One of the most important things for an international student on F1 visa studying in America is to find an employer and get H1B visa sponsored. As you know, F1 students are impacted by the New H1B rules and Recession, changing from F1 to H1B visa can be tricky and it is a good idea to plan everything ahead of time like OPT after graduation and H1B sponsorship. I will try to explain the typical process involved for converting from F1 to H1B and key things to keep in mind during the change of status.
F1 Visa – OPT Planning :
Some of you might have worked on CPT (Working OPT Vs CPT ) and may be planning on applying OPT to work after graduation, but some of you may not have had CPT at all. Either case, you should apply for OPT to be eligible to work after graduation until you find a potential H1B Sponsor and get the H1B visa petition filed. You file using form I-765 and work with your International Student Advisor or DSO(Designated School official ), who will give you a new I20 and update SEVIS about your OPT. You will file the OPT for employment authorization by paying necessary fee. You can apply for OPT up to 90 days prior to completion of your program i.e, the graduation date. Suppose you forget to apply on time, you have 60 days grace period to apply after program date. This is very risky and not recommended as it gets much complicated. So, do NOT delay and apply for OPT before you graduate. Anyways, once you file OPT, you will get an EAD or OPT Card. Check : Sample OPT or EAD Card
OPT Rules to keep in Mind :
Once your OPT starts after graduation, ideally you should have a job and be technically working. If you are unemployed, you have to find a job as soon as you can in the area of your degree. The rule is, you can only accumulate only up to 90 days of Unemployment during entire 12 month OPT Period. What it means is, say for instance you worked for an employer for 3 months on OPT and you thought of changing jobs, then you start looking and change employer, it took you 30 days to find another job( you did not work during this 30 days), now you have used 30 days of your 90 Days unemployment period given by USCIS. Precisely, you can only be unemployed for a total of 90 days during your 12 month OPT. If you belong to STEM degree and get 17 month OPT extension, then you get an additional 30 days of unemployment period, which totals to 120 days of unemployment period allowed in total 29 months of OPT.
Process for F1 visa to H1B visa Change of Status:
Typically after you graduate with MS or MBA, you start looking for a potential H1B visa sponsoring company that can hire you full time and file your H1B visa petition. In fact, OPT is given to international students to demonstrate to these potential sponsors that you have the skills. Most of the employers want to see how you work and your skills for few months before they take decision to hire you full time and sponsor you work visa. It is assumed that you have OPT/ EAD Card in hand and working for an employer. You may also check How to find H1B visa Sponsors in an Area for Job Search in USA ?
Steps involved in F1 to H1B visa Change of Status & Important Points :
- You take interview from a H1B sponsoring company and they give you a job offer letter. You may have interviewed with the company before graduation and might have started working for a company on OPT right after graduation. The point is, you need a job offer from a H1B sponsoring company.
- Once you have the offer, you submit all the required documents to the H1B sponsoring company to file for H1B visa petition. For document list info, check article: Documents needed for applying for H1B visa. How much does it really cost ? What should you NOT give ?
- F1 visa students with MS or MBA from US are eligible for H1B Advanced degree quota of 20,000. Typically, the attorney will file your visa petition under this category if you have masters from US. If not, you will be filed under general category.
- Typically, USCIS accepts H1B visa petitions starting April 1st, there used to be lottery, but with recession and new H1B visa rules of 2011 things have changed and there was no lottery this year for FY 2011 cap. Anyways, the point is, some employers do not know the full rules and it is your job to remind them about the deadlines and makes sure they process the H1B visa petition filing on time for your F1 visa change of status to H1B.
- Once you file for H1B visa petition, you will get a H1B visa receipt notice from USCIS. Using the receipt number. You can Check H1B status Online
- Depending on number of petitions filed and the work load of USCIS, they process H1B visa petitions anywhere from 2 to 6 months or early. It depends.
- If you file for Premium processing, you will hear back from USCIS within 15 business days. The 15 day clock is a bit tricky when you file on April 1st, this year USCIS said, they will count the 15 days from April 7th. In general, if you do premium processing for your H1B petition, you should hear back in 15 business days or earlier.
- Once your H1B petition is processed by USICS a decision is made, they update the case status online and send your employer the decision. Hopefully you get the approval notice. Typically, your H1B visa term starts from October and your status is automatically converted to H1B from F1 Visa.
Hopefully you got an idea of F1 to H1B Change of status in US. If you are starting your career, you may read F1 visa to H1B visa: Consulting Career ? Pros and Cons of consulting ? New H1B Rules 2011 impact?