarantee, but with enough determination and some luck you can truly achieve this.
One word of warning: if you are looking for short cuts and a quick fix, none exist. If you truly are willing to put in the effort, read on.
Most immigrants are very well aware of the long and arduous journey it takes to get a green card - if you know the entire path, feel free to skip this section. For the unaware, here are the typical steps for someone who comes here for college:
What is EB-1A?
EB-1A is officially referred as employment-based, first-preference visa. This is the petition that fast-tracks your green card process. The major benefits for EB-1A are as follows:
Priority dates are much faster which means if your application is successful you can immediately apply for an adjustment of status (more on this below)
You can self-sponsor this petition and it’s not tied to your employer
You can also file this concurrently with your employer petition (EB2 or EB3)
It has a fast turnaround - if you do premium processing, you will hear back within two weeks
Filing for an EB-1A takes a lot of time and effort, and USCIS places a pretty high bar for who it accepts as a candidate. However, it’s a massive win if you can cross this hurdle, since it allows you to be free from being tied to an employer and having to renew visas every few years.
In order to be eligible for EB-1, you have to satisfy at least 3 out of the 10 criteria listed here. Reading the criteria makes it feel like most are out of reach for regular employees- however, the wording is not as “strict” as it seems. The criteria for the “extraordinary ability” can be simplified to the following:
Commanding a high salary
Performing a critical role
Original contributions in your field
Judging the work of others
Received big prizes or awards for excellence
Successful in performing arts
Part of powerful associations
Featured in professional or trade media
Published material in important publications
Part of artistic exhibitions or showcase
Note: There’s some different rules regarding the criteria for professors/researchers (EB1-B) and for managers/executives working in other countries (EB1-C)
In order to prove that satisfy each criteria, you are typically using letters of support from established people in the industry and what USCIS calls “objective documentary evidence”. You also have to fill out a few forms that is the application that mostly get details about your background.
Once you build this evidence and file your application, USCIS uses a two part system to adjudicate its decision: a) it checks if the evidence provided against each criteria is satisfactory and if so then b) it looks at the total evidence to determine if the applicant has “extraordinary ability” which it calls the final merits determination.
It is imperative to pick a good lawyer as they’ll help you figure out which criteria you are a good candidate for and how to construct your evidence. Some tips on how to find a lawyer here
Once you submit this application, the decision you get from USCIS will be one of three things:
Approved - your petition is approved - rare
Request for Evidence (RFE) - USCIS asks for more evidence on one or more criteria to help inform them further - most common
Denial - your petition is immediately denied - very rare
RFE & Denials
If you get an RFE, the USCIS officer will lay out the reasons on why the evidence provided to satisfy the criteria is unsatisfactory and a time period that you can respond by to provide more evidence. If you are able to provide the right details that satisfies the USCIS officer, then your application will be successful. If not, then your application will be denied
In the last few years, we have also started seeing that the USCIS officer determines that you satisfy all the criteria but don’t meet the final merits bar and hence your application is denied. These instances are definitely lower in the Biden presidency.
However, do note that denials are not final - you can refile your EB-1 as many times as you want. There are many many people who have got an approval after filing it 2-5 times as they tweaked their application by incorporating arguments from the RFE/denial.
Medical Exam, Biometrics Appointment & EAD
If you have an approved petition, most of the hard work is done! The final steps in the timeline are to simultaneously apply for I-485 (adjustment of status to actually get your green card) and I-131 & I-765 (applying for advanced parole + EAD card while you wait for your green card). In order to complete these documents, your lawyer will ask you standard questions and fill a lot of paperwork. The two other things you’ll need to do are the following:
Medical exam: You’ll need to take a medical exam with one of the USCIS approved doctors (list here). They will ask you to do a series of blood tests in order to prove you are healthy and free of certain diseases.
Once your test results come in, the doctor will file the paperwork and give it to you in a sealed envelope. This will need to be sent to your lawyer to submit along with all the paperwork for I-485 + I-131
Biometrics appointment: After you apply for your I-485, you’ll have to do a biometrics appointment. The time and date for the appointment comes in the mail 2-3 weeks after your application. It’s supposedly a paint to reschedule so please ensure you go to the appointment on time. The appointment itself is relatively straightforward where they ask a few questions, take your fingerprints and a photo
My EB-1A application
Everyone’s application is different, but I wanted to share my journey as an example. For background, I am an Indian citizen. I came to the US in 2008 to do my undergraduate degree in electrical engineering & computer science in University of Illinois: Urbana Champaign. I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2012 and have worked in product management for the last 10 years. I applied for my green card with a startup I worked at with EB-3 and got a priority date of 10/2016. According to the latest visa bulletin, people in EB-3 with a 2012 priority date are able to apply for their green card. This cutoff date doesn’t necessarily move linearly with time which means I could have another 4-8 years to be eligible for filing for adjustment of status to a green card.
I worked with an immigration lawyer and we decided to construct my application around three criteria:
Commanding a high salary: With the Opendoor IPO, I had an abnormally high income year in 2021 so this one was an easy criteria to satisfy. Even without a major liquidation event, if you work in tech, you should be able to satisfy this criteria relatively easily. Your lawyer will give you benchmarks and you can justify this by looking at salary information on Glassdoor, LinkedIn and others
Original contributions: We were able to showcase that my contributions were unique and industry defining by pointing to examples that competitors copied (e.g. Zillow copying iBuying, Amazon copying address-free shipping) and by press that the features I launched received
Leading a critical role: By this stage of my career, I had worked in 4-5 companies holding an important product role in all of them. Through letters of support mostly from my employer’s CEOs, we were able to ascertain that my role was critical to the success of the company
Other criteria we considered that we could build potentially towards:
Judging: I had started asking around on how I can take part in hackathons and events to build up evidence for this criteria
Publications/patents: Although USCIS defines articles as “scholarly”, I had a few friends with successful petitions who built it on the back of a few “viral” articles and podcast interviews as evidence
Hit with an RFE & Denial
We applied with premium processing (this guarantees an answer in 14 days for an extra fee of $2500) and received an RFE within 10 days. They accepted the leading a critical role criteria but pushed back against the two criteria:
Salary - this was a technicality since the “product manager” role is not in the USCIS handbook so we had applied with a separate role type. They seemed to have an issue with what we compared against.
Original contributions - USCIS argued that my contributions were not industry defining since most of my letters were from people I knew
We wrote a detailed pushback, got new letters of support from additional “famous” people who didn’t know me and sent in our response. Within a few days, the response was met with a denial. They said that I met the salary criteria, but didn’t meet the original contributions criteria. This was heartbreaking but also not very uncommon. My lawyer said that there was no point responding to a denial since that can take years, and we decided to refile our EB-1 petition
Refiling the EB-1 petition was pretty straightforward since we had most of the material from the previous petition. This time around, we restructured our petition to take into account the arguments they had and highlighted those areas specifically.
The final criteria that we needed to prove was “original contributions”. In order to do so, we decided to exclusively focus on third-party letters of references from executives who didn’t know me to share how my original contributions were truly path breaking. We still included all the evidence for salary and leading a critical role but we made it clear the USCIS already had accepted that the requirements has been met. We also wrote some additional language of how I intended to stay in product management after getting my green card.
It took us about 4-5 weeks to get it all wrapped up and we applied with premium processing again. This time we got an immediate approval within 8 days. I used to keep refreshing the case status page every few hours and I simply couldn’t believe my eyes when I finally saw the approved status!
Lawyer fees: $7,500
Filing EB1A + premium processing: ($700 + $2,500) x 2 (since first one was a denial)
Filing adjustment of status (I-485): $1,225 x 2 (filing for me and my wife)
Medical exam (since it’s not covered by insurance): $240 x 2 (for me and my wife)
Note: For refiling the EB1, usually you can negotiate with your lawyers to not charge you anything. You will however have to pay the fees for USCIS for filing the petition and premium processing
I must have spent over 150+ hours working independently and with my immigration lawyer building the petition to showcase my achievements and pre-writing letters of support for people to sign. I started the process in late August 2021, and received my I-140 approval end of June ‘22. Here’s the rough breakdown:
In mid 2022, I have seen a few friends get their green card in less than one year by:
Reducing the time it takes to prepare the material for the initial petition from 3-5 months to one month by focusing all their free time on this
Got their approval in 14 days, and
Adjustment of status in 6 months
This is because there was a big EAD backlog and so the government is sending green cards ahead of the EAD itself
In 2023, this is no longer the case especially since EB1-A is no longer current.
It’s unfortunate, but the success of your petition also really depends on which USCIS officer is looking at your application. So don’t fret if your initial application is denied. Sometimes people refile the exact same petition and it gets accepted since a different officer sees your reasoning.
Apply for I-140 through your employer ASAP
If you are on H1-B, apply for your I-140 (for EB2 or EB3) through your employer as soon as possible. I got my H1-B in 2012, and should have applied for I-140 right away but I waited till 2016. If I had done it in 2012, I would have gotten my green card a few years ago. Don’t make the same mistake!
There are many types of immigration lawyers that you can work with to file this EB1 petition. Through common friends, I found examples of a few “incentives aligned” lawyers which makes filing for an EB1 an absolute no-brainer.
The lawyer who I initially worked with charged me $0 upfront and only would charge me the full amount on the “success” of a successful EB1 petition. If my EB1 was not successful, I would pay him nothing besides USCIS fees.
There are other lawyers who you pay fees in installments based on progression towards each step (e.g. $ for starting, $ for successful EB1, $ for successful I-485)
Although there are instances of successful people self-applying for EB-1 without a lawyer, I’d highly recommend getting someone to help guide you through the process.
I can share some recommendations if you message me on Twitter (@nikunj)
Even before you begin your petition, I’d start collecting all the documents in one place online to make the process easier. From visas, to I-797 petitions, EADs, marriage certificate, birth certificate, paystubs - you’ll literally need all of them
Number of criteria
Some people apply with just three (like me) and others apply with six. The general advice that I received for the number of criteria is quality and not quantity. Do ensure that the ones you have are watertight vs. simply aiming to add more criteria for the sake of making your petition look better
Letters of support:
The most important part of your petition (imo) will be the letters of support that ascertain why you are extraordinary. These letters should ideally be signed by someone who is “famous” and is an expert in their field. It should be easy to google them - focus on folks who have been in the press or have a lot of publications
If you don’t know many people, start networking today to get to know them. A lot of people will sign these letters even if they don’t know you since they know how much of a pain this is. Pre-write all the letters to make sure it covers the points you want to cover and makes this extremely easy for them to sigh
Besides networking, you’d be surprised on how a cold email or cold DM on Twitter can work wonders. Don’t be afraid to reach out to experts in your field who’d be perfect candidates for your letters
Get letters from people who can ascertain that they don’t know you. One of the reasons for my RFE was my letters of support was only people I had worked with which led them to believe that my contributions didn’t make a “dent” in the industry
There is a lot of debate whether premium processing helps (or negates) a decision since you are pushing USCIS for a quick decision. Having talked to 10-15 immigration lawyers, everyone has their own opinion. My advice is to apply for it so that you can get a quick answer vs. waiting months simply waiting for the USCIS to come back
Between 2016-2020, I had heard a lot of cases where USCIS would accept the criterias but deny you based on “final merits” consideration. There are a lot of strategies to get ahead of this - make sure you ask the lawyer on how you are planning to tackle this in the initial petition itself
If you are applying for your adjustment of status, then you will need to do a medical exam with a USCIS approved surgeon (list here). This exam is typically out of pocket and insurance doesn’t cover this. I highly recommend shopping around since prices for the exam can range from $150 - $800. We paid about $200 for the exam, and our insurance covered the vaccinations and blood test
Case tracker app
Looking to get your O-1 instead, read Jose’s in-depth guide on how to go about it
Dealing with immigration has been a constant strain in my life for the last 15 years. I can’t tell you how much of a burden being free of this feels lifted from my shoulders. If you feel you are able to satisfy even a few criteria and especially if you are born of Indian or Chinese descent, I highly recommend applying for your EB-1.
If you have any questions, comment here or DM me on Twitter. If you found this post helpful, please share this with folks who might be in the same boat!
Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, and nothing here should be construed as legal advice. Chat with an immigration lawyer for recommendations based on your situation!