In 2005, Preeya Malik graduated from the University in Toronto and moved to the US to start law school as an F-1 international student. There, she obtained her Juris Doctor (law degree) and LLM (Master in Law) in Real Estate Development Law from the University of Miami, Florida, with the goal of finding a job and building a life in the US. Although Canadian citizens have the ability to work in the US via a temporary work visa, TN visa, rather than an H-1B visa, a TN visa does not lead to a US green card or citizenship. The route to a green card via H-1B, although faster for Canadian citizens, was still a long and arduous path and came with its own share of restrictions, such as being unable to work independently and being tied to a willing sponsor employer.
To help families in similar situations, Malik, Managing Director of Step Global, has spent the past 13 years educating individuals in the GCC region about the path of an F-1 international student, including strategies for post graduation such as OPT, H-1B, and other routes to a green card, such as the US EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program - a direct pathway to permanent residency, which many students and their families may be unaware of. Here she gives a comprehensive overview of options available for students hoping to work and live in the US after graduating from a US programme.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
OPT is a first opportunity to acquire full-time and paid work experience in the US after graduating from a US school. While all students must find a position in their major area of study, the duration of OPT depends on the degree obtained by each student.
International graduates who find a position and use their OPT period will then need to think about next steps once their OPT expires. “I always encourage students to think long term, rather than short term,” advises Malik. “An F-1 will allow you to stay in the US throughout your study. An OPT will give you a 1-3 year window. However, there comes a time when even a student will have to secure a visa, which will allow them to legally live and work in the US. For those students who wish to return home after their studies, this is not a concern. But for those who may wish to stay in the US and further their career, this is an important consideration.”
After the expiration of the OPT period, an H-1B visa via an employer sponsor is often the only option that will allow the graduate to stay in the US, as often the individual does not yet have enough skills and work experience to fall into any other category of employee visa.
Are H-1B employment visas a viable option?
The H-1B visa allows immigrants to work in high-skilled job positions. It is the visa that the vast majority of international grads will apply for in order to remain in the US after OPT. To obtain an H-1B visa, these students have to overcome two major difficulties: find an employer willing to sponsor them and then to be selected in the H-1B lottery system.
Find an employer under H-1B visa
“Finding an employer willing to act as a sponsor is not an easy task,” explains Malik. “An employer who hires an international student will invest time and money in that student as an employee. Many employers have policies prohibiting visa sponsorship, and some are just not willing to take on the expense or hassle if there are US permanent residents and citizens who are also qualified for the same position.”
Be drawn in the H-1B lottery
In the event that the student finds a willing employer ready to sponsor them, another difficulty arises. Due to the high demand of H-1B visas, the category has become oversaturated and H-1B visas are now allocated through a lottery system. The annual H-1B quota of 85,000 are often filled immediately in April of each year, while hundreds of thousands of applicants wait in the pool. Companies must submit an application to sponsor foreign workers or newly graduated international students. However, the selection is random and is not based on merit taking into account the talent and skills of the applicant. The size of the company willing to sponsor nor the salary offered are considered either. The draw is based on pure luck. To illustrate the slim probability of being selected for an H-1B visa, during the 2023 pre-registration period, USCIS received more than 480,000 H-1B pre-registrations for the 85,000 quota.
In the optimal scenario that one finds a sponsor employer and is also able to secure an H-1B visa it is important to know that this visa category comes with its own limitations just as the F-1 student visa. Due to the visa being tied to an employer, if one were to lose their job, they have a limited time to find another position, after which they must leave the country. Recently, many individuals working in the US tech industry under H-1B visas have faced mass layoffs, and thus have had to leave the country that they have called home for many years.
Why is the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program a secure option?
Since March 2022, the EB-5 Program has become increasingly popular for F-1 international students. “It is safe to say that 90 per cent of our clients over the past year have been those families who have children studying in the US, are planning to have their children study in the US, or have children who are fresh graduates from US programmes,” explains Malik.
For those families who have the ability to invest a refundable amount of $800,000 into an EB-5 approved project, this program offers a rather straightforward and certain path to the US green card compared to other routes. The US EB-5 Program is a direct route to obtain permanent residency in the US and also has the benefit of eventually leading to US citizenship.
Under this scheme, the application may include the investor, the investor’s spouse, and any children under the age of 21. In the event that a child is over 21 years old or if a parent is only considering the programme for the benefit of their child who is a US student, the child can be made a primary applicant having the funds for the investment gifted from a parent. This strategy is being used by many families across the GCC who may already have a child studying in the US on an F-1 visa or who may be on OPT post graduate. More and more families are also using this route if their child who has graduated from a US university has tried to apply for and unable to secure an H1-B visa.
Should I wait to graduate from university before investing in the EB-5 program?
Admittedly, it is tempting to wait until a student graduates from university to find out if they actually want to stay in the US, if they will have superior employment opportunities, or if they are lucky enough to be drawn for an H-1B visa. This is understandable as the investment sum is not small. However, more often than not, international students do end up with the great desire to stay in the US after completing four years or more of study. If they have worked hard, they will have doors opened to a vast array of career building opportunities with only a visa status standing in the way. As a result, international students and their families can benefit from learning about how the US immigration system works before the child starts his studies in the US or before graduation from a US programme. With this knowledge, students can more easily outline a realistic career path. The EB-5 Program allows families to unlock more benefits, the earlier they choose to start the application process before the child goes to the US for their studies. In addition, applying for a green card well in advance will allow the student to flourish even if there are delays in the process.
Contact Step Global for assistance in planning your future
The GCC’s leading immigration advisory firm, Step Global, is offering free consultations to anyone interested in the US EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program. Malik, who was named among top 25 global migration agency CEOs in 2022 by Uglobal Immigration Magazine, along with her team, will advise families on future planning and strategising for optimal success for international students in the US. Step Global is privileged to be the only firm in the GCC working with the top five most reputed EB-5 Regional Centers, hence being able to provide clients with all the best EB-5 project options available in one place.
Contact Step Global at email@example.com or 04 770 7825 to schedule your free consultation