Visa after Graduation in the US (Stay in the USA!)
F-1 Visa Graduates: How to stay in the USA after your studies
With an F-1 visa, you can stay in the US until you complete your course. But what if you want to stay in the USA after your studies?
To remain in the USA lawfully, you’ll need to make an application before your current visa expires.
Your options will depend on what it is you want to do after you’ve graduated:
1. Continue your studies in the US
It’s possible to apply to undertake additional education or graduate degrees after your F-1 visa undergraduate studies. You will however need to update your I-20 or DS-2019 to reflect your transition to a new school and major ahead of your current F-1 expiring.
2. Sponsorship by a US employer
H-1B visa for specialist skilled roles
The H1-B route is available in certain specialty skill occupations and requires you to have a bachelor’s degree. To apply, you’ll need to have secured a job offer in a role that meets the H-1B requirements – covering criteria such as skill and salary levels – with an employer who is authorized to sponsor you.
The H-1B has an annual limit and there are also really strict deadlines. Applications are only accepted from the start of April each year, and the window closes as soon as the quota has been filled. This makes it a challenging and unreliable route. Current figures suggest applicants have around a 1 in 3 chance of getting selected.
L-1 visa for intra-company transfers
The L-1 visa enables existing employees of a multinational company to relocate to a US branch on a temporary basis.
Importantly – as an F-1 visa holder, you will need to leave the US to be eligible for this route, and have been working for the company for at least 12 months before you can apply to transfer back to the US.
You’ll also need to make a really strong case as to why you are critical to carrying out this role over a US resident worker. This includes evidencing you hold an executive or managerial level position.
The good news is if you fall into the L1A manager category, you may be eligible for a Multinational Manager Green Card.
O-1 visa for extraordinary ability
This is an exceptionally niche visa for those at the top of their field on a global scale.
You’ll need to demonstrate extraordinary ability, status and position within the field of either the arts, science, movies, education, business or athletics. If you can provide evidence of endorsement from suitably credible and authoritative representatives in your area – the O-1 could be an option.
3. Investing in the US or starting up your own business
If you’re entrepreneurial minded and can come up with the capital to put into your business, the E-2 visa offers better odds of success than most other routes.
You’ll need to be national of a Treaty country and have invested, or be actively in the process of investing, a “substantial amount” of capital in a bona fide enterprise in the US. This means you’ll be taking on a serious financial risk – with no guarantees of securing the visa.
Doing your research and putting a solid business case together can improve your odds significantly.
Under the EB-5 program, you’ll need to invest at least $500,000 in US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) qualified investments that create at least 10 US jobs.
Investments can be made directly or through regional centers and include a wide variety of options including real estate, businesses and restaurants among others.
4. Employment schemes for international graduates
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
OPT is a popular route for F-1 visa holders. It’s a program that allows temporary employment authorization directly related to your major area of study for a total of up to 12 months during your studies or after your course has finished.
F-1 visa OPT work permits are generally handled through your university international student office. You don’t need to wait for a job offer to apply.
24 Month STEM OPT F1 visa extension
The science, technology, engineering or math OPT extension allows students with certain STEM degrees to apply for a 2-year F-1 visa extension to the OPT program post-course completion, increasing the maximum OPT period to 3 years.
USCIS must receive the STEM OPT extension application no later than the end of the original OPT period.
5. Long-term relationship basis
Marriage Green Card
If you’re marrying a US citizen, a marriage-based Green Card is always an option, provided you meet the remaining criteria. You’ll need to prove the relationship is real and there’s no marriage fraud. Gladly, there are no limits or waiting periods for spousal green cards.
You can apply for citizenship after three years of your spousal Green Card, again providing you meet the other eligibility criteria.
Making your application
Whichever route you opt for, whether you’re extending your visa or changing your status, you’ll need to have filed the relevant USCIS application before your current visa expires. USCIS only allows F-1 students to stay unemployed 90 days past their program end date before having to leave the US.
You’ll also need to be sure you meet the general grounds for admissibility, for example you haven’t committed a crime or visa fraud.
Recent changes in US immigration policy are making it tougher to secure a visa, but it’s not impossible. If you can provide enough solid evidence that you meet the eligibility criteria for your chosen visa and you work to the relevant deadlines, opportunities still exist to go build your American Dream.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.