Study abroad goals rarely just end with getting a degree from an international university. Your degree is a ticket to future opportunities down the line. And at the top of the list are the potential career paths you can unlock thanks to studying abroad! Students heading to the USA often cite future work opportunities as major motivations to fly off to the States. After all, the USA is one of the world’s largest and most successful economic, financial, and industrial engines. The work experience you get in the USA makes you a competitive and qualified member of the global workforce. So, what opportunities exist for students graduating with a US degree to work in the States? Here’s everything you need to know about post study work opportunities in the USA.
What You Need to Know About Post Study Opportunities in the USA
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
If you’re about to complete your program in the USA, the most immediately available work opportunity for you is Optional Practical Training (OPT). You can apply for OPT both during and after your studies. To be eligible, you need to be an F-1 student visa holder, enrolled in a program at a SEVP-certified school for at least one academic year. How you go about getting authorisation for OPT varies a bit depending on whether you’re applying for:
- Pre-Completion OPT - where you work while you study
- Post-Completion OPT - where you work after you complete your program
The standard duration for OPT is 12 months. Whether you applied for Pre-Completion OPT affects how long your Post-Completion OPT will be. In other words, your Pre- and Post-Completion OPT together add up to a maximum of 12 months. For example, if you worked nine months while studying, your Post-Completion OPT would be valid for three months. So, if you plan on pursuing post study opportunities in the USA, the duration of your OPT is something to keep in mind.
Work Opportunities While You Study
It pays to plan and strategise to maximise your post study work opportunities in the USA as an international student. If you hope to get a considerable level of work experience both during and after your program, you might want to opt for a program with CPT. Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is work experience that forms a part of your program. It’s essentially a graded component of your course curriculum that you need to complete to graduate. Programs with CPT let you get the work experience while also being eligible for OPT later on. Note, though, that if your CPT is 12 months long, you lose your eligibility for OPT. Again, this is why it’s so important to plan to make the most of the options available!
Remember, as an international student, you can still work on-campus in a variety of roles without needing to apply for either CPT or OPT. If getting some work experience, be it to build your professional qualifications or enjoy some financial flexibility, is very important to you, this is another pathway to consider while you’re studying.
If you’re a STEM student, you may have the opportunity to extend your OPT by another 24 months! Students who hold degrees in any of the following STEM fields can apply for an OPT extension if they:
- Are an F-1 student visa holder
- Are working for an employer who enrols in and uses e-Verify
- Already received the initial OPT authorisation
This can extend your overall post study work opportunities in the USA by up to three years! And this time you spend working in the USA can create further opportunities to qualify you for a US work visa.
Applying for the OPT
To apply for the OPT, you need to:
- Request your Designated School Official (DSO) to recommend the OPT for you through SEVIS
- File Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorisation) with the US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) along with
- A fee of USD 410
- Additional biometrics fees, if applicable
- Required documentation including:
- Proof that you’re a full-time student at a SEVP-certified school
- Your SEVIS numbers
- Proof of any previous CPT or OPT authorisations and the study levels at which you undertook them
- A copy of your Form I-20 endorsed by your DSO
- A copy of your Form I-94 (Nonimmigrant Arrival-Departure Record) or a copy of your passport/other travel documents
- Two passport-sized photographs
- Any previous Employment Authorisation Documents (EADs)
When to Apply for Post-Completion OPT
You’ll need to apply within 30 days of your DSO recommending the OPT for you through SEVIS. You can start applying up to 90 days before you finish your program and no later than 60 days after completion. For the OPT extension as a STEM student, you need to apply within 60 days of your DSO’s recommendation and up to 90 days before your initial OPT authorisation ends.
When Can I Start Working for OPT?
You can only start working for Post-Completion OPT after the USCIS approves your Form I-765. Once you have your Employment Authorisation Document (EAD), you can start looking for work! Once you have the authorisation, you can work both part-time (20 hours a week) and full-time.
Getting a US Work Visa - H1B Visa
After completing your OPT, you may be eligible for a US work visa - specifically the H-1B visa application for non-immigrants in specialty occupations. This is where taking the time you spent working with OPT authorisation can help you access more post study work opportunities in the USA. To qualify for the H-1B visa, you need your employer’s sponsorship to begin the process!
Eligibility for the H-1B Visa
First things first - before going through the process of finding a sponsoring employer and filing a petition, you need to check that you’re eligible for the H-1B visa. You need to:
- Hold a bachelor’s or above degree in a highly specialised field
- Have the theoretical and practical application ability for a field requiring a high degree of specialised knowledge
Petitioning for the H-1B Visa
If you got into Post-Completion OPT, it’s a good idea to talk to your employer about the possibility of an H-1B visa sponsorship. Remember - your employer will be filing the H-1B petition on your behalf.
Before the petition, there is a registration process to clear. The registration is open for a minimum of one fortnight - that’s fourteen days - each year. So if you’re aiming for the H-1B visa, you need to be very careful about the timeline of your petition. Your employer - also known as the petitioner or registrant - will complete the registration process through an online USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) account. Only those who clear the registration process can file the H-1B petition!
Getting a DOL-Certified LCA
Once you clear the registration stage, your employer will submit a Labour Condition Application (LCA) to the Department of Labour (DOL). The LCA is, simply put, a document in which the employer commits to specific labour conditions. These include but aren’t limited to:
- Paying you, the prospective H-1B visa holder, the same or comparable wages as other similarly qualified employees
- Providing working conditions that will not negatively impact other similarly employed workers
The petition process can only move forward once your employer receives DOL certification for the LCA!
Submitting Form I-29
The next step involves completing and submitting the Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-29). The application must also include the LCA (with DOL certification). This form will state that your start date at your place of employment will be October 1st or later (and within six or less months of receiving the petition). Again, this is something you need to be clear about with your employer from the get-go. If the start date mentioned in the petition is not October 1st or later, it won’t receive approval.
Along with Form I-29, you will also need to submit a copy of the H-1B Registration Selection Notice that your company filed on your behalf. The petitioner - your employer - will need documents validating your educational background and other supporting items!
The H-1B Cap
Something you need to keep in mind when pursuing the post study work visa for the USA is the H-1B cap. Every year, approved H-1B petitions cap off at 65,000 visas. For master’s or higher degree holders, there are an additional 20,000 approved petitions. This may seem like a lot, but remember that applications come in the hundreds of thousands every year. The cap gives you all the more reason to plan your H-1B petition process carefully. Stick to the right timelines and build a strong application, making sure all the details match across your documents and forms. Your employer also needs to file the petition at the right location and the right time - the details will be on the H-1B Registration Selection Notice.
Once You Get the H-1B Visa
Completing the petition process and getting the H-1B visa lets you stay and work in the USA for up to three years! In some cases, you may be able to extend it further too. The maximum number of years the visa covers is six years.
Can I Settle in the USA After Study? - Green Card
If you’re planning on seeking permanent residency in the USA, the option you’ll likely consider is the Permanent Resident Card - better known as the Green Card. If you already hold the H-1B visa, you may qualify for the Green card as an immigrant worker! As an immigrant worker, you’re eligible for the Green Card if you fall under one of the following professional categories:
|First Preference Immigrant Worker
|Second Preference Immigrant Worker
|Third Preference Immigrant Worker
Applying for a Green Card
Like the H-1B visa, you also need a sponsor who will file the petition on your behalf for the Green Card. In some cases though, you may be able to file the petition for yourself as well. To apply, the paperwork to file includes:
- Form I-485, which is the Green Card application (Application to Register Permanent Residence)
- Form I-140, the Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker
Steps to Apply for the Green Card
- First, the petitioner files Form I-140
- Once the USCIS clears this Form I-140 and a visa becomes available in the immigrant worker category, you can proceed by either
- Filing Form I-485 with the USCIS, or
- Filing a visa application with the US Department of State
- As part of the application process, you will also need to attend appointments to
- Give biometrics (your photograph, fingerprints, and signature)
- For an interview
If you’re already in the USA when applying for a Green Card
With an existing immigrant petition and immigrant visa, you can move forward by:
- Filing Form I-485 or
- Applying to the USCIS for an Adjustment of Status
If you don’t have an existing immigrant petition, you might be able to pursue concurrent filing - filing both Form I-485 and Form I-140 at the same time.
Concluding Thoughts on Post Study Work Opportunities in the USA
Immigration policies and processes in the USA are not exactly straightforward. But if pursuing post study work opportunities in the USA is your priority, knowing what you’re getting into preps you to get it right. It may take you a lot of long-term planning, but you can accomplish your dream of studying, working, and living in the USA - be it temporarily or permanently. We hope our breakdown of the pathways available helps you get to work on your journey stateside!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How long is post study in the USA?
Right after completing your study program, your most likely post study route is Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT is an available route for students both during and after their program. Altogether, the maximum duration of your Pre-Completion and Post-Completion OPT is 12 months. This means that if you took part in Pre-Completion OPT for, say, three months, your Post-Completion OPT will be nine months long. If you’re a STEM student in specific fields, you may be eligible for a 24-month extension on top of your initial OPT grant!
Can I do post study work in the USA after masters?
Yes! As an F-1 visa holder enrolled in a SEVP-certified school for at least one year, you’re eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT) during and after your program.
Can I extend my post study work visa in the USA?
If you are a STEM degree holder in specific fields, you can extend your initial Post-Completion OPT by another 24 months. If you’re an H-1B visa holder, the standard duration of your visa is three years, though you may be able to extend your stay to up to six years.