Many students who come from other countries to study in the US wish to stay and work after graduation. This allows them to continue their exploration of a different culture, while at the same time develop professional experience that will further their careers.
The following is an overview of employment options for foreign national students graduating from US colleges and universities, according to the type of visa they hold. Note that these options can change at any time so students should check with the resources included below for the latest regulations and details or if appropriate a professional service specializing in assisting international students and workers in the US.
Student Visas for US Employment
Both undergraduate and graduate students can apply to remain in the US for employment-based training for 12-18 months after completion of their studies, depending on their visa status. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, formerly known as INS) defines this training as employment related to the student’s course of study. Without proper authorization, off-campus employment is illegal.
Optional Practical Training for Foreign Student Visa (F-1) Holders Most international students are Foreign Student Visa (F-1) holders. After they have completed a course of study, F-1 students can apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows them to work up to 12 months following the receipt of a degree. (Each degree, starting with the bachelor’s, must be a higher degree than the previous one.)
Steps to apply for OPT include:
Make an appointment with an international student advisor that is scheduled at least 3 months before the end of the period of study Obtain a Practical Training Recommendation form from the school’s international student services
Ask an academic advisor to complete the form
Complete USCIS Form I-765
Photocopy both sides of Form I-94
Write check or money order for $180 payable to USCIS
Obtain two passport photos of the student, and photocopy all passport pages
Photocopy Form I-20
Go to appointment with international student advisor with all of the above materials
Once the OPT application has been submitted, it takes 2-3 months to receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Upon receipt of the Optional Practical Training authorization card, graduates can legally work. After the EAD has been issues, the approved period of time cannot be changed. Therefore, students who have not completed their studies by the date provided on their application will not be able to begin working full time until all their studies are completed, and they will not get back time lost.
In some cases, once an employee reaches the end of their OPT, an employer may wish to sponsor them for an H1-B Temporary Worker Visa (see below). This allows the employee to continue to work for that company an additional 3-6 years.
Academic Training for Exchange Visitor Student Visa (J-1) Holders Exchange Visitor Student Visa (J-1) holders can apply for Academic Training (AT), which allows them to work off-campus in full-time, paying jobs related to their field. The total amount of time allotted for AT is 18 months (regardless of the number of degrees obtained while studying in the US) and can be completed either before or after a graduate’s period of study. Both undergraduate and graduate-level students are eligible. Postdoctoral fellows are allowed to apply for an additional 18 months, for a total of 36 months of AT.
Steps to apply for AT include:
Applications for AT should be submitted at least two weeks prior to the date employment is scheduled to begin Obtain a job offer letter from an employer that includes job title, brief description of employment “goals and objectives,” dates and location of employment, number of hours per week, salary amount, and name and address of supervisor
Ask the international student services office for a recommendation form, and give to an academic advisor along with a copy of the job offer letter; the advisor’s recommendation letter should note that the AT is an integral part of the student’s academic program
Schedule an appointment with an international student services advisor and bring the above materials along with a current passport
If the J-1 Responsible Officer evaluates the AT program and decides it is
warranted and appropriate, he or she will authorize the AT and issue a new DS-2019
If one period of AT ends, or if the job ends, a new application must be submitted and authorization granted for any new period of AT. Some J-1 students may have a “two-year home country residence” requirement, which prevents them from continuing employment with an H-1B visa (see below) after academic training, unless the requirement is waived. Worker Visas for Long Term Employment
H-1B Temporary Worker Visa
Once a period of Optional Practical Training or Academic Training is completed, Federal regulations require that employment be terminated. However, graduates may continue their employment if the USCIS approves a change in visa type to H-1B Temporary Worker, the most common type of work visa.
There is a quota of how many H-1B Visas can be granted per fiscal year (between October 1 and September 31). Some non-profit research institutions and universities are exempt.
H-1B Visa holders must be sponsored by their current or prospective employer, and the position must be a professional one. The sponsoring organization petitions the USCIS and the Department of Labor for the H1B, which can take 4-6 months before the employee’s new immigration status is granted. Employees cannot change companies without jeopardizing their visa status, and the visa ends when employment with that company ends, or after six years, whichever is shorter. Finding an Employer
American employers often see international students as assets, as they possess both multicultural and multilingual skills, and an education from a US institution. Additionally, when they hire a foreign national with a student visa, organizations are not required to prove that there is no American available for the position (which they have to do with green cards).
However, some employers are reluctant to interview F-1 Visa holders because they know their worker will have to leave in one year, unless the employer is willing to sponsor a change to H-1B Visa status. Potential employers may also be concerned about their own lack of familiarity with the process, and hesitant to invest money in training an employee who, sooner or later, will want to return to their home country.
The following tips can help in securing an F-1, J-1, or H-1B job: Work while in school – Take advantage of Curricular Practical Training (CPT) internships during school to gain valuable experience
Communicate well – Become as fluent as possible in spoken and written English
Develop an excellent resume – Design targeted resumes according to American expectations (keep to one page; address only ability, skills and experience; do not include personal information such as race, age, or parents’ occupations)
Keep an open mind – Consider less desirable field-related jobs in addition to ideal opportunities — they can lead to more desirable positions later
Educate employersAssure employers that the government issues a specific number of H1-B visas each year, so if a visa is not issued to the current student, it will go to another student for another company – the employer will not be depriving Americans of jobs
Sell uniqueness – Communicate to employers the benefits they will receive by hiring an international student (resourcefulness, determination, ability to adapt, multilingual, overcoming challenges, etc.)