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How to Work in the USA as a Foreigner After Graduation

work visa usa
career planning
internship
By Shorelight Team
Last updated on September 27, 2022

If you would like to stay in the USA after graduation, this guide to F-1 and OPT visa extensions can help you understand your options.

A man carries a box up stairs into his new apartment building.

Can international students work in the USA after graduation? Yes! How long can international students stay in the US after graduation? It depends. Although your F-1 visa expires when you are no longer enrolled in college, there are ways new graduates can stay in the US to complete an internship or gain real-world work experience. An Optional Practical Training (OPT) extension or STEM OPT extension to your F-1 visa can allow you to stay in the US legally after you graduate. 

You may have many questions like “how long I can stay in USA after graduation?” “Can a F-1 student get an international student visa after graduation?” and more. There are many rules that international students must follow while working in the US, and initially, these regulations may seem like a challenge. However, getting the right F-1 visa after graduation can help. 

Keep reading to understand your options for F-1 visa, OPT extensions, and other methods to extend your international student visa after graduation.

How to Stay in the US Legally After Graduation

One of the ways that students can stay in the US on an international student visa after graduation is with an OPT extension. The post-completion OPT allows recent graduates to work in the US for up to 12 months. 

Many international students wonder how can I apply for OPT before graduation? Unlike Curricular Practical Training (CPT), which must be completed while you are still enrolled at your college or university, OPT can be completed before or after graduation. Just keep in mind you are only eligible for 12 months of practical training total. So, if you used all of your OPT or CPT while you were still enrolled, you will not be eligible for this type of F-1 visa extension. However, you become eligible again if you enroll in graduate school. 

Students who are studying science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) may be eligible for a STEM OPT extension. This program allows you to stay and work in the US for 24 months after graduation.  

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT is an off-campus employment opportunity for F-1 students and these opportunities connect you with US organizations where you can gain hands-on experience in your major field of study. 

You can begin the process for applying for OPT nine months after being enrolled, however, your employment cannot begin until you receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) specifically from USCIS and have been enrolled for at least a year. The good news is you do not need a job offer to apply for an EAD and your OPT employment can occur anywhere in the US.

Remember to apply early, as USCIS can take up to 90 days to process your application. Speak with your Designated School Official, or DSO, to learn more about your options for applying for OPT, how long can an international student stay in the US after graduation, and how you can gather the information you need for your application. 

The most important document is form I-765 for employment authorization, which must be submitted along with your OPT application.

Before you apply for OPT, speak to your DSO to understand the typical OPT requirements:

  • Your employment must be directly related to your major

  • You must maintain lawful F-1 status

  • You must apply for your OPT before completing all work needed for your degree

  • You may work before or after the completion of your degree, or both

  • You may stay and work in the US for up to 12 months after completing your coursework

OPT post-graduation requires that:

  • OPT work must be full time (40 hours a week)

  • All OPT must be completed within 14 months after completion of your degree

  • Applications for post-completion OPT must be received by USCIS before the completion of your degree

Keep in mind that there are travel regulations governing F-1 students on OPT — if you leave the country after completing your degree, but before receiving your EAD and obtaining a job, you may not be readmitted into the US. This could impact your chance at securing your post-graduate work visa USA.

You can leave after you have received your EAD and secured a job, but make sure you have all the necessary documents with you once you return: 

  • Valid passport

  • Valid EAD card

  • Valid F-1 visa

  • All your I-20 forms with page 3 endorsed for travel by your international student advisor within the past six months

  • Letter of employment with your dates of employment and salary

If you are wondering “can international students work in USA after graduation?”, these OPT guidelines cover the process to get your work visa. If you apply for OPT after graduation, you can work and train in the US for up to 12 months. Students who have graduated with a STEM-related degree can also request an additional 24 months of OPT. 

Here is a list of just a few STEM-related degrees that are valid for an OPT extension: 

  • Actuarial sciences

  • Computer science applications

  • Engineering

  • Engineering technologies

  • Life sciences

  • Mathematics

  • Military technologies

  • Physical sciences

For the full list of STEM-designated degree programs, visit ICE.gov.

Students who receive an OPT extension may also choose to apply for an H-1B visa. So, if you have questions like “how long I can stay in USA after graduation?”, this visa may be the right choice for you. 

H-1B Visa (Non-immigrant Visa)

You may be eligible for a H-1B visa, also called the Person in Specialty Occupation Visa, if you have been accepted to a specific job position that meets these requirements:

  • Possession of an advanced education degree (four-year BA degree or MA or PhD)

  • Correlation between your degree and work experience and your job duties

  • Approval of a labor condition attestation (LCA) from the Department of Labor before filing the H-1B petition with Immigration and Naturalization Services. (This document ensures that you will not be exploited by US employers and are paid the same salary and obtain the same benefits as your American counterparts.)

The H-1B status is granted for an initial period of three years. This is a great option for a post-graduate work visa USA because it can be extended for an additional three years. (Note that it cannot be extended beyond six years.) To qualify for this visa, your employer is required to initiate the visa process. 

A few examples of H-1B job positions are:

  • Architects

  • Accountants

  • Doctors

  • IT specialists

  • Lawyers

  • Professors

If you want to develop a long-term career or build your future in the US, your job is just one part of a larger process. Acquiring a green card is the final goal for many international students who want to work in the US after graduation.

Green Card

A green card permits you to work anywhere in the US, receive financial benefits, and live in the US indefinitely. However, because green cards are in high demand, they may take many years to obtain.

As a student, your F-1 student status is only temporary, and you may wonder “can international students work in USA after graduation?” While the H-1B visa will only let you stay in the US for a limited number of years, a green card is your first step toward permanent residency.

Here are five ways a F-1 student can get a green card:

  1. Receive employer sponsorship — If you attain employment while studying, your employer can sponsor you by making an application for an EB-2 or EB-3 employment-based green card.

  2. Seek asylum — If returning to your home country is currently dangerous for your well-being, you can petition for asylum. You will need an immigration lawyer to help you with this process. USCIS goes over these petitions on a case-by-case basis and makes determinations individually.

  3. Receive sponsorship from a relative who owns a business — Your relative will have to prove that you are being hired based on your qualifications and not only because you are related. They will also have to show a good-faith effort to hire an American citizen and that none were up to the required standard.

  4. Participate in military services — If you have served two years in the military, this may help with your green card application.

  5. Receive parent or child sponsorship — If you have a parent or a child over 18 who is already a legal US citizen, they can sponsor your green card.

As a green card holder, you have several rights:

  • Right to permanent residence

  • Right to work

  • Right to protection under the law

  • Right to a driver’s license

  • Right to bear arms

  • Right to travel

  • Right to request visas for immediate family members

  • Right to Social Security benefits

Green card holders also have many responsibilities, including following the law, registering with Select Services, filing income taxes, supporting the government, carrying proof of residency wherever you go, informing DHS of any address changes, and maintaining health insurance. Meeting these responsibilities is very important to maintain your status as a green card holder. 

How to Apply for an OPT Extension

You may be asking the question “can I apply for OPT after graduation?” and as mentioned before, the answer is yes. Let’s go over the steps and guidelines to follow in the OPT extension application process. 

To start your application, your DSO must enter an OPT request in SEVIS. Then, you can fill out the OPT application and pay both the filing fee and biometric services fee. The total for both fees is $495

Here are the steps to apply for an OPT extension:

  1. Ask your DSO to enter an OPT request in SEVIS

  2. Sign the form I-20 (provided by your DSO)

  3. Complete an Application for Employment Authorization

  4. Submit the form, OPT extension fee, and supporting documentation electronically or by mail

  5. Answer any request for evidence from USCIS by the listed deadline

  6. Receive your approval

You do not need a job or offer of employment to apply for OPT. However, when you do get a job, it must be directly related to your area of study.

How Long Does it Take for OPT Extension Approval?

Many students get their OPT approval in 80 to 120 days. In the past, you could expect your approval within 90 days, but increased demand has led to longer processing times. From 2016 to 2018, the number of international students working in the US after graduation has increased by 400%. More than half of these new hires were working in STEM fields. 

Can I Apply for OPT Extension After OPT Expires?

A 24-month STEM OPT extension is an add-on to your post-completion OPT, not a replacement for it. Do not wait until your OPT expires. File for an extension no more than 90 days before the end of your regular OPT period. 

Only students who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher in an eligible STEM field can apply for a STEM OPT extension. Eligible fields include:

  • Biological sciences

  • Engineering

  • Mathematics

  • Physical sciences

See a list of all related fields on the STEM-designated degree program list.

You must also have an employer willing to sponsor your request. This employer must be enrolled in the USCIS E-Verify employment eligibility verification program. Your employer must provide you with at least 20 hours of work per week. They must also provide learning objectives and formal training to help you meet those goals.

If you did not study a STEM-related field, you must leave the US by the end of the OPT extension grace period of 60 days. 

B-1/B-2 Visa

When considering can international students work in USA after graduation, it is important to look at all your options. The B-1/B-2 visa is a temporary, non-immigrant visa that allows the holder to travel to the US for either business or tourism. Almost all reasons for temporary travel are covered by these visas, except for student travel which is categorized under F-1 visas.

The B-1 visa covers business trips and the B-2 visa covers tourism such as vacations and visiting family. Reasons for traveling under B visas include:

  • Conducting business such as meetings, negotiations, etc.

  • Attending a conference relevant to your profession, education, or current business venture

  • Settling real estate transactions

  • Visiting family

  • Taking a vacation

  • Attending events such as concerts, classes, etc., as long as there is no payment or credit card given to the visa holder

A B-1/B-2 visa holder cannot be granted permanent residence, but can apply for a green card while holding this visa and it potentially offers another way for international student work in US after graduation. The maximum amount of time issued for this visa is 180 days and allows multiple entries into the US. To be eligible for this visa, you must prove that your travel is temporary and that you can self-fund the cost of the whole trip.

The process of applying for and obtaining a visa can be long and challenging, but it is important to remember that you must maintain your status once you have obtained a visa. If you are unable to maintain your visa status, you may be required to return to your home country, which could disrupt your plans for the future.

Best Practices for Maintaining Your US Visa Status

The two most important aspects to keep in mind to maintain your post-graduate work visa USA status is to research your conditions thoroughly and be proactive. Plan ahead for how you plan to obtain important documents so you can meet all OPT deadlines. Fill out all forms thoroughly and respond promptly to any requests for additional information to prevent delays. Keep your information up to date and be sure to report to your DSO any changes to your address, contact information, and employment — this information must stay up to date in SEVIS.  

Remember that OPT rules can change. Staying updated on the latest federal regulations by visiting DHS.gov or USCIS.gov can help you follow visa guidelines and consistently maintain your visa status. If there are any parts of the visa process you are not sure of, your DSO can also help answer any questions you may have. 

Here is a look at some of your options for maintaining your visa status as an international student. 

Start the Process Early

It is important to be proactive in maintaining your visa status, as there is limited time to apply for extensions if this becomes necessary. Getting approval from USCIS and other immigration offices can take up to 90 days; keep this in mind as you prepare for life after graduation and make sure you submit your applications well ahead of time so you can remain in the US after graduating.

Additionally, if you are unable to maintain your visa status and need to return to your home country, this can impact your ability to obtain a visa in the future.

Attend Career Fairs to Find Work

Many international students wonder “can international students work in USA after graduation?” With the proper visa, as we’ve discussed, the answer is yes: Studying in the US can give you access to many opportunities to find international student work in US after graduation. 

As an international student, you may not know how to get started and who you should connect with to find a job or internship. Career fairs provide a variety of work opportunities and give you the chance to network with professionals from various backgrounds. For an international student, this experience offers insights on how to bridge cultural gaps and fit into the organizational culture of places where you would like to work.

Career fair seminars and lectures showcase new skills, or give you the chance to hone ones you already have. You can brush up your resume, improve your interview skills, optimize online job searches, and more! And if you make the right impression at a career fair, you may land an interview on the spot, something that could take days or months through more traditional job application methods.

Use Networking to Find Professional Mentors

Building and expanding your professional network is a great way to connect with industry experts who can help you find job opportunities in the US. This process can take time, but will help you build a strong foundation for your career as you work toward completing your degree.

There are many ways to get in touch with the right people to start your networking journey. During your time at university, you will have the chance to network with professionals in your field, but also with your fellow students and faculty members.

Here are some steps you can take at university to get started building your professional network:

  1. Reach out to academic advisors — Academic advisors can help you recognize and achieve your educational goals, and are experienced in assisting international students like you. They can guide you to the right career fairs for the type of career you want to pursue, and can even connect you with companies who are currently hiring students.

  2. Join organizations and clubs — Many student-run organizations and clubs in the US regularly host events and activities in their field of interest. This can help you connect with other like-minded individuals and allows you to make new friends who may know of job opportunities.

  3. Speak to others in the alumni network — Many schools have large and thriving alumni networks. They volunteer their time and expertise to support students looking to build their careers. Alumni can provide career-related information, behind-the-scenes insights about specific careers, feedback on your resume, help to expand your network, and insider tips about jobs or internships.

  4. Join national professional affiliations — National professional affiliations (for example, the National Association of Scholars) are groups that focus on supporting and connecting people with the same career interests. Joining an affiliation group for a field you want to work in can be a great opportunity to discover new job opportunities while also developing your skills as a professional.

  5. Volunteer — Volunteering teaches valuable skills and enables you to connect with top professionals. Potential organizations include the Peace Corps, Habitat for Humanity, American Red Cross, the Food Bank, and more, as well as local community groups.

Before you reach your final year of university, set a goal of working with two to three mentors (both from school and outside organizations) who will guide you in your professional career. Mentors are essential to the job search process for international students; maintaining and nurturing these relationships will prove useful to you as you apply for your work extension visa in the US. 

If you are not sure where to begin, reach out to a Shorelight advisor! Your advisor can support you as you prepare for a career in the US by helping you develop a career action plan, providing resume tips, and guiding you toward career development programs

The process of securing a job placement and extending your stay in the US can be demanding and time consuming, but may also allow you to pursue a long-term career in the US. Plan ahead, keep in touch with your mentors, and speak to your advisors to stay on track with your personal and professional goals.

Reach out to a Shorelight advisor today >