Dear Sophie: Are there any visas or green cards I can get on my own?

Dear Sophie,

I’m so worried and stressed about all the layoffs! I’m safe, for now, but it has made me realize I need to take control of my own destiny. Are there any visas or green cards that I can apply for on my own without relying on my employer?

— Silicon Stressed

A composite image of immigration law attorney Sophie Alcorn in front of a background with a TechCrunch logo. laid off H-1B

Image Credits: Joanna Buniak / Sophie Alcorn

Summary: TLDR: Unfortunately, there are no work visas that you can apply for on your own. All work visas are tied to a job and an employer, and the sponsoring employer must file for a work visa on your behalf. There are two green cards that you can apply for on your own: EB-1A extraordinary ability green card and the EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver) green card. Register for our 15-module course in which I discuss what it takes to submit a strong application for an EB-1A or EB-2 NIW green card. Use code DEARSOPHIE for 20% off. Also, subscribe to our monthly newsletter to keep up on the latest immigration news and our upcoming webinars.

Full Dear Sophie article:

Dear Stressed,

I applaud you for taking the first step toward determining your own immigration destiny—and gaining peace of mind.

Let me take your question about green cards first since recent developments impact the timing for the two green cards that individuals can apply for on their own: the EB-1A extraordinary ability green card and the EB-2 NIW (National Interest Waiver). Individuals can apply for either the EB-1A or the EB-2 NIW without an employer sponsor—or even a job offer.

Last week, the U.S. Department of State released its Visa Bulletin for December 2022, which shows which green card applications can move forward based on the number of green cards available in each category and the number available to individuals born in certain countries with high levels of immigration to the U.S., such as India and China. To find out how the Visa Bulletin works, check here

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) releases its own monthly report that clarifies whether it will accept adjustment of status applications—the final step in the green card process along with an interview—based on the State Department’s Final Action dates or the Dates for Filing. The USCIS December report, which was released last week, states USCIS will accept I-485 adjustment of status applications based on the Dates for Filing.

File for EB-1 NOW!

If you are eligible to apply for an EB-1A green card, you should file ASAP—and file your I-140 green card application and your I-485 adjustment of status concurrently. The reason for the urgency is that even though the EB-1 green card category remains current in December for all individuals regardless of where they were born, that’s expected to change for individuals born in India or China. 

Due to increased demand for EB-1 green cards and the decrease in green card numbers available this fiscal year compared to the previous one, the State Department is projecting that it will impose cutoff dates for individuals born in India and China. So, if that applies to you, speak to your immigration attorney now about moving forward quickly. Each fiscal year, 140,000 employment-based green cards are available plus any unused green cards from the family-based categories from the previous fiscal year. This fiscal year (FY 2023), USCIS estimates there will be 197,000 green cards available compared to last fiscal year (FY 2022) when there were 281,507 green cards. I’ve long advocated for increasing the cap on the number of employment-based green cards available each year and eliminating the per-country cap on employment-based green cards, both of which require action from Congress.

Longer wait time for EB-2s

Individuals born in India were dealt a significant setback in the EB-2 green card category in the December Visa Bulletin: In December, the EB-2 category will retrogress (the cutoff date will move backward) by more than six months to Oct. 8, 2011. That means a green card number is available only to those individuals born in India with a priority date on or before Oct. 8, 2011. A person’s priority date is the date either their I-140 green card application was filed with USCIS or the PERM labor certification was filed to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The cutoff date—or the date to file an adjustment of status application—in the EB-2 category for individuals born in China will remain on June 8, 2019, in December. All other countries will retrogress to Nov. 1, 2022, in December.

Focus on boosting your qualifications

Given the long wait times for EB-2 NIW green cards for individuals born in India or China, I suggest focusing on boosting your qualifications that will make you a candidate for the EB-1A based on extraordinary ability. 

Often, individuals I talk with unknowingly already meet the EB-1A requirements or are super close to doing so. Take a look at this previous Dear Sophie column in which I walk through the requirements for both the EB-1A and the EB-2 NIW green card, and take a listen to my chat with my colleague Nadia Zaidi for tips on developing and collecting your portfolio of accomplishments.

What you should know about work visas?

All work visas—or nonimmigrant visas, which allow individuals to only stay temporarily in the United States—are tied to a job and an employer or agent petitioner. That means you cannot apply for a work visa on your own. An employer must sponsor you for a work visa and submit an application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on your behalf.

I want to ease your mind that if you’re on an E-1, E-2, E-3, H-1B, H-1B1, or L-1 visa and get laid off, you will have a 60-day grace period to remain in the United States to find another job. 

You can apply for B-1 business visitor status for yourself through a change of status. Although you won’t be able to work or earn money, you can look for a job, attend conferences, meet with prospective investors, incorporate a startup, sign a lease for your business, and more. Seeking 6 months of B-1 business visitor status at the end of your 60-day grace period will extend your stay in the U.S. while you’re awaiting a USCIS decision, giving you more time to find another job or even create your own company!

In your efforts to take control of your immigration destiny, you might hit a speed bump or two, but it’s all possible! You’ve got this!

— Sophie

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The information provided in “Dear Sophie” is general information and not legal advice. For more information on the limitations of “Dear Sophie,” please view our full disclaimer. You can contact Sophie directly at Alcorn Immigration Law.

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