The U.S. is a much sought after destination for highly skilled workers looking for career and professional opportunities. What options do highly-educated foreign nationals have for getting authorization to live and work in the U.S.?
The OPT program: Work experience after graduation from a U.S. school
The Optional Practical Training program provides an option to foreign students to gain practical work experience after graduating from a U.S. college or university.
Work authorization granted by the OPT program is relatively short. The maximum length of OPT work authorization is generally one year. An exception is that STEM students may be eligible in certain circumstances to have the length of the training extended to three years.
There is no cap to the number of foreign students who can participate in the OPT program in any given year.
The H-1B program: Temporary Work Visas
Another path for highly educated foreign nationals to obtain work auhtorization is the H-1B visa program. H-1B visas are temporary work visas for foreign naitonals who will work in an occupation that requires the theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and a bachelor's degree or higher in the specialty or its equivalent.
H-1B visas provide work authorization generally for a period of three (3) years, renewable once if all conditions are met and the sponsoring employer still has a need for the foreign national beyond the first three years.
H-1B visas require employer-sponsorship. US employers must sponsor these visas and file them on behalf of the foreign workers they wish to hire.
There is an annual cap on H-1B visas. The demand for them has been very high in recent years.
Unlike the OPT program, a foreign national does not have to have studied in the U.S. to be eligible for an H1-B visa.
Green Cards: Permanent Residence
Permanent residence allows a person to permanently live and work in the US. Permanent residence is either family-based, investment based, or employment based. Each has its own eligibility requirements, and quotas.
The most appropriate path to work authorization in the U.S. depends on an individual's specific education, work experience and future goals. Competent immigration attorneys can provide invaluable counsel regrading the best course of action and can help reach the goal of working in the US whether temporarily or on a permanent basis.