How to Transition from a Student Visa to Work Visa in the US

Personally, I came to the United States on August 2003 as a student on F1 Visa. Based on the nursing shortage nationwide there was a provision for foreign nurses to get green cards after passing the nursing exam and securing employment in the United States. I managed to change my status from Student Visa to permanent residency. The application process for legal residency took about 2 years but meanwhile the immigration service approved a work permit for legal employment while changing my status from student to permanent resident.

I write this information mainly based on personal experiences. I struggled in many ways as an immigrant and based on my experience, I developed a passion of sharing my stories so that other immigrants can reduce the learning curve. Like me, millions of students from all over the world come to the United States on a student visa also known as F1 visa. This visa allows them to go to school full time so long as they maintain legal status. Students are only allowed to work a total of 20 hours per week and the job should be located on campus. If a student is found working off campus without proper documentation they can become deportable from the United States.

Students can also get a social security card after they obtain a job on campus. International students on F1 can take a driving test at which time they will be given a driver’s license. When students come to the United States they realize many job opportunities and therefore decide to stay permanently. For those wanting to live and work permanently in the United States, here are some key facts that you will need to know ahead of time to avoid future frustrations.

Employers in the United States do not understand the complexities of the immigration system therefore it is your responsibility to keep them informed after a job application. Based on this experience and having talked to many other immigrants, employers love international students because immigrants work hard, they are willing to take risks to improve their lives. Immigrants are very resilient people who mostly give up everything and leave their families behind in search of a better future.

Most employers respect and appreciate that kind of diversity. Even though they appreciate immigrants, they are likely to push your application on the side if you apply for a job without a work permit. The employer will give the job to someone else who has all the required documents and ready to work.

How can you get a work permit if you came to America with an F1 visa?

It’s important to note that the immigration laws of the United States allow students to work for one year after graduation. This one-year period is known as Optimum Practical Training (OPT). Some students can renew the work permit for 17 more months if the they have graduated from specific science degrees, these kinds of degrees are called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

For you to qualify for the 17 months extension of the work visa your employer must utilize the E verify system. E verify is a web-based system that allows employers to check the eligibility of their employees working in the United States legally. It is important to note that many employers do not use E verify therefore check with your potential employer to see if they are enrolled in this system. You do not need a job offer before applying for a work visa.

Here are some key points that international students in the United States need to know about. First and foremost, you must consider deadlines. You cannot apply for a work permit 90 days before graduation and you cannot apply 60 days after graduation. It takes the immigration services approximately 90-120 days to process the work permit. With these facts in mind it is therefore very important to mark your calendars and apply within the required time frame. Do not ignore this information because this can cause nightmares.

If you do not apply on time you might miss a job offer. Moreover, you might find yourself out of status and therefore become deportable from the United States especially if you are found working without a work permit. Do not start working until your work permit is approved. You are required to provide an effective date for your work permit. You have 60 days from graduation to set the effective date therefore you decide when to start working. Beware that the clock will start counting from the effective date and you are required to stop working one year from the effective date.

So, you love your job, you are earning good money and yet time is moving quickly. Not very good right? Remember you only have 12 months of OPT for regular students and 29 months for STEM students. Therefore, what can you do to prolong your stay in the United States? Keep in mind that before signing up for a job with an employer find out if the employer sponsors international students for non-immigrant work visas.

The most common non-immigrant work visa in the United States is known as H1B visa. Employers can sponsor you for the H1B visa. They are required to pay for the applications fees, but it doesn’t hurt if you can pay the fees for yourself, after all you really need that HIB visa.

The H1B is a quota system with a limit of about 85000 visas per year, this visa is very competitive therefore you must apply very early. In fact, the visa limit can be capped on the first day of the application period. Therefore, have your application ready and make sure your application arrives on the first day of the application cycle for you to stand a chance.

Preference is given to those students with a master’s degree from American Universities. You are eligible to work with H1B visa for 3 years at which time you may extend for 3 more years for a total of 6 years. You cannot change jobs otherwise your new employer will have to apply for a new work permit, yet the effective date will not change, the clock will keep ticking.

Some organizations are exempt from the HIB visa limit meaning you can get the HIB visa any time with these employers. Examples of exempt organizations include universities, nonprofit organizations affiliated with universities such as research facilities or hospitals. Other non-research organizations engaged primarily in basic or applied research or governmental research organizations also qualify for the H1B visa without limits.

How much will it cost you to file for HIB visa?

Some employers do not have an immigration attorney on staff and therefore they will have to hire one. Generally, employers pay for H1B visa applications, but it is your responsibility to convince them that it its worth for them to spend money on you rather than spending the same money on recruitment efforts especially if you are a strong candidate. Roughly speaking you might spend up to 5000 thousand dollars which will include H1B application fees, fraud fees, attorney fees and mailing fees.

What can you do if you still love your job and the HIB visa expires after 6 years? The best option is to file for an immigrant visa also known as permanent resident or green card. With the green card you can live and work in the United States permanently. You can get a job with any employer in the United States except some federal agencies require applicants to be United States Citizens.

How can you get a green card?

The easiest and fastest way to get a green card is through marriage to a United States Citizen because they can petition for you to become a permanent resident. However, the marriage must be legal, and the intent of marriage should not be based on getting the green card. Getting a green card is very hard and lengthy, however it is not impossible. Here are some examples of how immigrants get green cards: Green card through family, Green card through employment, Green card as a special immigrant, Green card through refugee or Asylee status, Green card for Human trafficking and victims of Crime, Green card for victims of Abuse.

What if you fail to get the H1B visa, or your H1B visa expires and you are not able to get a green card? The best option might include enrolling back in school again and wait for OPT after graduation. Going to school in America is expensive especially if you do not have a scholarship. It is extremely difficult to obtain student loans if you do not have a green card or a credit worthy co-signer in the United States. Luckily some companies are beginning to give international students loans without a cosigner.  If you are unable to enroll in school you may also work for a company that is based outside the United States but has transactions here, the company must pay you from outside the United States. This article does not constitute legal advice therefore it is very important to consult an immigration attorney for further professional advice.

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Check out this link to find out if you qualify for international student loans without a cosigner.

Janet Rangi Blogger/Vlogger

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