Each year thousands of students from foreign countries enter the U.S. to attend American universities. After obtaining their degrees, many foreign students wish to remain in the U.S. They may have adopted the American lifestyle, found a job they wish to continue, or simply are unable to return to their home country. Regardless of the reason the foreign student wants to remain in the U.S., doing so successfully is often a difficult task. Foreign students want to know their options to remain in the U.S. following graduation.
In most cases, when a foreign student completes a degree program, the student will be eligible to work in the U.S., in the field of the graduate’s studies, for a period of 12 months. This period is called Optional Practical Training, or “OPT.” In some circumstances, the graduate will be entitled to an additional 18 months of OPT.
Once that OPT expires, or, if the graduate is not eligible for OPT, one of the most common ways to remain in the U.S. is for an employer to sponsor the graduate for H-1B status. H-1B status is available for individuals who work for a specific employer in a job that requires a specific college degree. There is an annual cap, or limit, on the number of H-1B visas that are available each year. For that reason, as well as other reasons, the H-1B is not a solution for every college graduate.
A graduate may be able to remain in the U.S. and work in an immigration status that an extraordinary skill or ability in their field. Obtaining this status may require an employer sponsor. However, in certain circumstances the individual may obtain that status without an employer sponsor. The standard to establish exceptional ability is extremely high. Most recent college graduates will not qualify.
Many people who travel across the world to attend school in the U.S. are naturally entrepreneurial and may want to start their own business following graduation. If a foreign national starts a business in the U.S. and makes a substantial financial investment into that business, the person may be able to obtain immigration status in order to operate the business.
Following several years of living and studying in the U.S., many foreign students have entered into relationships with U.S. citizens and may get married. So long as the marriage is bona fide, the U.S. citizen spouse may sponsor the foreign national for permanent immigration status.
Many foreign nationals come to the U.S. from countries where the conditions are so deplorable that returning is likely to result in persecution. In those cases, asylum might be an option. To qualify for asylum, that risk of persecution would need to be based on the individual’s race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.
Finally, many foreign students choose to maintain their student status and continue going to school when none of the other options above are available. Despite the expense, continuing studies may be many students’ only option for remaining in the country they have come to identify as their own.