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Paths For Students After Graduation


If your graduation is coming up, or you just want to be prepared for when the time comes, you’re probably thinking about how you’ll transfer from your F-1 visa when you enter the workforce. Some of the more common ways students make this transition are:

  1. Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a temporary authorization offered to students on F-1 visa to work in their related field for a period of total 12 months. If you graduated with a STEM degree, you can renew your OPT twice for a total of three years.
  2. Transferring to the H-1B is the most popular option, the transition is easy if you are in the US. Your status automatically changes from F-1 to H-1B. (Note: When you leave the US after your H-1B approval, you do need to get the H-1B stamp in your passport from an embassy or consulate.)
  3. For some countries, there are country-specific visa categories, mentioned below.
  4. If you’re a startup founder or key talent, the O-1 visa may be a good option for you as well.

Regardless of the path you take, here are some best practices to keep in mind:

Plan Ahead

Don’t leave things to the last minute. The immigration system and the USCIS are known for their long processing times. Give yourself more than enough time to overcome any obstacles in immigration process. The earlier the better.

Don’t Jeopardize your F-1 Status

Remember that you have to have CPT or OPT in order to get an internship or job. Don’t jeopardize your F-1 status by taking a job without first having the right status. This could jeopardy your ability to work in the U.S. in the future.

Apply For OPT Before You Graduate

Applying for OPT is a great way to buy some time before you transfer your student visa. It also gives you time to better explore your options. But keep in mind it may take 3-5 months to receive your OPT, so give yourself ample time for a response.

The earliest you could apply for your OPT is 90 days before the last day of your ultimate semester. You need not to have a job offer.

Remember, if you graduated with a STEM degree, you are eligible for three years of OPT!

Start Thinking About Your H-1B

If you graduate before April 1, then you are an eligible candidate for the H-1B lottery that year. Ask your employer to register you for that year’s lottery on USCIS portal between March 1 and March 20. Don’t forget, the more times you apply, the higher chances of getting H-1B

Be Aware Of Other Visa Options (For Some Countries)

Some F-1 students may have the opportunity to transfer to other visas. If you’re a citizen of one of the countries below, you may want to explore the associated visa categories:

    • Australia - E-3 visa
    • Chile and Singapore - H-1B1
    • Canada and Mexico - TN visa

Starting A Company?

If you’re starting your own company -- and particularly if you’re going through an accelerator program -- you may want to consider the O-1. While many of the requirements are difficult, it may be a viable option once your company has gained a little traction. Check out our information on the O-1 and its qualifications here.

If you have more questions, or want to stay up to date, join us for one of our monthly Student Q&As Sessions with our student visa experts. You can also find more student updates on our student page here.