My Green Card Journey: E3 to H1B to GC

6 years in the US, 1 x E3 visas and 2 x H1Bs it was time to bite the bullet and get a Green Card. 1 hiccup (delay) along the way, 1 year after applying for a Green Card and $12K later we got our Green Cards. Here’s how this journey went.

I left Sydney (Australia) and arrived in Silicon Valley in 2009. The plan was simple and short. Get Couponstar Ltd acquired by Coupons, Inc., profit, then go home. 2 years max. Unfortunately life doesn’t always work the way we want it to. Fast forward to 2015, 6 years later, our H1B renew maxed out (6 years). It was time to move to a Green Card or go home back to Sydney.

Go home or stay

Going back to Sydney was off the cards. There was so much more we wanted to do in the US/Silicon Valley. Going back to an E3 (like H1B but only for Aussies) meant I would continue to be tied to a US company while in the US; golden handcuffs. I learned that most things in life do not go to plan and we cannot predict much with certainty. Tying one self to an entity that governs your life is also not an astute life decision. So a Green Card it was.

September 2014 – My Green Card Journey begins

We reached out to Peter Roberts at Roberts Immigration Law Group. Peter came highly recommended by a good friend from Y Combinator (YC). Peter is an outstanding immigration lawyer who does work for YC and other startups. He also recently (Dec 2015) did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Hacker News here. Worth a read if you want more info on immigration to the US.

Peter is based on the East Coast but the distance wasnt a barrier. Throughout this process I never met Peter face to face. It was all done via email and phone calls. Maybe one day I can personally meet Peter.

Our 1st call with Peter left up feeling extremely positive about the process and Peter. That feeling we had was a result of Peter’s experience and his ability to communicate complex processes in a way that made sense. Peter advised us there are 3 Green Card routes I can take but only 1 will allow me to possibly get a Green Card.

Green Card Options

1. PERM (Employer Sponsored Labor Certification) – employer sponsors the employee. Note, you must be an employee and not hold more than a typical employee nugget of equity in the company. If you are a co/founder of a company this route will not work for you since that nugget of equity is substantially more than a typical employee’s.

Also to obtain an approved PERM Labor Certification, the employer must prove (through newspaper advertising and other recruiting methods) that they were unsuccessful in recruiting a qualified U.S. worker for your position.

2. Extraordinary Ability Green Card – EB-1 – you must demonstrate extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics. You are demonstrating that your entry will substantially benefit prospectively the United States. No offer of employment is required for this category but if you are running a company in such value adding field then you want to demonstrate this correlation.

3. Marriage – to an American citizen. This is the fastest and cheapest way to obtain residency in the US.

Option 3 via Marriage was out. Option 1 via PERM was also out due to my equity ownership in my startup. This left me with Option 2; Extraordinary Ability (EB-1) on the basis of a career of acclaimed work in the field of endeavor.

As a Software Engineering working in the Health sector and cofounding Medlert, a logistics and communication platform for hospitals and ambulance companies; my lawyer had confidence this route would work. This was amplified by the fact that I also have had the pleasure to talk at various industry events on technology disruption in healthcare and the opportunity to work with great investors. Now to meet this extraordinary ability, I had to meet 3 out of the 10 listed criteria outlined below to prove “extraordinary ability in my field”.

Planing for a Green Card – Start Early!

I often recommend people start thinking and planning their Green Card as early as possible. Especially if you plan to satisfy the requirements of EB1A – Extraordinary Ability Green Card. Add value to the US economy either through the company you represent, industry contributions and/or relevant publications. Also start blogging to establish your own brand. TIP: You can list your blog in EB1 requirements.

If you plan to obtain your Green Card through PERM (Employer Sponsored Labor Certification) then also start early. Not just working hard but building something key/special around your name. Again a blog helps to create that unique persona and separates you from the rest. Remember this is all going to help your employer when you apply. They need to list your position open for few months and then prove to the US gov they failed to find someone like you. So make yourself unique, special. One of a kind!

October 2014 – and so it begins… documenting our life

To kickstart the whole process our immigration lawyer sent us a list of everything they needed to begin the submission process. From documents to photos to a medical exam. A medical exam I hear you say; yeah a medical exam to make sure we are immunized against a US specific list of viruses.

Power TIP: I found that starting a shared folder on Dropbox was far better than emailing documents to Peter. Most email clients have a limitation on document size which you will most likely hit. Dropbox doesn’t. Furthermore, using Dropbox allowed me to digitize and categorized all these important documents into the 1 place. The search in Dropbox also helps when you need to find any document or picture fast. If you have never used Dropbox just follow this link to get started with few gigs of FREE storage: https://db.tt/QDC0nvU

The to-do list

1. Schedule a medical exam. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) outlines physicians who are authorized by USCIS to administer this medical exam. The USCIS-authorized physician performing the medical exam needs to complete Form I-693. Vaccination requirements can be found here. After the exam, you need to send the Medical exam results in sealed envelope back to your lawyer.

2. Passport photos. 8 photos each. See photo instructions to make sure you get the right ones.

3. Birth Certificates – Since Urszula and I were both born in Poland (but lived in Australia for most our lives) we needed to obtain birth certificates from Poland Civil Registry Office (Urząd Stanu Cywilnego) that has jurisdiction over the place of occurrence. That is complete copy (odpis zupelny) not an abbreviated copy (odpis skrócony). The abbreviated copy provides insufficient data for the US Embassy. This is important. Then have a local translator translate them. We used online …

A complete copy of a birth record provides the following information: the last, first and middle names of a child, gender, the place and date of birth, the full names of the parents, dates and places of their births, their places of residence, mother’s maiden name, whether or not the parents were legally married.

4. Marriage Certificates. A complete copy of a marriage certificate with the following information: the full names and previous marital status, places of residence, places and dates of birth of the concerned couple, the full names of the parents, the names of two witnesses, and the married name of each party.

5. Employment history. Past and current. Including employment authorization prior jobs e.g. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Form I-797 approval notice(s) and visa(s) and Form 1040 from Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It’s good to keep these in your Dropbox.

6. Copy of all passport pages; even if blank. I used my iPhone to take photos and again threw them up on Dropbox. No need for a scanner like the old days 😉

7. Copy of back side of our I-94 cards.

See why having all this in Dropbox is helpful. There is a lot of documents to share with your immigration lawyer. Email just doesn’t cut it especially if you need to check back and see whether something was already provided or not.

8. RILG – Immigration Questionnaire. This is a 7 page document full of questions like:

  • Information about U.S. Employer inc founders, equity, investors, funding, revenue and what the company I co-founded does.
  • Information about Employment is about your Role. From a detailed job description to your salary, benefits & stock.
  • Information about Employee is about You. Where you live, SSN, spouse etc..
  • Complete copy of employee’s and employee’s family’s current passports, including blank pages and I-94 admission “cards” if in U.S. (available online).
  • Copy of any USCIS approval notices and any other relevant documents (for example, Form I-797, Form I-20, DS-2019, EAD, etc.) relating to current and past U.S. immigration status (both non-immigrant and immigrant) of employee and employee’s family.
  • Copy of employee’s CV. Yeah that’s you. We are all employees even of our own company.
  • Copy of employee’s tertiary diplomas (and transcripts) from any universities or post-secondary schools attended in United States or abroad.
  • Copy of any professional licenses or certificates held by employee.
  • Copy of corporate establishment documents of U.S. employer (such as certificate and articles of incorporation).
  • Copy of U.S. employer’s business plan and/or pitch deck.
  • Copy of U.S. employer’s most recent 409A valuation report.
  • Copy of press (online, print, etc.) about U.S. employer.
  • List of U.S. employer’s major clients, current and projected revenues for each client, and copy of contracts with same.

Satisfy the Requirements of EB1A – Extraordinary Ability Green Card

  • “Published material and press about prospective employee and prospective employee’s work.”
    • This is very specific to your employer/company but try to tie it to great good and US economy.
  • “Original scientific, scholarly, or business-related contributions of major significance, including patents and provisional patents.”
    • I have 1 Patent under the belt. Apparatus and Method for Network Based Remote Mobile Monitoring of a Medical Event.
  • “Authorship of articles in professional journals or other major media”
    • Personal blog like The Road to Silicon Valley is acceptable inc.
    • other media I appeared in like VentureBeat and News.com.au.
  • “Participation on panel, or individually, as judge of work of others”
  • “Speaking engagements/conference presentations.” Here is an example of few I listed on my application:

    • TriCON 2014, San Diego. Topic: The Future of Medical Transport
    • PINNACLE 2014 EMS Leadership & Management Conference, Scottsdale, Arizona. Topic: New Perspectives on EMS Reimbursement & Focus Group
    • ZOLL Summit 2014, Denver, CO. Topic: Mobile Technology in Medical Transportation
    • Evening with The Social+Capital Partnership: Personal Health Edition, Topic: A Mobile First Approach to Disrupting the Archaic Emergency Response Ecosystem.
    • Redline Executive Summit 2014, Orlando, FL, Topic: Connected Healthcare
  • “Noteworthy work/achievements at U.S. employer and previous employers”
    • This is basically your work history. Mine included being a CTO of a company acquired by a US entity (Quotient Technologies formerly Coupons.com) to founding Medlert, a company in the Healthcare space doing something disruptive.
  • “Letters from prior employers documenting 10 years of employment – i.e., confirming dates of employment and positions held and providing description of role and accomplishments”
  • “Names of 10 potential reference writers understanding that primary purpose of letters is to talk about potential impact/value of U.S. employer’s products and/or services and secondary purpose is to talk about employee’s role/importance in success of company and its products and/or services”
    • Before you include anyone as a reference you should always reach out to them to get their approval.
    • Mine included GPs of the VC firms that invested in Medlert (Social Capital Partnership & Subtraction Capital) and few other notable figures in the industry that we worked with.
    • It is pivotal that you network. Business is about people. And these people may one day be your references in where ever life takes you.

As mentioned above, even before you apply for a Green Card, make sure you are:

a. You are deeply engaged in your industry/profession eg. talk/present at industry events.

b. References – Important to have industry and accomplished references here. Build deep connections. Business == People. Make sure the reference you include in your application have seen you work and can backup your claims.

December 2014

The lawyers submitted all this information listed above to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and provided us with a Green Card application receipt notice in the form of Form I-797C.

Next Steps; assuming all the paperwork is moving forward, USCIS will schedule a biometrics appointment (finger prints) for you to have your biometrics electronically captures at a USCIS Application Support Center (ASC). The notice for this arrives by mail. Your lawyer should also alert you of this so you don’t miss it.

Most time is spent waiting with other immigrants at the USCIS. The actual finger printing process is fast. If you ever came through immigration in the US you would have already been familiar with this process.

May 2015

The I-140 national interest waiver petition has been approved. Woohoo! This means that I-485 “Green Card” applications should be approved soon as well. At this point we were thinking any week now. But little did we know what would come next.

June 2015 – Hiccup!

USCIS asked us to provide different versions of our birth certificates. Remember what I said above about providing sufficient birth certificates. We provided abbreviated copies (known as odpis skrocony in Polish) and USCIS wants us to provide complete copies (known as odpis zupelny). This means we needed to apply for them at the nearest Polish consulate or directly at the Civil Registry Office. The former turns out to be a 3 month turn around process, few hundred $$$ later and 0 guarantee of success. A joke right. So we reached out directly to our family in Poland to help us organize it from the actual city council we were born in. Note we are Australia citizens for most of our life yet where we hatched was a big deal. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

A month later we had the complete copies of our birth certificates. Sign of relief. But this wasn’t the end of that. We now needed to translate the Polish complete copies and have them notarized. I found https://www.rev.com/certified-translation/birth-certificate-translation/polish and gave them a try at $27 per page with a 48 hours turnaround. Unfortunately the 48 hours turned into 1 week.

We sent everything to the lawyers. And waited for our Green Cards.

September 2015

Our Green Cards have arrived! Sorry for the wacky pic but it was the 1st pic I took lol.

Ernest Semerda holding his Green Card

The whole Green Card process took close to 1 year. And half way through this journey our H1Bs expired. Apparently this is ok and deportation was never an issue 😉

How do I feel? Like Ultron!

“I had strings. But now I’m free. There are no strings on me.” ~ Ultron

How it feels to have a Green Card ~ "I had strings. But now I’m free. There are no strings on me.” ~ Ultron

Visa == Chains

A Visa is a chain to an employer. If you are an employee on a Visa you may be getting the short end of the stick. I will explain this in a future blog post and why it’s pivotal you are off a Visa ASAP. This is one of those things hardly anyone talks about but is an issue that affects you personally. Knowing your rights and options helps.

Total Investment

Immigration Lawyer
Peter Roberts
Email: proberts@robertsimmigration.com
Website: http://robertsimmigration.com/

Legal Fees:

  • $5,000.00 for I-140 NIW petition
  • $2,250 for the principal’s I-485 application
  • $2,000 for the spouse’s I-485 application

USCIS Filing Fees:

  • $580.00 for I-140 petition
  • $2,140.00 for I-485 applications

Miscellaneous Expenses:

  • Copying, mailing, tracking, etc.: $150.00

Rev Translation Service

  • URL: https://www.rev.com
  • Certificate Translation $54
  • Notarization $20
    • $74 x 2 – 1 for Ula and 1 for me

Total: $12,268.00 and 1 year to get those Green Cards.

Power TIP #2: Have a good GTD system in place. Human memory limitations means you will not remember all of the above items. Create a to-do list aka Project as it is know in the GTD world and collect stuff to do there. I used GSDfaster which is a productivity app with the GTD method as it’s core. Full disclosure; I built GSDfaster. Get app from here.

Power TIP #3: Check out http://www.simplecitizen.com/ — they simplify the whole US immigration process. This is a brilliant startup idea! I have never used their service but I understand the pain points they are solving and it makes total sense.

If you have a different experience or want to share yours please do so below. Would love to hear your story.

~ Ernest

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  • ngh

    Probably a rookie question as I evaluate my own options, but im curious to know – Why didnt you stay on the E-3 and go directly to Green Card?

    • http://www.ernestsemerda.com/ Ernest

      E-3 has an intent to go back home. Green Card (GC) is the opposite of the E-3 intent. If you want a smooth GC process follow the preferred route. Many people online ask questions around this and my only feedback to this is if you really want a GC then maximize your opportunity by aligning the right chess pieces.

      • ngh

        Thanks Ernest.
        That has been my concern since I learned more about the E3. But my employer’s immigration lawyer (who I presume hasnt dealt with E3) says its no issue at all! And I cant find any “proof” to say that it might be an issue.

  • hem

    Hi Ernest,
    Thanks for sharing your experience. You have listed very good tips. Thank you!
    I sent an email but I am not sure you are monitoring emails form that account. Or it may went to your spam.

    I stumble on your post while I was researching on my eb1 chances. My credentials are similar to yours. One thing it isn’t clear to me, which 3 requirements have you shown you met for EB1? Can you please clarify?

    Thanks for your time!

    Good day.

    • http://www.ernestsemerda.com/ Ernest

      Search this page for “Satisfy the Requirements of EB1A – Extraordinary Ability Green Card” — those are the pieces I had to illustrate on my application.

      I’ll check my spam folder for your email. Thanks for the heads up.

      • hem

        Thanks for response. I just have one follow up question that I replied back to you on our email thread. Will look forward for your reply. Thanks