Making the Switch from Student to Worker as a U.S. Visa Holder

Many foreign students come to the U.S. just for the opportunity to study. A vast number of these students decide to return to their home country after graduation, where their education in the U.S. and command of the English language can add credence to their degree. Alternatively, some students want to remain in the U.S. on a temporary or permanent basis.

Among the millions of students that come to the U.S. each year, several thousand make the decision to stay and work for a U.S. employer. These jobs are obtained through internships, co-ops, and a good deal of hard work. There are actually several legal paths a foreigner can take from student to worker, with some being more common and easily accessible than others.

What Happens the Day You Complete Your Course of Study?

On the day of graduation, you are unlikely to see visible signs of the change in your immigration status. There won’t be an immigration official knocking on your door or the threat of deportation looming in your near future. In fact, foreign students in the U.S. on the F-1 visa are granted up to 12 months of time to complete practical training in the U.S. following their graduation.

However, if you don’t start preparing for your shift from student to a worker in the U.S., you could find the options limited as the actual day draws near. You must complete specific forms and gain appropriate approvals to remain in the U.S. legally, once you are no longer a student.

Applying to do Optional Practical Training

Most foreigners that come to the U.S. for college or university encounter the opportunity for Optional Practical Training or OPT long before graduation. Students on the F-1 visa are able to spend time working or engaged in training opportunities before graduation and often take advantage of the OPT visa to complete summer internships or co-ops. An L.A. immigration lawyer will assist students throughout the school year to obtain this particular right to work.

However, the other option for practical training is acceptance into a training program after graduation. In total, an F-1 visa student can work for 12 months under the OPT visa program, but not more. This means if a student spends four months in a training program before graduation, they are limited to eight months after graduating.

Before you begin a practical work experience, you must have your OPT visa approved. The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) provide this approval and look for several requirements before giving a response to your application. First, a student must show that he or she is or was recently enrolled in a U.S. university for full-time study. Part-time students are rarely approved for a student visa in the U.S. and not eligible for the OPT visa program.

Second, a student must have spent at least one year enrolled on this full-time basis. You can’t receive approval for OPT until after two semesters or three-quarters of study in the U.S. While most degrees and areas of study are approved for OPT under these specifications, the one type of academics that does not qualify is English as a second language.

Finally, a student must be seeking an internship or training program in the same industry as his or her degree. The BCIS will look at completed coursework, intended or earned a degree, and other information on an application to assess the legitimacy of an application for OPT.

Moving from Student to a Full-Time Working Visa

While the OPT visa program is intended as a bridge between academia and full-time work, many foreign students decide to move directly into a long-term position. Frequently, these students find a job that will sponsor them under the H-1B visa, which is a non-immigration employment visa.

The biggest hurdle for many foreign students is that the H-1B visa requires a company sponsor. The foreign national must earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university and secure a full-time position with a U.S. based company. A company must obtain the right to sponsor before finalizing the hiring process with the student and not every position is eligible for sponsorship.

Approval of an H-1B application also depends on a showing by the applicant that the full-time position has a correlation to the applicant’s prior work experience. When an international student is looking for work after university, the individual needs to show that the job is within the field or industry that was studied at school. For example, if a student from India earns a degree in computer programming and did two summer internships as a UX developer in Los Angeles, it would be difficult to gain approval for a sales job at a hospital, although exceptions are made.

More Information on Moving into a Full-Time Role?

If you need more information on the application process for working or training in the U.S. after college or another education program, you need to speak with an immigration lawyer. Greco Neyland in Los Angeles regularly works with individuals that want or need to change their immigration status in the United States, including a change in the type of non-immigration visa. You can reach Greco Neyland by calling (213) 295-1300.


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