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Can international students work in the U.S. after graduation?

Maybe you came to the U.S. for undergrad. Or maybe you got your PhD here. Either way, graduation is drawing near, and you’re wondering what this means for your future in the U.S.

Can you stay in the U.S. to look for a job? What are your options?

Temporary extension

If your academic program in the U.S. lasted at least one year, you can apply for Optional Practice Training (OPT). This extends your student (F-1) visa for a year, during which time you can look for a job and work. The benefit of OPT is you don’t have to already have a job in order to stay in the country.

Prolonged stay

After your OPT expires, you’ll need to get an employer-sponsored visa in order to continue working in the U.S. The most common visa in this case is the H-1B. This visa is employer specific, meaning you can only work in the U.S. for that specific employer.

If you’re in the U.S. under OPT, it’s worthwhile to seek a job with an employer-sponsored visa before your OPT status expires. Otherwise, you’ll have to leave the country and apply for work in the U.S. from there.

The lottery

It’s worth noting that when a prospective employer applies for your visa, they will have to submit it through a national lottery. The number of applications will affect your chance of approval. Usually less than half of such applications are accepted.

The nonprofit exception

The good news is if you apply for work in the nonprofit sector, your H-1B application will not go through the lottery system. There is no limit on the number of nonprofit H-1B visas that can be awarded. Typically, “nonprofit” work is considered work in the following fields:

  • Government
  • Higher education
  • Research
  • Hospital

If your student life is coming to an end, it’s important to plan ahead if you want to remain in the U.S. after graduation. Taking steps to maintain legal working status in the U.S. can set you up for success in your career.

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