If you think that you want to stay and work in the United States after completing your undergraduate degree, make sure that you know your visa requirements and restrictions. Navigating the American immigration process is often stressful and confusing because there are as many visas as there are letters in the alphabet. The eligibility requirements and legal rulings are constantly changing, which does not make the process any easier.
Here are a few of the most common options applicable to graduates. For a full list of all non-immigrant and immigrant visas, visit VisasToUSA.com where you can view other types of visas that may be applicable to you. You will also be able to have your immigration questions answered for free via email by an immigration attorney.
An F-1 student is generally entitled up to one year of post-completion practical training. Authorization for this type of practical training may be granted for a maximum of 12 months and starts once you have graduated or completed your course of study.
Speak to the international students department of your university to get the necessary forms to apply. They will inform you of the different practical training options available to you. Find out about your practical training options when you start to study so you can adequately prepare for the future.
An H-3 trainee visa is suited to those individuals who do not have appropriate education or work experience. It is for those who would like to come to the U.S. to train in a particular field with the intention of transporting the knowledge and training back to their home country upon completion of their visa. The H-3 visa is valid for 2 years and cannot be extended or transferred to H-1B/L-1 status. To qualify for an H-3 visa, the applicant needs to secure training from a U.S. employer who has an established training program.
The minimum requirements for obtaining this classification are: (1) a U.S. employer to sponsor the applicant, (2) a U.S. Bachelors Degree or its equivalent, and (3) a correlation between the job duties and the applicant’s education and work experience. In addition to the above requirements, it is also necessary to obtain an approval of a labor condition attestation from the Department of Labor prior to filing the H-1B petition with the Immigration & Naturalization Service. A LCA is required to ensure that foreign workers are not exploited by U.S. employers and are paid the same salaries and obtain the same benefits as their American counterparts.
The H-1B is granted for an initial period of 3 years and can be extended for an additional 3 years, but cannot be extended beyond 6 years. Spouses and minor children automatically obtain H-4 visas, which entitle them to accompany the applicant to the U.S. and to attend school, but not work, in the U.S.
The R-1 religious worker category is designed for ministers, persons working in a professional capacity in a religious occupation, or persons working for a religious organization in a religious occupation. The applicant must demonstrate that he/she had been a member of the religious denomination for at least 2 years preceding the application. Initial admission is for 3 years with an extension of up to 2 years. The U.S. employer is required to demonstrate that it has tax exemption status.
Certain countries have entered into treaties with the United States, which allows their nationals to obtain treaty trader/treaty Investor visas. A fundamental requirement for an E-1 visa is that at least 51% of the company’s trade must be between the U.S. and the treaty country. An E-2 visa requires a "substantial investment" to be made into a new or existing enterprise. Managers, executives and other essential employees are eligible for these visas. The visa is usually granted for a 5-year period with 2-year increments upon each entry. It is possible to extend these visas as long as there is a need for the individual to direct and control the U.S. enterprise and the concern remains viable.
The L-1 intracompany transferee visa is used for companies abroad who have offices in the U.S. and would like to transfer certain employees here on temporary employment assignments. This visa is designed for managers and executives (maximum admission: 7 years) or people possessing specialized knowledge (maximum admission: 5 years).
If the U.S. subsidiary is a newly established office, the applicant will only be admitted for an initial period of 1 year. It is possible to apply for extensions, which must be accompanied by documentation showing major business activity or future business activity and an increase in personnel. It is possible to apply for permanent residency through this category as a multinational executive/manager.
A person granted permanent residency ("green card status") is permitted to reside and work in the U.S. Depending on their classification, an immigrant may be eligible to file for U.S. citizenship either three years or five years from date of acquiring permanent residency (providing they are not otherwise deemed ineligible).
There are four main categories under which it is possible to acquire permanent residency status in the U.S. The easiest and quickest way is through a family relationship where the petitioner is either a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The other categories involve employment sponsorship, diversity immigrants and refugees and asylees.
You might also take your chances with the Green Card Lottery.
The most common asked question from graduates is: “How do we get a green card through employment?”
To obtain an employment-based immigrant visa, there is usually a requirement that an applicant applies and obtains labor certification. This process, designed to ensure that no qualified U.S. workers exist for the position, is often difficult and can take several years to complete (depending on jurisdiction). It is therefore desirable to apply under an alternative category, which lacks this labor certification requirement. Most graduates will fall under:
First Preference: Priority Workers
This category includes the following: (a) persons of extraordinary ability in sciences, art, education, business or athletics; (b) outstanding professors and researchers, and (c) multinational executives and managers.
Under the extraordinary ability subcategory above, the applicant does not require a job offer and the application can be processed fairly expeditiously. Only those applicants who have reached the top of their field can apply under this category and must intend to continue to work in the particular area of extraordinary ability. In addition, the applicant must show that his or her entry will benefit the U.S.
Under the category of outstanding professors and researchers, the standards are more lenient. However, the applicant must have three years of teaching or research experience, as well as a job offer for a permanent position from an appropriate U.S. institution. No Labor Certification application is required for this category.
Multinational Executives and Managers
In order to qualify for permanent residence under this category, managers or executives of companies must have been employed for one of the three years preceding their transfer to the United States. Additionally, their employment at the overseas company must have been in an executive or managerial capacity. The U.S. sponsoring employer must also have been in existence for at least one year and the overseas company must be operating.
Note: If an applicant obtains an L-1B Intracompany visa (based on their specialized knowledge) labor certification will be necessary.
Second Preference: Advanced Degree Professions / Exceptional Ability
Members of the professions holding advanced degrees (e.g. masters degrees or bachelors degrees, plus five years of work experience) or aliens of Exceptional Ability. Although Labor Certification is usually required, it is possible to obtain a waiver, if it can be shown that the applicant’s employment will be in the "national interest".
Third Preference: Labor Certification
This category usually requires a Labor Certification except in certain cases. Three separate subcategories exist:
- Professionals (with a Bachelors Degree);
- Individuals performing a job requiring two years of education, experience or training;
- Other workers.
Fourth Preference: Special Immigrants
This category is designed for "special immigrants" and is limited to 10,000 visas per year. Certain religious workers qualify under this category, which does not require Labor Certification.
Fifth Preference: Employment Creation - Investors
This category allows for two-year conditional residency for people who invest either $1 million (or $500,000 in underdeveloped areas or areas of high unemployment) in a new commercial enterprise that employs 10 U.S. citizens or permanent residents on a full-time basis and manages the business on a day-to-day basis.
The applicant can either create an original business or the purchase of an existing business, which results in a new commercial enterprise, or the expansion of an existing business so that its net worth or employees increase by 40%.
The investment can be a combination of cash, equipment, inventory, but an unsecured promissory note is unacceptable. Multiple investors are acceptable, but each investor must independently meet the capital and employee requirements.
If you are a current student interested in working in the US, check out our Working in the US page.