Visa Types and Requirements for International Students in the US
As an international student studying in the US, you may wonder, "What visa do I need to legally work in the country?" It can sometimes get a bit confusing, especially when trying to understand the specific requirements for the different visa types. You may also have questions about the process of a green card (permanent residence).
There are generally four kinds of visa types for international students. These are known as F1 visa, J1 visa, M1 visa and H1B visa. All four of these visas have specific purposes, benefits, and limitations that differ from one another.
In this post, we dive deep into the details regarding all visa types and their requirements. Let's dive right in.
Different Visa types available for international students
Generally, four kinds of visas are available for international students in the US. These are:
An F1 visa, also known as a "student visa" or "F" visa, is an academic visa. It is generally given to those who wish to enter the United States with educational intentions. In other words, you must have an F1 visa to study in the US. F1 visas are arguably the most common form of visas for international students.
F1 visa holders can work part-time (20 hours per week) under on-campus employment. Moreover, you may also go for OPT (Optional Practical Training). However, OPT will only be eligible for you up to one year after completion of your degree.
The USCIS website discusses in detail the requirements and step-by-step process of applying for an F1 visa. To sustain your F1 visa, you must maintain the minimum course load for full-time student status. You will also be expected to complete your studies within the expiration date on your I-20 form.
Note: M1 visa is also considered a "student visa." However, M1 visas have more limitations than F1 visas in terms of eligibility.
According to the US department of labor, the H-1B visa program applies to employers seeking to hire nonimmigrant people as workers in specialty occupations or as fashion models of distinguished merit and ability.
With the help of sponsoring US employers, international students can expect to transfer their F-1 student visa status to an H-1B status. This will allow you to work and live in the US for up to 6 years. Like OPT and STEM OPT extensions, you must be deemed eligible by the USCIS.
To be eligible, you need to qualify as an experienced candidate for the position you aim for (it must be the same as your field of study). Furthermore, your employer should file a labor condition with the Department of Labor (ensuring fair work hours & wages). After completing 5 years of employment in the same company, you can request your employer to file for an employment-based permanent residency.
Note: Changing your job within the 6 years will result in re-applying for the H-1B visa.
J1 visas are for students who cannot obtain the practical training required to complete their degree or academic program in their home country due to unavailability. You will be allowed to work under equal employment on an F1 visa as long as your exchange visitor program sponsor gives you permission.
J1 visas have specific requirements according to different criteria. To better understand the different requirements, it is best to check the US travel state government website, which discusses in detail the specific requirements and step-by-step process of applying for a J1 visa.
M1 visa or "M" visa is a nonimmigrant student visa that allows foreign students entry to the US to take part in vocational or non-academic studies. Unlike F1 visas, you will not be allowed to work during the course of your stay. You will be allowed to stay in the US for up to six months on a part-time basis.
If you possess an M1 visa, you will not be able to register for any academic courses either. Therefore this option is not good for those who are looking to study for a degree or attain permanent residency in the US. M1 visa is generally granted for a period of one year, but you can apply for an extension of up to three years.
You must be able to show proof of financial stability to be deemed eligible for an M1 visa. This is done so that the government knows you are capable of funding all expenses during your stay in the US.
What is a Green Card?
Most non-natives in the US who plan on staying permanently will try to obtain a green card. This allows them to find employment anywhere in the US, receive financial benefits, and permanently reside in the country. In other words, it will allow you to live and work lawfully in the US while also qualifying yourself for US citizenship after three to five years.
As an international student in the US, it will automatically be easier for you to receive your green card permit. However, it is still very high in demand and therefore is difficult to obtain, often taking several years.
Applying for a green card
There are several ways to apply for a green card, such as being sponsored by an employer, being sponsored by relatives who are business owners, participating in US military services, receiving parent/child sponsorship, etc. Visit this in-depth Green Card Eligibility guideline on the USCIS website before applying.
General tips when applying for your visa
There is a fair bit of research needed before you apply for your visa. This will include researching admission policies for your desired university, including academic eligibility and financial requirements, etc., and polishing a few of your soft skills. Below, we discuss some things you may want to keep in mind before applying.
All colleges in the US have different requirements. This is why you should do your research and try to figure out whether you are an eligible candidate for your desired school.
Colleges may generally require you to show evidence of financial stability. This is to ensure that you are able to fund yourself during your stay in the US without having to be employed there.
Leaving a good initial impression
It is important that you're able to clearly communicate your thoughts and cause as little confusion as possible during your interview. The sheer volume of applications received by consular officers leads them to conduct quick and efficient interviews. In most cases, the decision made by them is made based on the first few minutes of the interview.
If you are an individual who requires any form of medical assistance, then it is important to have proof of health insurance to ensure that your medical expenses are covered accordingly. You may have to show this evidence regardless of needing medical assistance, should you need it later on.
Try your best to apply as early as possible. Leaving all the paperwork and documentation for the last minute will only cause you to panic and potentially postpone the process entirely. To avoid any last-minute errors/misplaced documents, it is always best to apply the earliest you are able to.
Understanding all the visa types and their requirements can turn out to be more confusing than you'd imagine. Hopefully, we've provided answers and reliable sources for most of your queries regarding this topic.
If you're currently on a student visa and you've stumbled upon this article in the hopes of permanent residency, changing your visa status, or finding valuable information about extending your stay in the US via employment, Algorizin is here to assist.
Algorizin is a platform that assists international students in landing their dream jobs in the US hassle-free. Whether you're searching for OPT opportunities, STEM OPT extension, or you simply want to change your student visa status, Algorizin can help you.
We have helped many other international students, like yourself, to land high-paying jobs and live out their American dreams. Moreover, there are no upfront costs until you get employed.
If you're looking for jobs as an international student in the US who has graduated/are close to graduating, especially in the STEM field, be sure to reach out to us and apply to join our next cohort.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long can I stay in the US after graduation?
If you are an F1 visa holder, you can expect to stay in the US for an upwards of 60 days after the program end date stated on your Form I-20. If you are an M1 and J1 visa holder, you can stay up to 30 days after the program end date according to your Form I-20. However, you can also extend these dates by requesting a visa extension through the USCIS website.
Can I change my visa status?
You can change your visa status by requesting to change your nonimmigrant status via USCIS. It is important that you get in touch with your school's DSO (Designated School Official), as they will be able to help you through the process and be aware of any changes to your nonimmigrant status.
Can I easily get a Green Card after studying in the US?
You can be eligible to apply for a green card if you are an international student studying in the US. However, the process isn't straightforward.