Thursday, April 14, 2016 at 11am

Remaining in the US After Your MBA: OPT and H-1B Visas

US visas

Each year thousands of students from foreign countries enter the United States to attend US universities. After obtaining their MBA, many of those foreign students wish to remain in the US. The reasons for wanting to stay can be varied. Some people simply enjoy the American lifestyle, others want to pursue a career, still others develop important relationships which lead to marriage to a US citizen, and some are simply unable to return to their home country. Regardless of the reason the foreign student wants to remain in the US, doing so successfully can be a complicated and even confusing process. In any case, foreign students should know their options to remain in the US following graduation.

Optional practical training

In most cases, when a foreign student completes an MBA program, the graduate will be eligible to work in the US, in the field of the graduate’s studies, for a period of 12 months. This period is called Optional Practical Training, or OPT. OPT allows the graduate to work or intern for any employer, including through self-employment, so long as the position is in the graduate’s field of study. In some circumstances, if the graduate achieves a STEM degree, the graduate will be eligible to apply for an additional 24 months of OPT.

H-1B visa

Once that OPT expires, or, if the MBA graduate is not eligible for OPT, one of the most common ways to remain in the US is for an employer to sponsor the graduate for the H-1B visa. The H-1B visa is available for individuals who work for a specific employer in a job that requires a specific college degree. There is an annual cap, or limit, on the number of H-1B visas that are available each year. Because of the cap, it is extremely important that the graduate coordinate with potential H-1B visa sponsors to ensure that all filing deadlines are met. In most cases, the H-1B petition must be filed by the employer sponsor on April 1. Because of certain preliminary steps that must be completed before the H-1B petition may be filed, the graduate and the prospective employer sponsor should begin the process in early March. Even if the H-1B petition is approved, the H-1B status is not valid until October 1 of the same year.

Typically, the graduate will have OPT authorized from either May or June, until the following May or June. So long as the H-1B petition is filed before the graduate’s OPT expires, the graduate will be able to remain in the US while the H-1B petition is pending, and, assuming the H-1B petition is approved, will be able to remain in F-1/OPT status until October 1 of the same year, when the graduate’s immigration status automatically changes to H-1B. This automatic extension of OPT until October 1 is referred to as the ‘cap gap’.

Some employers that are exempt from the H-1B cap. Those employers are institutions of higher education, and companies which are affiliated with institutions of higher education. Because these employers are exempt from the cap, a petition to sponsor a graduate for a position at that employer may be filed at any time of the year, and the graduate could begin employment in H-1B status immediately upon approval. The most common cap exempt employers are universities, school districts, and hospitals which are associated with medical schools.

O-1 visa

An alternative to the H-1B option is the O-1 visa. The O-1 visa is for individuals with extraordinary skill or ability in their field. Obtaining this status may require an employer sponsor; however, in certain circumstances the individual may self-sponsor. The standard to establish exceptional ability is extremely high. Most recent college graduates will not qualify for an O-1 visa, unless they had several years of experience in the field prior to attending school in the US.

E visa

Still another alternative is the E visa, which is available for some individuals interested in starting their own business. Many people who travel internationally to attend business school in the US are naturally entrepreneurial and may want to start their own business following graduation. If a foreign national starts a business in the US and makes a substantial financial investment into that business, the person may be able to obtain immigration status with an E visa in order to operate the business. Depending upon the graduate’s country of citizenship, he or she might be eligible for an investor or E visa which does not require a specific amount of investment.

Other options

Following several years of living and studying in the US, many foreign students enter into relationships with US citizens and may get married. So long as the marriage is bona fide (authentic, and not contrived strictly for immigration purposes), the US citizen spouse may sponsor the foreign national for permanent immigration status.

Finally, many foreign students choose to maintain their student status and continue attending school when none of the other options above are available. Despite the expense, continuing studies may be a student’s only option for remaining in the US after achieving a degree.

Foreign students may empower themselves by obtaining a working knowledge of the options available to them following graduation. 

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