U.S. Immigration: Student Visas

Are You Looking for a Path to A U.S. Visa?

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You May Want to Consider Applying for the

(F1) Student Visa.

If you are pursuing an advanced degree, such as medicine, law, or other master’s degree, there are three (3) visa statuses that may help you travel from the initial student status to long-term employment (3 years) in the U.S. with an option to renew (up to 6 years). Here’s how it works:

The F1 Student Visa

Welcome to the United States of America! If you are interested in obtaining a graduate or doctoral degree in the U.S. and you are a foreign national, then you may have already applied for the F1 Visa by completing the I-20 form, which is typically provided to you by the university to which you have been accepted for admission.

The F1 non-immigrant visa provides entry for foreigners who have been accepted to study in the United States. 

There are a few rules you must follow while studying on an F1 visa. For instance, you have to maintain full-time status and passing grades; and you may not be able to work off-campus. Exception: You may qualify for the CPT (curricular practical training) option.

Optional Practical Training

Okay, so you’ve made it to the end of your degree! Congrats.  Now it’s time to work. The OPT option allows a professional or graduate student to obtain temporary employment for up to twelve (12) months within a field of employment directly related to your major. The employment can be paid or unpaid (preferably paid, right!) as long as it relates to your current studies. Requirements: F1 status in good academic standing, have completed a full academic year of studies, and you have apply for the OPT (and have a start date at your new employment) no later than 60 days after the completion of your academic program. If you have been approved for the OPT but have not yet been hired, you may remain in the U.S. unemployed for 90 days, then your OPT and F1 status while expire.

The Optional Practical Training (OPT) Program may take up to four (4) months to be approved, so applying early is highly recommended.

Do you want to remain in the United States for a little while longer? Then apply for the H1B Visa!

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Map of the United States of America

The Professional Occupation (H1B) Visa

As a professional foreign worker, you may be eligible for employment in a “specialty” occupation (such as a foreign attorney with a U.S. LL.M.) by having a potential employer file an H1B petition on your behalf. What does it mean? It means that you want to receive a job offer to be eligible for the H1B visa.

But that’s not all, it get’s more challenging. There was approximately 233,000 H1B visa applications received by the government in 2015, but only about 85,000 H1B visas are issued in the U.S. each fiscal year. In other words, you had about a 34% chance of obtaining an H1B visa last year. But don’t let that discourage you, you still have a 1 in 3 chance of winning the computer-generated lottery (conducted in April).

If you are selected to receive the H1B visa, you may typically begin working  by October 1st of the same year. So what happens if you are graduating in April or May?  What do you do in between graduation and October (assuming you are not already working on the OPT option)?  The answer is a “cap-gap” extension, which allows professional graduates (with a pending or approved H1B) to stay in the United States during the waiting period.

The H1B visa is granted for three (3) years with an option to extend for an additional three years, for a total of six (6) years. After six years, the foreign worker must return to their home country for one year before he or she may receive another H1B visa. (At that you may want to consider other visa options available depending on your individual circumstances.)

Disclosure:  The information contained within this article should not be considered as legal advice and is provided for educational purposes only. I am not an attorney. For legal advice, you should consult with an immigration attorney.

Source: Jaegger-Fine, D. Esq. (Fall 2015). A Guide To U.S. Visas for LL.M. Students. The National Jurist25, No. 2, 36-40.