You get your OPT approved, get your employment authorization card, and get a badass job that you absolutely love. Time flies when you’re having fun and soon enough it’s three months before your OPT expires and you have absolutely no idea what to do. Well, luckily, we are research-obsessed nerds who might as well open an immigration law office (jk – you need a law degree to do that…). So, once your OPT ends, what are your options?
Be Honest. Make sure you speak with your current employer and let them know from the beginning what your current situation is. If you’re a valuable employer, they will do whatever you can to help you out and understand your options. Plus, by involving your employer, you can always help leverage costs and stress.
Think Ahead. We really wish we would have done this. It wasn’t until our Junior Year that we realized that STEM students could get an OPT extension of up to 17 months in addition to the 12 months you originally get. Yes, we now we wish we would have added a math or computer science major.
H-1B Visa. This is the classic and traditional work visa. Your employer pays quite a bit of money and submits an application on April 1st. Because there are so many qualified, smart and skilled foreigners trying to work in the US, the 85,000 yearly allotted visas get filled extremely quick. Because 20,000 of those visas are reserved for applicants with master degrees, it’s even harder for students with just a bachelor’s degree to receive them. Since there is such a high volume of applications, USCIS ends up creating a lottery system where the lucky winners get selected randomly. All that to say, if your employer is willing to do sponsor you, then it is definitely worth a shot. Plus, it is the only type of visa that leads to permanent residency. Fun fact: some countries like Chile and Singapore have “reserved” H-1B visas for their citizens so if you qualify make sure you look into that! Find more info on the H-1B visa here.
TN Visa. Due to the North American Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexican and Canadian citizens that have certain qualifications can temporarily enter the US and work legally. The application process for these types of visa is fairly inexpensive. If you’re Canadian, all you have to do is bring all the necessary paperwork to any port of entry to the US and apply right there. If you’re Mexican, you have to visit a US consulate or Embassy first to get approved and then apply at a port of entry. Even though these visas are temporary, you can request them for up to 3 years. And then, you can request them again. Of course there is a catch, and applicants needs to be working in specific eligible fields. You can find more info on the TN visa here. Note: if you don’t want to leave the country, you might also be able to apply for a change of status from within the US.
Go Back To School. Yes, you’ve probably already spent $150,000 in your education and you are not ready to do that all over again. However, if you’re looking for options, this is definitely the safest best. Plus, if you get a master’s degree, you have way higher chances of getting one of those coveted H-1B visas.
Get Married. If you’ve been dating a US citizen and think he/she is the one, then getting married is the best road to residency and eventually citizenship. The process is lengthy and expensive but we believe that true love always deserves to win.
Go Back To Your Home Country (Or Simply To Another Country!) There is nothing wrong with going back home or trying to get a job in another super cool country. Take a vacation, hit the reset button, and figure out your next move. It’s not like there’s not an entire world full of countries to explore…
We’ve both had to deal with the hardships and uncertainty of immigration and even though this seems like one of the biggest question marks in your life, know that there is so much you can do with your degree beyond staying and working in the United States. The sky’s the limit.