Dear Mentor:

Should I choose F1 or green card?

I am in the US on a valid H1-B visa and continue to be employed. I plan on doing full-time study on a F1 visa in 2002. I have the option of starting my Green Card processing now. But am wondering if it might hurt my F1 visa chances since the F1 visa requires a non-immigrant intent.

H1 vs F1, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Dear H1 vs F1:

Just some terminology for those not familiar. The F1 visa is an international student visa in the US. The F1 is issued strictly for the purpose of studying in the US, and the F1 visa holder is legally required to leave the country upon the completion of studies. The H1-B visa is a temporary worker visa in the US for the highly skilled. The Green Card is for the permanent residency (immigrant) status, with which the holder can stay in the US indefinitely pursuing whatever he or she wishes.

You have already noted, in a way, that your two plans of action - applying for the green card and applying for the F1 - are in conflict. You can apply for the green card, being employed on the H1 as a highly skilled worker, on the basis of labor certification and your intent to stay in the US permanently. The labor certification from the US Labor Department certifies that your talent is needed in the US and that you would not displace local talent in the employment market.

The F1 student visa, on the other hand, stipulates that you must leave the US upon the completion of your studies. Thus, your intent must be that of staying in the US temporarily. You may wish to visit the International Student Visa chapter in the iMahal guide on Studying in America and Canada. As a result, you can not have the intent of staying permanently in the US (as required for the green card) and, at the same time, have the intent of staying in the US temporarily as required for the F1. If you pursue both plans, the only impression you would communicate to the US INS (Immigration & Naturalization Service) is that you are not being truthful, in which case both applications will be rejected.

So, you must make a choice - apply either for the green card or for the F1 visa. Each choice has its implication, as you can understand. Applying for the green card will take time, from several months to a few years, depending on the INS case load and green card applicants from your country of birth in the pipeline. As a result, your studies will be delayed. However, once you have the green card, you would be eligible for all sorts of financial aid opportunities that are not available to international students.

Should you choose the F1 path, you can get into school soon but you will not be eligible for many financial aid opportunities. After a few years of education, you would have to go through the work permit and green card process again upon graduation.

The iMahal guide on Studying in America and Canada offers advice and guidance for international students.

The choice is yours. You must make the decision very carefully, since it has a significant impact on your choices and flexibility for the future.

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