Information on Lawful Permanent Residence ("green cards")

UNCW files permanent resident petitions for individuals holding full-time permanent academic appointments only. All such petitions are filed by the Office of International Programs (OIP) after receiving approval from the hiring department, dean and vice provost. Privately-retained attorneys may not represent the University in these matters.

If sponsorship is approved, UNCW will make a determination to file one of two types of petitions as your sponsor, Labor Certification or Outstanding Professor and Researcher. Labor Certification is the standard filing method.

Labor Certification

Labor Certification requires approval by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) before an immigrant petition (I-140) can be filed with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). For college and university teachers, cases are filed under what is called "Special Handling" procedures. Labor certification may be granted if it can be demonstrated that at least a prevailing wage is being paid and that there are no "equally qualified" US workers available and willing to take the job.

ISSS generally files Labor Certifications for junior rank faculty who have recently received their Ph.D.s since the Outstanding Professor and Researcher category requires that an applicant have, among other things, at least three years of teaching or research experience beyond the Ph.D.

Labor certifications must be filed with the DOL within 18 months of the selection of the candidate. DOL processing time varies but scholars should expect three to six months for a response from the DOL.

Scholars for whom ISSS is applying for Labor Certification must supply us with a current CV, a copy of the PhD diploma (if the degree is a foreign degree, there must be an official credential evaluation), copies of all immigration-related documents and the ETA 9089 Employee Information Form. We work closely with the department to document the recruitment process for the DOL.

Once a Labor Certification is approved, ISSS can submit an immigrant petition (I-140) to USCIS on behalf of the scholar. Processing times vary widely on approvals of I-140s.

While a Labor Certification and the I-140 are pending, scholars and their dependents may remain in H status.

Once the I-140 is approved by USCIS, the scholar must pay for and file the form I-485 (and supplemental matierials) on his/her own, or with the assistance of an attorney. UNCW can not assist the scholar with the I-485. Once the USCIS has approved the I-485, the scholar (and dependents, if any) will need to go the Charlotte USCIS office for biometrics and should receive their "greencard" within a few weeks.

Outstanding Professor and Researcher

To qualify for permanent residence as an outstanding professor and/or researcher, a foreign national must
  • Be internationally recognized as outstanding in a specific academic field;
  • Be in a permanent, tenure-track or research position within a university or institution of higher learning; and
  • Have a minimum of three years experience teaching and/or researching in the field (such experience may include research or teaching while working toward an advanced degree only if the research is recognized within the academic field as outstanding or if the teaching duties entailed full responsibility for the class taught)
Further, evidence of at least three of the six criteria below must be met
  • Original contributions to the field
  • National or international awards for achievements in the field
  • Membership in organizations that require outstanding achievement
  • Published material about the alien or his/her work
  • Service as the judge of the work of others
  • Scholarly publications and presentations

A petition for Outstanding Professor and Researcher is filed on Form I-140 directly with USCIS. ISSS, upon receiving the materials from the scholar, packages the case, and submits it to USCIS. Processing time varies.

While the I-140 is pending, scholars and their dependents can remain in H status.

Once the I-140 is approved by USCIS, the scholar must pay for and file the form I-485 (and supplemental matierials) on his/her own, or with the assistance of an attorney. UNCW can not assist the scholar with the I-485. Once the USCIS has approved the I-485, the scholar (and dependents, if any) will need to go the Charlotte USCIS office for biometrics and should receive their "greencard" within a few weeks.

Adjustment of Status and Consular Processing

Once the USCIS approves the University's I-140 immigrant petition and adequate immigrant visas are available (which in most cases will be immediately), the final step in getting a permanent resident card, or "green card" as it is commonly called, is for the scholar to file for permanent residence.* This part of the application is between the individual and USCIS and the U.S. Department of State. The university's portion ends with the approval of the I-140.  

It is also possible to submit an adjustment of status application (I-485) plus a request for work authorization (I-765) and advance parole (I-131) concurrently with the filing of the I-140 or while it is pending. ISSS will discuss this option with scholars at the time of filing the I-140 but can not assist with the adjustment of status application.

Applying for a Permanent Resident Card from Inside the US/Form I-485/Adjustment of Status

If a scholar is in the US in a non-immigrant status, s/he may apply for permanent residence status by filing form I-485 (Adjustment of Status) with the USCIS. The ISSS can not advise on this process and scholars are advised to retain a competent immigration attorney for this portion of the application.   Processing time of the I-485 is approximately two years.

Note:  the I-485 is a packet consisting of many forms including a medical form that requires a physical exam and signature by a USCIS-approved physician. Employees should begin this process early as it can take months to complete these forms.  All USCIS forms associated with adjustment of status can be downloaded from the USCIS website.

Applying for a Permanent Resident Card From Outside the US/Consular Processing

In some cases, it may be faster for a scholar to exit the US, return to the home country, and apply for permanent residence from outside the US. This can be expensive, complex and inconvenient, but it may be faster. Scholars interested in this option should consult a competent immigration attorney.  

Work Eligibility While the I-485 is Pending

While the I-485 is pending, and until adjustment is approved, a scholar already working for UNCW in H-1B status can retain that status as long as the I-797 is still valid and s/he is working at UNCW under the terms of the petition filed. If the scholar wishes to work for employers other than UNCW before the I-485 is adjudicated, s/he can surrender his or her H-1B status and apply for employment authorization from USCIS. Employment Authorization Cards for adjustment applicants are usually issued for one year at a time. This application is made on Form I-765 and has a fee. Processing time is approximately three months.

Travel Outside the US While the I-485 is Pending

Between the time a scholar submits the I-485 application and it is approved, the applicant is in a special situation regarding travel outside the US. There are two possibilities for the scholar and his/her dependents. Please note that these alternatives are mutually exclusive.

If a scholar chooses to remain in H-1B status, s/he and dependents may travel in their currently valid H status. They must abide by all the regulations that govern H status, i.e., re-entry requires a valid H visa, and employment must be only with the appropriate H employer.

If a scholar, who has chosen to abandon H-1B status and has obtained an Employment Authorization Card, wishes to travel outside the US, s/he must apply for and be granted permission for such travel. This permission is called "Advance Parole." Advance Parole is granted by USCIS and requires a separate application (Form I-131) for which there is a fee. Processing time varies but expect approximately three months. An application for Advance Parole is considered abandoned if the applicant leaves the US before it is approved, so the timing of such applications is essential. Advance Parole often needs to be extended while the I-485 is pending so scholars and their dependents should be sure to submit extensions approximately four months in advance of the current document ending.

The Permanent Resident Card or “Green Card”/Form I-551

Upon approval of the I-485, a scholar will receive an approval notice from the USCIS with instructions to visit the nearest immigration office to obtain the permanent resident stamp in the passport. The stamp in the passport serves as evidence of approval of permanent residency and can be used as such. The actual permanent resident card is issued approximately six months later and mailed to the applicant's local home address.

Dependents (spouse/children)

Once UNCW successfully files the I-140 petition with USCIS, the scholar must pay for and file the form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status) and supplemental matierials on his/her own, or with the assistance of an attorney. At that time, the scholar will also include forms and fees so that dependent spouse/children may also obtain a green card. UNCW cannot assist with this part of the green card process.


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