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I'm a non-US citizen, considering a post-doc in the states. I'm eligible for a 'green card' through marriage (my wife is a US citizen). I'm deliberating whether I should apply for permanent residency right now or go through the standard path of a student visa (e.g. J1) once I find a post-doc position.

I understand that not being a 'US person' somewhat limits the funding options of prospective advisors. Does searching for a post-doc as a permanent resident holder indeed opens up more opportunities?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of holding a green card instead of a student visa, both prior and during the post-doc?

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    Some potential employers do not want to deal with your visa needs. Apply for the green card and hope you get it before you need it. – Anonymous Physicist Mar 20 '16 at 10:04
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    Doesn't a J1 visa require intent to return to your home country on completion of the program? If so, it may be difficult for the spouse of a US citizen to qualify for one. – Patricia Shanahan Mar 20 '16 at 10:16
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    The only downside of a greencard is a minimum annual U.S. residency requirement in order to keep it, in the future. Other than that, it blows my mind why someone would consider super-restrictive student visa when elegible for a greencard. – gnometorule Mar 20 '16 at 10:40
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    @gnometorule: first, thank you for commenting. Two advantages I know of the student visa over permanent residency are taxation (post-docs on student visa don't pay federal taxes during the first two years) and eligibility for home-country or bi-national personal grants. – Trisoloriansunscreen Mar 20 '16 at 10:53
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    @Tal: be careful about your tax treatment on a student visa. Absent double tax treaties, you are subject to U.S. federal and state taxes; and a 2 year exemption as the one you mention might not be as golden as it first seems - you are likely back-paying the taxes from those 2 years later when staying >2 years (you describe it as a Postdoc exemption which is unlikely - it should be under a general NR double tax treaty). – gnometorule Mar 20 '16 at 15:15
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Get your green card as soon as possible, do not waste your time with J1 visa. As Patricia said, you have to go back to your country where the visa was issued and you can't come back to USA for period of time (there is 2 years rule) stated on your visa. It is very restricted visa. Talk to an immigrant attorney and find the quickest way to get the green card.

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    Not necessarily. The "return home" clause (212e, if I'm not mistaken) can be waived in certain cases. I have several friends doing postdocs on J1, which is not as restrictive as a student F visa, and their visa says "exempt of clause 212e".... – Fábio Dias Mar 20 '16 at 12:41
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    I don't think I said exactly that. I just raise the question of whether intent to return home might be required. – Patricia Shanahan Mar 20 '16 at 14:29
  • On the visa it just says " two year rule may apply". – bantandor Mar 21 '16 at 8:04
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I was on an F-1 visa, my wife is American and I got my GC through EB2-National Interest Waiver program while I was a in my 4th year as a PhD student. For NIW, you'll need two applications I-140 and I-485. Once I-140 is approved, I-485 will adjust your status from whatever visa you are at now to that of a permanent citizen.

My friend was on J-1 (he is single), he applied for I-140 (NIW), but even if he got approved, he will still will need to go back home for 2 years then apply for I-485 (adjustment of status) after that to get his GC.

However, in your case since your wife is American, you can get a waiver and out-rule the 2 years rule. You will need to have a good lawyer and spend some time at the court. But again, since she is American, she can go back home with you (if possible). Keep in mind that count for citizenship starts ONCE you get a GC (and not when you got married).

For instance, I got married in 2013, but in 2015 I applied for NIW and got my GC within 10 months. It would have been cheaper, faster and easier to apply for GC through marriage [in my case since I was on a F-1!]. But, to be honest, my credentials are extremely good and I figured getting GC through NIW would feel like an accomplishment and looks much better in my resume.

Good luck,

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