Navigating the intricacies of the US immigration system can be daunting, and competition for employment-based visas is fierce. In this blog post, we will explore two common immigration pathways – the Green Card and the H-1B visa – shedding light on their differences, and within the H-1B category, we’ll delve into the distinctions between cap and non-cap visas.

Green Card: A Permanent Residency Option

A Green Card, officially known as a Permanent Resident Card, is a coveted document that grants its holder lawful permanent residency in the United States. Compared to a temporary visa, a Green Card gives individuals greater freedom to pursue employment and move about the country. Green Cards are valid for 10 years, can be renewed in 10-year increments, and after five years of permanent residency, a green card holder can apply for citizenship through naturalization. 

It is important to keep your card up-to-date. Without a valid card, it may be challenging to prove that you are a permanent resident, and this could also affect your ability to travel or to prove your eligibility to work in the United States. Although we focus on employment-based visas in this blog, there are other pathways to obtain a Green Card, such as family sponsorship, refugee or asylum status, and the Diversity Visa Program. Given the current delays in Green Card processing, many are looking to alternate forms of entry to the United States, such as the H-1B visa.

H-1B Visa: A Temporary Work Authorization

The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa designed for professionals who hold a four-year bachelor’s degree (or US equivalent) and work in specialty occupations. This visa is employer-sponsored and initially granted for three years, with the possibility of extending it for three years, for a total stay of six years. During this time, the visa holder can adjust their immigration status to a green card if they have a sponsor. H-1B visa holders are authorized to work for the sponsoring employer in a specialized field such as IT, engineering, finance, or healthcare.

Understanding H-1B Visa Quotas

The H-1B visa program is subject to a congressionally mandated annual numerical cap, limiting the number of new visas available each fiscal year. The cap is set at 85,000, with 20,000 reserved for individuals with advanced degrees from U.S. institutions. This allocation includes both the regular H-1B cap and the advanced degree exemption.

  1. Cap-Subject H-1B Visas:
  • These H-1B visas are subject to the annual cap.
  • Employers submit petitions on behalf of professional workers, and the selection process is based on a random lottery if the number of applications exceeds the cap.
  1. Cap-Exempt H-1B Visas (aka non-cap H-1B):
  • Certain employers and positions are exempt from the annual cap.
  • Non-profit research organizations, government research institutions, and institutions of higher education fall into the cap-exempt category.
  1. H-1B Extensions and Transfers:
  • Extensions and transfers for existing H-1B visa holders are not counted against the cap.
  • This allows individuals already in the U.S. on an H-1B visa to continue working for their current employer or transfer to a new employer without going through the lottery.

Key Differences Between the Green Card and H-1B Visa

  1. Nature of Stay:
  • Green Card: Permanent residency, allowing individuals to live and work in the U.S. indefinitely.
  • H-1B Visa: Temporary work authorization for a specific employer and occupation. However, the H-1B is a “dual intent” visa, meaning holders can simultaneously apply for a green card without impacting their immigration status. 
  1. Employment Flexibility:
  • Green Card: Unrestricted ability to work for any employer in any industry. However, the original sponsor may require an initial employment term. 
  • H-1B Visa: Tied to the sponsoring employer and specific job role. Note: H-1B petitions can be portable from one job to another, if it’s the same or similar role; to be eligible for portability, you must not have been employed without authorization from the time of your last admission into the United States, and your new employer must properly file a new petition before your H-1B period of authorized stay expires.
  1. Duration:
  • Green Card: Permanent residency; the card is valid for 10 years and renewable indefinitely in 10-year increments. Also, it provides a pathway to citizenship.
  • H-1B Visa: Initially granted for three years, extendable up to six years. And adjustment to a green card is permitted. 
  1. Application Process:
  • Green Card: Involves a complex application process, often requiring an employment sponsor. .
  • H-1B Visa: Employer-sponsored petition with a focus on the applicant’s qualifications and the employer’s need for specialized skills.

Step Forward With Expert Support

Thinking of taking your nursing career to the US? The Global Nurse Partners has career opportunities with employers who sponsor non-cap H-1B visas and green cards. 

Our program ensures that the next step on your career journey comes with our assistance, from securing a job and immigration processing to relocation, as well as support throughout your transition. Let our expertise empower your journey and make the experience easy and fun. Learn more about our Partnership Program here and how you can become a registered nurse in the US.