International students on an F1 visa face many choices for potential next steps after achieving their degrees. While they can return home to begin working in their chosen field, many candidates elect for options allowing them to continue to live and work in the United States. That's when they apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows them to apply the theory they've learned in the classroom to a job specific role for up to 12 months, or longer if they are a STEM graduate. They can use this work time incrementally during their enrollment or after the finishing their degree. The earliest they can apply for OPT is three months before graduation.
If your OPT is set to expire and you're looking for ways to stay in the U.S., these are your five best options:
Options After OPT Expires
1) Apply for an H-1B Visa, which lasts for up to six years and allows the credentialed professionally skilled worker to stay in the U.S. under employer sponsorship. It's a temporary worker status, and you must have a job offer from an employer willing to go through the sponsorship process in order to even apply. H-1B Visa requirements include:
- Having an employer sponsor.
- Holding a Bachelor’s Degree or advanced certification.
- Caps to the number of H-1B’s issued annually.
- Applying six months before your OPT expiration date.
2) Get married. Different rules apply depending upon if you marry an American citizen or a permanent resident. If you marry an H-1B visa holder, this qualifies you to apply for an H-4 visa. The H-1B visa holder must:
- Have an approved Form 1-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker.
Go here to apply using Form I-765, the Application for Employment Authorization.
3) Seek an OPT EAD. The OPT Employment Authorization Document is valid for one year and allows F-1 visa students to work after they graduate. There is a 17-month extension for students in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).
4) Seek a J-1 Visa which is most commonly issued to researchers and professors or exchange students. A private business, the government, or a university must sponsor your application for the J-1 visa, which is considered an exchange visa primarily for the purpose of teaching, consulting, or carrying out specialized research, must sponsor you. Click here to find out more.
5) Start a business. Foreign entrepreneurs may immigrate permanently to the United States if they have created a start-up company. There are a number of visas associated with this process, including the EB category of visas offered to those with advanced degrees or specialized knowledge in a particular field, especially STEM. Visit the USCIS website to find out all your options.
Katz Law Office, Ltd. is committed to helping you achieve your path to citizenship. We are one of the most experienced firms in the Chicago region. Contact us today for a free no obligation 30-minute consultation.