Students on F1 visa often gets bewildered about the process of changing from OPT to H-1B status. At this point, they are left with two options either to apply for H-1B visa after receiving a U.S job offer or return to their home country with an expired F1 visa post OPT completion. The entire situation also leaves the employers uncertain about how to retain the services of their talented OPT employees, once they have completed their OPT period. To streamline the process, we are providing the procedure as well as the important factors that you should consider when moving from OPT to H-1B.
Before hopping onto the path of OPT to H-1B, let’s first put a light upon the key concepts involved in the change of status.
OPT (Optional Practical Training)
OPT stands for Optional Practical Training. It is a temporary period during which undergraduate or graduate foreign students on F1 visa are permitted by the USCIS to work in the US while pursuing their degree or after completing it. OPT students becomes eligible to work after receiving Employment Authorization Document. Students leverage several benefits from OPT status such as:
- Gain real-world practical experience in their major field of study.
- Work and stay in the U.S for 12 months period.
- Convert to H-1B visa status.
- Apply for STEM OPT Extension to stay for an additional 24 months period only if they are pursuing a degree in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math.
H-1B is a non-immigrant or temporary visa program that enables US employers to hire foreign workers in specialty occupations, which means that an H-1B holder is required to have some specialized knowledge or skills along with a bachelor degree or equivalent for which the employer couldn’t find a US based worker. F1 students are also eligible for getting H1B visa after graduation or during their OPT period under a separate H-1B quota. H-1B visa holders are permitted to:
- Procure practical experience of their theoretical knowledge.
- Authorized to work in the U.S for 3-6 years.
- Travel in or out of the U.S as long as they are able to maintain a valid H-1B status.
- Bring their children and spouse to the U.S on H-4 visa.
- Apply for green card or permanent residency in the U.S.
H-1B Visa Cap
USCIS issues a maximum of 65,000 visas each fiscal year and keep an addition set of 20,000 visas for people with advanced degrees like Masters or PHD from a legit institution of U.S.
The USCIS has even introduced H-1B quota for international students under which F1 students can change or transfer their status directly from F1 to H1B by acquiring a suitable H-1B sponsorship position in an H1B sponsor company. However, many students prefer using their OPT visa program as an interim measure for getting H-1B status.
The employers can file an H-1B petition up to six months before the actual need for the beneficiary’s services. As October 1 is the start of the fiscal year in U.S, employers can file an H-1B petition by April 1 for the upcoming fiscal year.
Documents required for moving from OPT to H-1B Visa
You need to affix the following documents with the H-1B visa application:
- Official job offer with job description- Once you secure a job in a US-based company, you should ask the employer to provide you with a written official job offer that clearly depicts that they will be sponsoring your H1B visa. This is the most important document that proves your H1B sponsorship. You must also provide a detailed description of your roles and responsibilities for the job.
- A copy of your resume and degree– You should attach your resume and degree with the H-1B application as it is a true reflection of your skills. Ideally, H-1B visa applicants are required to have specialized knowledge or an advanced degree within their field of study, so your resume must demonstrate it.
- Passport- It is essential to have a valid passport issued by your home country to immigrate with H-1B status.
- Former experience letters with job title and date of employment– It is indispensable for H-1B applicants to get their qualification and skills verified by providing previous experience letters. The letters validate the competency of applicants in performing their duties.
- Biological Information IDs- The applicants must also provide biographical information including full name, nationality, DOB, permanent address, birth certificates and marriage certificates.
- Copies of I-20 Certificate– The I-20 Certificate is an authentic proof of non-immigrant student status which verifies that you have a valid F1 visa.
Things to consider when Changing Status from OPT to H1B
Below are some measures you need to take for filing H1B application:
- Find an employer who is sponsoring H-1B Visa- The only path to applying for an H1B visa is to obtain a job offer from an H1B sponsor company, thus you need to find an H1B sponsoring employer. Ensure that the employer is in good standing to confirm that the employee will be paid 95% of the existing wage of the occupation. Also, the employer must be able to demonstrate to USCIS that H1B workers will not have any adverse effect on the work conditions of US workers.
- Get your employer file H-1B petition on your behalf- Once you receive the job offer, your employer should file H-1B visa petition for change of status before the prescribed deadline. If your H-1B visa petition gets sanctioned, you will be granted with H-1B status. Thereon, you can start working on H-1B visa status from October 1 as instructed by the USCIS.
- Filing of H-1B petition before deadline- As there are certain limitations on issuing the number of H-1B visas each fiscal year, you should be watchful of the H-1B cap. In order to successfully acquire an H1B visa for the next year, you must timely file your H1B petition.
- Check eligibility for H-1B cap-gap extension- If you have filed an H-1B visa petition, but your case is still pending, then you may become eligible for a cap-gap extension wherein you are allowed to remain in the U.S. on F1 visa status until your H-1B employment is approved.
Process of filing H1B Application
According to the guidelines of USCIS, only the H-1B sponsoring employer can file your H1B petition. Following are some simple step that an H-1B petitioning employer must take:
- First the employer needs to file a Labor Condition Application (LCA) with the US department of Labor.
- Next, complete two forms, Form I-129 which is a Petition for a Non-immigrant Worker, & Form I-129 H Classification Supplement.
- Submit all the required supporting documents as required.
How to maintain H1B Status?
The approval of your H-1B status is for a specific position, a fixed salary, and employer, so to avoid violating your status, you should only perform the duties as defined in your H-1B petition for the company that has sponsored your visa.
- If you want to maintain your H1B status, then you should maintain your employment as the H1B employees who resigns or gets laid off from their position falls out of the status, and ultimately have to leave the U.S.
- The only way you can stay in the US on an H-1B visa is by working and getting paid. In case, your employer stops paying you wages, then you are legally obligated to terminate your contract.
- To ensure you have plenty of job opportunities, acquaint yourself with the latest technologies. The technology sector is the most flourished domain that generates thousands of career-building opportunities. So, immerse into the technical sphere by enrolling into certifications of Java, Machine Learning, Python, Hadoop, MERN Stack, AWS, and other cutting-edge technologies.
- Procure extra skills which are in high demand and for which there is a skills shortage like data scientist, data analysts, Machine Learning engineers, Cloud developer, etc.
Prior taking a job or working on OPT, students must conduct extensive market research to find the right employer. It is crucial to understand that not all the OPT employers in the U.S. sponsor H-1B visa. Therefore, you should consider contacting the HR of your prospective company to know if they are sponsoring H-1B or not.
The best practice for students is to search for employers who can sponsor H-1B after the completion of their OPT period. Some employers can sponsor an H-1B, if they find that you are the best-fit for their company and your experience or skills cannot be replaced by any US citizen. So, it’s utmost important to maintain the quality of your work and upgrade your skills. Also, you should have a healthy professional relationship with your company’s HR manager, so you avail the chance of getting an H-1B sponsorship from your current OPT employer.
As technology remains the strongest employment sector of U.S., you should acquire some technical skills to land a good job. Enroll into our technology upskill program to get trained into the robust technologies. Let’s help you achieve your career goals. SynergisticIT- The Best Programmers in the Bay area…Period!