“Many of our clients believe their children’s skills and achievements will be enough to obtain a work visa [H1-B visa] in the United States after graduation. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. Being the most talented student is not enough,” states Preeya Malik, US immigration lawyer and Managing Director of the immigration advisory firm Step Global, headquartered in Dubai, UAE.
In 2005, Preeya graduated from University in Toronto, and herself, moved to the US to start law school as an F-1 International Student. There, she obtained her Juris Doctor (law degree) and LLM (Masters in Law) in Real Estate Development Law from the University of Miami, Florida. Having studied in the US herself as an F-1 international student, Preeya is all too familiar with the issues faced by international students. She has spent the last 13 years educating individuals in the GCC region about the path of an F-1 International Student, including options post-graduation such as OPT, H-1B, and other route to green cards such as the US EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program – a direct pathway to permanent residency which many have not heard about. In this article, she has put together a comprehensive overview of options available for students looking to work and live in the United States post-graduation.
WHAT IS OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING (OPT)?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a first opportunity to acquire full-time and paid work experience in the United States after graduating from a US school. While all students must find a position in their major area of study, the duration of OPT depends on the degree obtained by each student. Those who have earned a degree in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) are eligible for OPT that can last for up to three years. For other degrees, the OPT will generally be provided for only one year. An F-1 student must secure employment within 60 days of the F-1 expiry date or graduation date. Those who cannot find an adequate position, will have to leave the US and return to their home country.
After the expiration of the OPT period, an H-1B visa via an employer sponsor is often the only option which will allow the graduate to stay in the United States, as often the individual does not yet have enough skills and work experience to fall into any other category of US employee visa such as an EB-2 or EB-1C.
ARE H-1B EMPLOYMENT VISAS A VIABLE OPTION?
The H-1B visa allows immigrants to work in high-skilled job positions. It is the visa that the vast majority of international grads will apply for in order to remain in the United States after OPT.
“The U.S. labor market is desired by many foreign students, whose parents often invest in their education with the hopes of their child being able to find a good position in a reputable company and build a life in the country. Students in this situation often feel a lot of pressure on two fronts. First, to prove themselves of being worth the investment and cost that sponsorship requires from an employer. Second, to do all of this in the limited time that allows them to stay in the United States,” explains Malik.
Due to the high demand of H-1B visas, the category has become oversaturated and H-1B visas are now allocated through a lottery system. In 2023, over 480,000 applicants applied for H-1B visas and only 85,000 were selected as per the annual quota. The selection is random and is not based on merit of the applicant. The draw is based on luck.
In the optimal scenario that one finds a sponsor employer and is also able to secure an H-1B visa it is important to know that this visa category comes with its own limitations. Under the H-1B visa, if one were to lose their job, they have limited time to find another position after which they must leave the country. Recently, many individuals working in the tech industry in the United States under H-1B visas have faced mass layoffs, and thus have had to leave the country that they have called home for several years.
“The economy is very unpredictable and so is the job market. Planning and securing the ability to carry out those plans will leave anyone in a better position should there be another recession like 2008, the tech downsizing of 2022 and 2023, or immigration policy changes which may or may not be introduced tomorrow,” states Malik of her experience with the US job market.
WHY IS THE EB-5 IMMIGRANT INVESTOR PROGRAM A SECURE OPTION?
Since March 2022, the EB-5 Program has become increasingly popular for F-1 international students. “It is safe to say that 90% of our clients over the past year have been those families who have children studying in the United States, are planning to have their children study in the United States, or have children who are fresh graduates from US Programs,” explains Malik.
For those families who have the ability to invest a refundable amount of USD $800,000 into an EB-5 approved project, this program offers a rather straightforward and certain path to the US Green Card when compared to other routes. The US EB-5 Program is a direct route to obtain permanent residency in the United States and also has the benefit of eventually leading to US citizenship.
Under this scheme, the application may include the investor, the investor’s spouse, and any children under the age of 21. A student can also be a primary applicant without their parents. This strategy is being used from many families across the GCC. More and more families are using this route if their child is studying in the US, is on OPT, or has applied for and is unable to secure an H-1B visa.
The EB-5 Program has become even more popular since 2022 due to a new regulatory change, which now allows anyone on a legal visa status in the US (including those on an F-1 visa or OPT status), to file for an Adjustment of Status immediately and concurrently with their EB-5 Green Card application. Along with this Adjustment of Status, one can also apply for an Employment Authorization. The Employment Authorization essentially provides an open work permit allowing the applicant to live and work legally in the United States, for any company, and including starting their own company.
SHOULD I WAIT TO GRADUATE FROM UNIVERSITY BEFORE INVESTING FOR AN EB-5 GREEN CARD?
It is tempting to wait until a student graduates from University to find out if they actually want to stay in the United States, if they will have superior employment opportunities, or if they are lucky enough to be drawn for an H-1B visa. This is understandable as the investment sum is not small. However, more often than not, international students do end up with the great desire to stay in the US after completing four years or more of study. If they have worked hard, they will have doors opened to a vast array of career building opportunities with only a visa status standing in the way. As a result, international students and their families can benefit from learning about how the US immigration system works before the child starts his studies in the United States or before graduation from a US program. With this knowledge, students can more easily outline a realistic career path. The EB-5 allows families to unlock more benefits, such as domestic tuition rates and the ability to gain valuable work experience during their studies, the earlier they choose to start the application process before the child goes to the US for their studies.
CONTACT STEP GLOBAL TO ASSIST IN PLANNING FOR YOUR FUTURE
The GCC’s leading immigration advisory firm, Step Global, headed by Managing Director and US Lawyer Preeya Malik, is offering free consultations to anyone interested in the US EB-5 Green Card Program. Preeya along with her team will advise families on future planning and strategizing for optimal success for international students studying in the United States. Step Global is privileged to be the only firm in the GCC working with the top 5 most reputed EB-5 Regional Centers, hence being able to provide clients with all the best EB-5 project options available in one place.
Contact Step Global lawyers today to schedule your free consultation at [email protected] or at +971 (0)4 770 7825.