Planning for an H1-B Work Visa as an F-1 Student

John Belushi was not an F-1 visa holder
John Belushi was not an F-1 visa holder

One of the most popular ways of gaining status here in the United States (outside of going through family/marriage) is through work. And the most common way through that is to find a job while here in the US as a student (on an F-1 visa). This requires just a little bit of planning and not waiting until the last minute to find help (which happens often, because I suppose, college students still procrastinate — I know I did).

1)  The first thing to do is to find an internship/work with a prospective employer. Usually, most students (again, I’m referring to F-1 students, not J-1 students) will find work or an internship with a prospective employer through the OPT program and prove to the employer that they are indeed hire-able, desirable, and non-fungible.

F-1 students are allowed to engage in the Optional Practical Training (OPT) for a year. This is essentially a paid internship position. One obtains employment authorization by filing an I-765 (and lots of supporting documentation) from the school’s foreign affairs office.

2)  Once on OPT, find an employer willing to sponsor you as an employee after your OPT period runs out.  You don’t necessarily have to be sponsored by the same company that you’re doing your OPT with.  Get an offer of employment in your specialty occupation and then have your employer sponsor you for your H1-B because you’re awesome.  Your employer will get the process started by filing the appropriate paperwork with the USCIS and the Department of Labor.

Problems arise when the employer wants to hire the worthy F-1 student.  Often times employers will use the H1-B. However, due to the demands made by the H1-B visa, it is very difficult to get. H1-B applications are due usually around April 1 for the fiscal year (which starts October 1).  Applications are cut off after the first two days. Yes, it’s that in demand. And assuming that one’s application submits the application in time, and is then picked in the lottery process, and then approved — the H1-B Visa doesn’t become valid until October 1st.

SO: If you’re perspicacious enough to line up a job and be shining star to get an employer to file an H1-B application by April. It could be that you graduated the May of the previous year, which means that you’re on your 11th month of the 12 month OPT period. Which leaves about a six month period in which you can not work under your old OPT or your not yet valid H1-B. This situation is called the cap-gap.

However, this year, certain F-1 students are eligible to extend their OPT period for an additional 17 months (29 months total), with two requirements:

1. The F-1 is student must be studying in the field of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).
2. The sponsoring employer must be enrolled in E-Verify.

Essentially, to those F-1 students, you should really start looking for a job as soon as possible and start thinking about any possible immigration options the semester before you graduate. That way you can plan for certain contingencies well in advance.

Because the UCIS isn’t the avuncular professor that grants extensions all the time . . .

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