I moved to the US in 2016 on an E3 work visa (similar to a H1B visa but linked to an Australian/US trade agreement, renew every 2 years). In 2017, I started the Green Card process by submitting the I-140 to qualify and then the I-485 once it was approved. This post documents my experience and the steps I followed, which may be different for your situation and circumstances.
Green Card is slang for the card you get as a US Permanent Resident, also known as the I-551 form.
I did not use a company sponsor or lawyer or interpreter. For my family and I, it cost $4,370 and it took 2 years and 1 month from start to finish. In hindsight, I could have accelerated the process by submitting the I-140 & I-485 at the same time and paid the Premium processing fee of $1,410.
As a VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX), Nutanix Platform Expert (NPX) or a Dell-EMC Certified Master Enterprise Architect (DECM-EA), you can follow the process yourself (corporate sponsor or immigration lawyer not required), but it makes sense to be a native or fluent English speaker and to be very detail oriented. You save yourself an estimated $10K to $20K in legal and interpreter fees, but you need to be patient and be prepared to wade through the instructions and caveats. Use these tips to prepare your paperwork.
Also, the USCIS publishes a monthly Visa bulletin that lists the number and backlogs for all US visa types.
Part 1 – The I-140
- Cost: $700 for standard processing (took 14 months to complete)
- Accelerated Processing: $700 (I-140) with $1,410 (Premium Processing fee) and $1,225 (I-485 for you) and $1,225 (I-485 for each dependent)
- MyUSCIS portal: You can track the status of your application
- USCIS: I-140 Form & Instructions
You submit this for yourself as the primary worker, you do not need to submit this for your family as dependents. This application is the most important because it qualifies you for the Green Card based upon your abilities.
As a VCDX, NPX or DECM-EA, you should be using the “Alien of Extraordinary Ability” category (I-140 Part 2 section), where you need to provide evidence for the following 10 categories. You need to meet at least 3 of these categories to qualify.
- Evidence of receipt of lesser nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards for excellence: VCDX, NPX, DECM-EA, Exam Development SME, any professional, advanced professional, master specialist and specialist certifications.
- Evidence of your membership in associations in the field which demand outstanding achievement of their members: Community programs such as vExpert, vExpert sub-programs, NTC, Cisco Champion, etc.
- Evidence of published material about you in professional or major trade publications or other major media: Any technology articles where you are mentioned by name.
- Evidence that you have been asked to judge the work of others, either individually or on a panel: VCDX/NPX/DECM-EA Panelist, Any certifications where you were part of the exam development, any community judging.
- Evidence of your original scientific, scholarly, artistic, athletic, or business-related contributions of major significance to the field: Any blogs you have authored, books you have authored or reviewed, events you have attended as an official blogger. Any technology patents you have.
- Evidence of your authorship of scholarly articles in professional or major trade publications or other major media: Magazines, Books, Chapters of books or posters you have authored or contributed to.
- Evidence that your work has been displayed at artistic exhibitions or showcases: User groups, Conferences you have presented at, Podcasts you have been interviewed on.
- Evidence of your performance of a leading or critical role in distinguished organizations: Any customer reference videos you have featured in, any industry awards your company has won due to your efforts.
- Evidence that you command a high salary or other significantly high remuneration in relation to others in the field: If you are paid above average for your skill-set in the market place.
- Evidence of your commercial successes in the performing arts: If you own and operate your own technology company.
Part 2 – The I-485
- Cost: $1,225 for standard processing per person (took 11 months to complete)
- Accelerated Processing: Not an option, need to do this at the I-140 stage.
- MyUSCIS portal: You can partially track your I-485 progress.
- USCIS: I-485 Form & Instructions
You are now entitled to Permanent Residency, but now a visa needs to become available in your category. The I-485 is the process to get you and your family the Green Card.
You submit as the primary applicant and then link the application of each dependent to your application.
Once you submit, you cannot leave the US for the first 6 months. After 6 months you can travel for an emergency by submitting the I-131 request with the appropriate paperwork. If you do not want to leave the US while this process completes, you can apply to extend your I-94 if your work visa is going to expire using the I-129 form (your employer needs to do this for you).
Within 1 month of submitting, you will receive an appointment form by post to attend the Bio-Metrics data collection for you and your family.
Part 3 – The I-485 Interview with I-693 Form (Medical Report)
- Cost: $610 for the medical (per person, varies per medical facility)
- Accelerated Processing: N/A
- My USCIS portal: Will show the Bio-Metrics collection phase as completed. The interview will not be displayed.
- USCIS: I-693 Form & Instructions
When you receive your I-485 interview appointment by post (took 8 months from I-485 submission, 1 month before the interview date), you immediately book an appointment with an approved doctor. This is because your medical report (I-693) is only valid for 60 days.
Every applicant needs to attend the interview with a valid and current medical report (I-693).
When you attend your I-485 interview, a government officer takes you through your application and verifies the original copies of your submitted paperwork. You do not get told the result of your interview, you have to wait.
You should also bring an updated list of the 10 qualification categories (from the I-140) with evidence to cover the time between when you submitted the I-140 and the interview.
Part 4 – Delivery of the Green Card
- Cost: N/A
- Accelerated Processing: N/A
- MyUSCIS portal: Will show the Biometrics collection phase as completed. Completion of interview or issuance of Green Card will not be displayed.
They do not tell you it is coming, they do not tell you it is approved, it just turns up one day in your letter box as USPS Priority Mail (took 2 months from I-485 interview). You will receive all Green Cards for you and your family at the same time. A few days after the Green Cards arrive, you will receive an approval letter from USCIS. I suspect this is because USPS Priority mail moves faster than First Class mail.
Once you receive your Green Card, you can now apply for TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry. This also means you can get your driving license issued for 4 years instead of your I-94 expiry date. After five years you can apply for US Citizenship.