If you’re loving your summer internship and the company is a good fit, you might just want to accept a full-time offer with them. You may have even chosen your internship knowing that your company sponsors H-1B visas and is looking for a talent like you. In fact, the best advice is to do just that with an early start and an almost exhaustive search area.
While American students working at summer internships in the US have a little more time to decide, international students need to act quickly to secure an H-1B visa if they like the full-time offer in front of them.
The first thing to figure out is how much time do you have remaining on the OPT extension of your F-1 student visa.
Keep in mind that any pre-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) time used counts against the total 12 months time allowed. Double check whether your summer internship used Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or OPT time.
And, you’ll need to start the conversation about your future with your employer early as you’ll want to be sure they’ll sponsor your H-1B visa.
Step 1: Negotiating your H-1B job offer
It may seem obvious, but ironing out the potential job offer is the critical first step if you plan to work on non-immigrant visas in the US after graduation. It’s not so much about the money (though a higher salary always helps); it’s a question of your visa type and what your potential employer will do to retain your services.
Questions to ask when talking to your employer about H-1B visa sponsorship:
- When does your employer want you to start? If you’re planning to use your F-1 OPT visa to begin work, you have a 60-day grace period following the completion of your studies before you must start (otherwise unemployment time counts). Using this grace period gives you the most amount of time in the US on this visa class.
- Is your employer ready to start your H-1B visa applications now? Or, do they want to check your performance while you’re working on your F-1 OPT? Timing is everything here. “If you start your internship in July, then your OPT will also start. You will have 12 months until the OPT extension is completed. And, typically speaking, the H-1B only takes over from 1 October. While you may be given an extension to remain in the country, you might not be earning during this period. While you might get more time in the US if you use the full OPT time; but if you don’t get that H-1B visa, you might miss out.
- Does your employer have an international presence? The H-1B visa is subject to a cap (a maximum number of new H-1B visas issued annually) and they’re chosen through random lottery. While you have a stronger chance after completing your master’s, you don’t have a guarantee. If your potential employer has offices in your home country (or in another country where you might secure a different visa) and they’re willing to shuffle your workplace accordingly, it could be the difference between employment and leaving the US jobless.
Step 2: How your sponsor applies for the H-1B visa on your behalf
Your company sponsor (in this case, where you interned and wish to be employed) petitions for you to get an H-1B visa. This potential employer is also responsible for paying the related fees. But, you’ll need to assist, especially with paperwork. Here’s what you likely need to supply:
- A résumé or CV,
- Diplomas and evidence of special recognition in your field (if applicable)
- The official documents relating to your current and previous visas to the US.
The process begins with the submission of a Labor Conditions Approval (LCA) which outlines your position and duties, remuneration, place of employment and also shows how this job relates to your field of study. The LCA usually takes a few weeks, and, as this must be in place prior to 1 April for the submission of your H-1B petition, it’s best to ensure submission well before the beginning of March.
Petitions for new H-1B visas open on 1 April (usually while you’re still in school), with the date of work beginning on 1 October. The lottery to determine who gets a visa is triggered as soon as there are more than 85,000 applications. Usually, this happens in a matter of days and, once the lottery begins, new petitions aren’t accepted.
You and your sponsoring employer will be notified if you’ve been selected in the lottery and then it’s on to finalizing the process and preparing yourself for your post-grad career.
Given the 1 October start date associated with the H-1B visa, there are two scenarios in which you might move from F-1 OPT to H-1B status:
- You work for a few months on OPT while your H-1B visa is being processed. Or,
- You work for 12 months on OPT, then make use of an extension during H-1B visa processing.
Making it through the H-1B lottery is the obvious prerequisite for either condition. If aren’t successful in the H-1B lotteryand you’ve begun work with your new employer using your OPT time, you’ll need to figure out whether the company retains you outside of the US, you take a leave of absence until you make it through the lottery or you simply begin searching for a new employer outside of the US.
Tips for beginning your H-1B in the year you graduate:
You will work for only a few months on your OPT and you’ll liaise with your school until your H-1B is fully processed and issued.
Your university is partially responsible for your OPT status; it is, after all practical training which relates to your studies in the US. As such, the school must update your employment and residence details with US Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) and issue you with new I-20 forms when things change.
You must also let them know when your H-1B status begins so they can officially register the change. If you don’t take this final step, you could find yourself in breach of status.
Tips for beginning your H-1B in the year after you graduate:
You’ll use the full 12 months of your OPT time (and work with the school to maintain your status during this period) and you’ll need an extension to remain in the US between the end of your OPT and the beginning of your H-1B.
This “cap gap” extension, is automatic and applies until 30 September, as long as:
- Your H-1B petition has been filed and accepted.
- You contact your school to ensure they have the necessary documentation for your cap gap I-20.
If your H-1B petition was filed, but not receipted by USCIS, you qualify for a preliminary cap gap extension until 1 June. So long as your petition is receipted by then, you can request the 30 September extension. You’ll also need to stay in touch with your university to complete this process.
TIP: One situation to avoid is the expiry of your OPT work privileges before the submission of your H-1B petition on 1 April. Should this happen, you should be able to remain in the country until your H-1B visa kicks in, but you won’t be able to work until that time.
Either way, you’ll want to use this time to continue building your network and your credit history in the US. One of the best ways to make a big leap forward with your credit in the US is to refinance your international student loan with a company that reports to a US credit bureau. Not only will Prodigy Finance refinance international currency student loans for Harvard masters-level alumni, but your visa class also isn’t a factor in the process. You’ll save on interest rates, FX conversions and transfer fees whatever visa class you’re working on in the US.