Many students who are pursuing or have completed their studies (usually a degree) in the U.S. on an F1 visa apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT). If approved, they are granted a student visa under which they may remain in the U.S. and work for up to 12 months in order to obtain practical education that compliments their education (note that at the current time, students in qualifying STEM fields are eligible for a 24-month extension instead of a 12-month extension).
For emerging professionals who wish to remain in the U.S., below we highlight four potential options after OPT expires:
Option #1: Apply for an H-1B Visa
Individuals who have a Bachelor’s Degree or advanced certification, as well as an employer to sponsor their petition (note: this is a complex process that must be started months before OPT expires), may be eligible to apply for an H-1B visa. This is a temporary worker visa, and if granted, it can last for up to six years. However, if the individual quits or is terminated by the sponsoring employer, the visa becomes invalid and the individual must either find a new sponsor, or return to their home country within the specified timeframe.
Option #2: Apply for a J-1 Visa
A J-1 visa is typically issued by USCIS to professors, researchers or exchange students. The application must be sponsored by an academic institution, government or private business, and the work performed must be primarily focused on teaching, consulting, or carrying out specialized research. As with the H-1B visa, this position must not eliminate a job for a similarly qualified and available U.S. citizen.
Option #3: Start a Business
Individuals who have the means to launch a start-up may qualify for various permanent immigration visas, including those in the EB-5 category that are available for petitioners with specialized knowledge or advanced degrees.
Option #4: Go Back to School
Individuals may be allowed to maintain their F1 visa if they return to school to pursue an advanced degree (Master’s or PhD). This option is sometimes selected by those who were unable to obtain an H-1B visa due to the limited supply available each year.
All of the above options involve complex application processes and very specific timelines and deadlines — especially for those wishing to apply for an H-1B visa. If you wish to explore any of these options after OPT expires, contact the Pollak PLLC team today. We are here to help!
Karen-Lee Pollak is the Managing Attorney at Pollak PLLC located in Dallas, Texas. She is a frequent speaker, author and blogger on immigration issues. She can be reached at karenlp@pollakimmigration