How Can An Education Program In The US Help Me Get A Work Visa Following Graduation?
There are two ways an educational program in the US can help you get a work visa following graduation.
1. Employment Authorized in Connection with Student Status
U.S. immigration regulations allow for limited periods of employment, directly linked to the course of study being pursued.
Most F-1 students (i.e., students pursuing an academic course of study, usually leading to an Associates, Bachelors, Masters or Doctoral degree) are allowed to work up to 20 hours per week on-campus while they are in school, and may be able to get work authorization for additional work during vacations and semester breaks.
If the particular course of study provides for it within the curriculum, F-1 students can participate in “Curricular Practical Training” programs that involve working in a field related to the course of study and receiving college credit for that work experience. This is something like an internship; sometimes the student/worker is paid, but often he only receives college credit.
Finally, F-1 students pursuing 4-year bachelors or higher degrees are eligible for “Optional Practical Training” (after authorization by the school and issuance of a work permit by USCIS), which may allow for regular employment for 12 months with a company in a field related to the course of study. This “OPT” may be authorized for an additional 17 months, if the student’s course of study is in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (“STEM” OPT).
Practical Training may also be available to vocational or technical school students, who come to the US on M-1 visas. This is only available after the student has completed the intended course of study. For each 4 months of full-time study completed as an M-1 student, 1 month of Practical Training may be granted, but the total period of Practical Training cannot be more than 6 months.
2. Employment authorization that may become available, as a result of the education level attained
The longer-range benefit of education is that it may qualify you for an employment-based visa in the future. For example, the H-1B visa is for workers who have at least a 4-year bachelors degree in a specific field, and have a job offer from a U.S. company needing to fill a job opening which requires someone with a bachelor’s degree in that field.
For Canadian citizens, a “TN” work-authorized status may be available, provided the applicant has obtained a degree in any one of about sixty specific professions or occupations listed in the NAFTA treaty between the US, Canada and Mexico.
There are also a few other visa categories that gaining specialized education could help you qualify for. These include the “O” visa for “aliens of extraordinary ability” in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics and business, and the “P” visa for internationally recognized artists, athletes and entertainers – and their essential support personnel. These are much less common, and generally require a high level of achievement within the particular industry or field of endeavor – but gaining the relevant education could be the foundation for future qualification, on down the road.
Getting More Specifics about a Proposed Course of Study
Talk with the “International Students Advisor” or the “International Students Office” at any school you are considering attending. The International Students Advisor is responsible for administering the student visa program and guiding foreign students through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (“SEVIS”).
The International Students Advisor should be able to tell you whether the school is authorized to accept F1 or M1 students, and whether there are any Curricular Practical Training programs available.
Do your research and homework very thoroughly. In some schools, the admissions departments function more like marketers and recruiters (i.e., sales people) than advisors. Their interest is attracting students to bring revenue into the schools – and sometimes that may lead to inflated promises or suggestions as to what the school’s programs really will do for you.
In order to help you obtain employment (and employment authorization) in the United States, an educational program would need to meet the general guidelines outlined above. Generally, the more lengthy F1 programs for bachelor’s degrees or above tend to be more beneficial in helping you qualify for future employment in the US.
If you are pursuing a very specialized occupation and one that does not require a bachelor’s degree, it will be harder to obtain immigration status based on your education in that field, than if you were to obtain a more ‘traditional’ degree in a field involving science, technology or math. You may need to gain whatever experience you can in the field, before you can reach a level where you have sufficient ‘credentials’ to qualify for immigration on the basis of your profession. From an immigration standpoint, gaining actual work experience (building your resume and building connections, creating networks, etc.) may prove to be much more valuable than paying for more classes in the US.
Contact an experienced immigration attorney to help you with your specific immigration needs regarding education and employment.
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