How do foreign students come to the United States and get green cards? The road is not an easy one. But it can be done. A popular way of doing it, probably the most frequently used path, can visually be portrayed by the following formula: F-1 student visa -> Optional Practical Training (OPT) through a post-graduate employment authorization -> H1B work visa -> Labor certification and I-140 employer sponsorship to get a green card. Let’s explain this formula.
The Path To An American Green Card
A student would start out by applying to various U.S. colleges or universities to enroll in a course of studies leading to a bachelor’s degree in any field. On acceptance, the college’s international student advisor’s office will provide the student with an I-20 form acknowledging acceptance for studies at the institution and outlining what the cost of studies will be estimated to be. In most instances, this form would enable the student to apply for an F-1 student visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad. The only exception is Canadians who can apply at the border with the I-20 form to get an F-1 student visa there. To see a sample of what an I-20 form looks like check here.
As part of the application, the student must pay a so-called Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVIS) fee to be registered in the U.S. system as an international student. This fee can be paid online before the student visa application is begun with the U.S. Consulate. The international student advisor at the college or university that accepts the student will be able to assist in taking all these steps without any cost to the student. Indeed, it is wise to work closely with such an advisor throughout the process discussed here because they are paid by the college or university to help foreign students get their visas and are very knowledgeable about the whole process.
The F-1 Student Visa
Assuming the student files an application and proves they have ready access to the amount of money needed to start studying as indicated on the I-20 form, an F-1 student visa will be issued and the student will be allowed to enter the United States to study. In the case of a vocational or technical institution an M-1 visa might be involved but the process is the same. During the next four years if the student is doing a bachelor’s degree, or a year or two if a master’s degree is involved, the student will have time to come up with an immigration plan as to the next few steps on the journey following graduation.
Optional Practical Training
When the student is approaching the conclusion of their studies, with the help of the international student advisor the student should apply for an Optional Practical Training (OPT) post-graduate employment authorization. The student is expected to be employed in his or her field of study during OPT, and the student is required to submit employer information to SEVIS. The maximum period of unemployment is 90 days. During this one-year period, the student should try to earn an employer’s support to get an H1-B work visa on the expiry of his or her OPT status. For students with studies in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM), an additional 24 months of extended OPT work can be obtained. Either way, following the conclusion of OPT status, normally the next step in the process is to apply for an H1-B visa.
The H1-B Work Visa
The ideal is to apply for a so-called cap-exempt H1-B visa. Universities and related nonprofit entities, nonprofit research organizations, and government research organizations are exempt from the cap on the number of work visas available to foreign students each year. These employers are able to submit an H-1B application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) at any time during the year without concern for the fiscal year limit.
Otherwise, obtaining an H1-B visa involves entering a lottery to determine if you will qualify to get the visa. That is because far more applicants want H1-B visas than there are slots available for them. Indeed, there are only 65,000 slots available each year to individuals with a bachelor’s degree and only 20,000 further slots available for those with master’s degrees. However, way more than that apply each year for the slots being offered by the USCIS. Failure to win the lottery will result in having to return home and wait for the next year to try again, or finding a successful different option such as for example, an E, I, J, L, O, P, R, or TN visa, or marrying a U.S. citizen spouse who can file a spousal sponsorship.
Is This A Good Time To Apply For A Student Visa?
Finding an employer who will hire you and apply for an H1-B work visa with the student is not easy. Indeed, at the moment there are thousands of H1-B work visa holders who have recently been laid off by IT giants like Microsoft, Amazon and Google, for example. However, this reflects the ebb and flow of the markets. They say it is darkest before the dawn. Judging by U.S. history it would be a mistake to count America out. Sometimes it is wise to swim against the tide and this may be just such a time if a student is just starting out.
The Process Of PERM To Green Card
Obtaining an H1-B work visa makes it possible for the employee to stay in the U.S. for up to six years. In some instances, the length of stay can be extended even further, for example with those who can find an employer that would be willing to apply for a so-called Program Electronic Review Management (PERM) Labor Certification for the employer. In this instance, the employer must show a pattern of recruitment over the last six months that resulted in failure in locating a local U.S. worker ready, willing, and able to take up the job that the employer proposes to offer to the foreign worker.
Assuming the employer can indeed convince the Department of Labor (DOL) of that fact, the employer will be given the approval to sponsor the foreign worker to fill the slot. The process normally would involve getting approvals from the DOL and then applying for an adjustment of status from within the United States. Normally such a process takes somewhere between two and three years.
Assuming the applicant is successful in staying with the employer and is approved for landing the applicant will become eligible for a U.S. green card, that is to say, for permanent residence. The process entails getting a police clearance and going through a medical. If the applicant has family members living with them, they will also qualify by going through the same clearances.
In short, once again the process is F-1 student visa -> Optional Practical Training (OPT) through a post-graduate employment authorization -> H1B work visa -> Labor certification and I-140 employer sponsorship to get a green card.