U.S. immigration laws allow foreign students who have completed at least one year of full time academic study at a U.S. school to gain further practical experience in their fields by participating in Optional Practical Training (OPT). As part of the program, eligible students can work in the U.S. in their designated field for twelve months. Participants often wonder whether they can extend the time working in the U.S. beyond the OPT period. This post provides a list of some of the options that may be available to OPT participants wishing to gain further experience working in the U.S. after the expiration of the initial twelve month OPT period.
Students who graduate with a degree in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) degree may apply for a 17-month extension of their OPT. While studen
ts can participate in OPT after the completion of each of their degrees, only one STEM extension is available per lifetime.
H-1B Visa (Work Visa)
Students with a bachelor’s or higher degree, or comparable experience, may be able to participate in the H-1B visa program. The common pitfalls of the program stem from the limited number of visas available and the government’s prevailing wage requirement.
For the 2016 season, 65,000 visas were made available, some of which were reserved for citizens of Chile and Singapore based on existing free trade agreements. Additional 20,000 visas were available to those with a U.S.-earned master’s or higher degree. The USCIS began accepting petitions on April 1 and only a week later it announced that it received enough petitions to reach the statutory cap. As it has in the past, the USCIS conducted a lottery to select enough petitions to meet the cap.
The median annual salary for fiscal year 2014 was $75,000. This figure generally reflects the high prevailing wage requirement associated with the program.
Accordingly, the program presents some issues for both students and employers in terms of uncertainty and high cost. Uncertainty can be avoided when the petitioning employer is an institution of higher education, some non-profit organizations, or government research organizations, all of which are exempt from the annual cap.
Free Trade Agreement Visas
Based on existing free trade agreements with Singapore and Chile, 5,400 and 1,400 of the H-1B visas are reserved for citizens of Singapore and Chile respectively.
Another category of visas is available under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Under NAFTA, a TN visa is available to citizens of Mexico and Canada to enter the United State to conduct business activities at a professional level. Among the professions eligible are accountants, engineers, lawyers, pharmacists, scientists, and teachers.
Citizens of Australia may be eligible for an E-3 visa. The non-immigrant must be coming to the United States to perform services in a specialty occupation. The specialty occupation requirement is defined as theoretical and practical application of a body of knowledge in professional fields and at least the attainment of a bachelor's degree, or its equivalent. The cap for this category is 10,500 and the prevailing wage requirement applies.
J-1 Visa (Exchange Visitor Program)
Under the Exchange Visitor Program, the Department of State designates public and private entities to act as exchange sponsors. A J-1 visa may be available to those seeking to work for one of the designated sponsors as research assistants, trainees, teachers, specialists, nannies/au pairs, camp counselors, etc. The biggest drawback of the program comes in the form of a foreign residency requirement. Under that requirement, some J-1 visitors must complete a two-year residency in their home country after the completion of the exchange program in order to be permitted to obtain another work visa or permanent residence.
There are other non-immigrant visas available, although they are usually not applicable to students completing their OPT. Some of the less common options include H-3 (Nonimmigrant Trainee or Special Education Exchange Visitor), L-1 (Intracompany transferee), E-1 (Treaty traders), and O-1 visas (Individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement). Immigrant visa options may also be available for some students.
Keep in mind that this list does not include all of the options available. If you are interested in obtaining a work visa or going through the immigrant visa process, please contact us at 1-844-HOLBORN and one of our immigration attorneys will assist and review your situation.
Disclaimer: This post is meant for general informational purposes only, and it is not to be construed as legal advice. As with any laws, the information in this blog post may change at any time and may apply differently in different jurisdictions. The post may constitute Attorney Advertising as defined by the rules of professional responsibility of some jurisdictions. Holborn Law is based in Orange County and Riverside. The attorneys of Holborn Law APC are active members of the State Bar of California and licensed to practice law in California. All services relating to immigration and naturalization provided by Holborn Law APC are provided by active members of the State Bar of California or by a person under the supervision of an active member of the State Bar of California.