The stresses of graduating from college are a multitude, but one specific to foreign national students who have grown accustomed to the U.S. and want to pursue employment opportunities here is how to continue to be in valid immigration status. While thankfully the OPT period exists (which stands for Optional Practical Training where students in F-1 status can continue to remain in the U.S. to pursue employment related to their studies for one year), the question remains what one will do after the OPT period finishes. For those in their last year of college, now is the time to beginning planning your post-OPT immigration options if you intend to stay in the U.S. You will find below examples of some possible options to pursue employment based nonimmigrant status after your OPT period expires and some suggestions on how to prepare well in advance.
H-1B Specialty Occupation Visa
The H-1B status is of course the sought-after status for individuals to continue working in the U.S. after their OPT period terminates. However, based on the current number of H-1B visas available compared to the number of applicants, you have to be aware that this route is always a gamble. In order for Immigration just to look at your application, you have to be accepted in a lottery that occurs in April. In the last fiscal year, approximately 1/3 of those who applied made it through that lottery. For those who weren’t accepted in the lottery, finding an alternative option was suddenly much more time sensitive.
Please do remember though that the H-1B is only subject to this lottery if your job counts against “the cap.” Some positions are “cap exempt,” notably jobs with institutions of higher education or non-profits affiliated with such institutions. If you can get a job during your OPT period in a field related to your undergraduate degree with a University or a non-profit associated with one, this employer could be great petitioner for an H-1B visa if they decide to hire you.
O-1 Extraordinary Ability Visa
The O-1 visa is for individuals with “extraordinary ability.” It’s so important to remember that this is just a legal term and Immigration will evaluate whether you have extraordinary ability based on whether you have experience that fits into certain categories. The O-1 visa is particularly good for young artists because you only have to prove that you have achieved the lower standard of “distinction” in your field rather than having risen to the “top of your field”. One caveat is that Immigration will typically not consider any achievements that were made while you were a student. The OPT period is therefore very important because it gives you one year to work towards accomplishments that will make you O-1 eligible, for example getting published, being written about in the press, having an exhibition, and working with people or organizations that are very distinguished. It’s important to plan for this now if this is the route you may take post-OPT period.
E-2 Investor Visa
If you have access to capital (which can be from a gift or an unsecured loan) and you hold citizenship with an E-2 treaty country, one option for you during your OPT period may be to launch a business that utilizes your skills from your undergraduate studies. The E-2 visa requires, amongst other requirements, that you invest a substantial amount of money in an enterprise so that it can launch and that you hold the position of developing and directing the business. In other words, you need to primarily manage the operations and have a plan to eventually hire U.S. workers that you will supervise once you apply for the E-2 visa. The OPT period could be a great time to get the business going so that when you are ready to apply for an E-2 visa, you can show that you have a viable business with employees that is generating money. If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, this is a good visa option that is renewable so long as your business remains viable.
We would love to have a consultation with you to learn about your goals and then work out a plan that may be feasible for you to continue pursuing your American dream. If you are currently a senior in college, we are happy to offer a discounted one-hour consultation rate, either in person or by telephone, to answer any questions you have and create a plan so that you are ready to apply for a visa once the time comes. Contact us. We are here to help! Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Tumblr for up-to-date immigration news.
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