I’m a visiting scholar, in the U.S. on a J-1 visa. I see that many job opportunities exist in my field, and would like to remain in the United States. Is it possible for me to apply for a U.S. green card?
J-1 visas, like all nonimmigrant visas, are meant to be short-term and temporary. They are intended only for people who plan on returning home once they have completed their participation in the U.S. exchange program. And remember that the whole purpose of the exchange program system is to foster mutual understanding, so that when you go back to your home country, you will take greater knowledge of the U.S. with you.
Nevertheless, possibilities to apply for a green card from J-1 status do exist. For guidance as to categories of green cards and your potential eligibility, see How to Get a Green Card. Should you decide to apply for a green card before your U.S. exchange program is finished, the U.S. government will allow you to keep J-1 status while pursuing a green card, if and only if you are able to convince it that you did not intend to get a green card when you originally applied for the J-1 visa and that you will return home if you are unable to secure a green card before your exchange visitor status expires.
Proving these things can be difficult. If you do not succeed, your J-1 visa may be taken away. What’s more, some program sponsors have been known to withdraw J-1 privileges after an exchange visitor has applied for a U.S. green card.
The most serious problem that may arise if you apply for a green card from J-1 status is that your J-1 visa may, like many, have been granted subject to the two-year home residency requirement. If you choose an exchange visitor program that carries this requirement, it means that you must return to your home country and remain there for at least two years before you are eligible to apply for a green card. It may be possible to obtain a waiver of this requirement. Consulting an immigration lawyer can help determine your options.