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Convert your F-1 student visa to H-IB work visa
Dr Arun C Vakil
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September 14, 2005

Part I: Studying in the US? Get a work visa

Congratulations! You now have a degree from a premier educational institution in the United States of America.

You've pondered over the future and decided you want to work in the US for a while.

Will you get a job? More importantly, will you get a work visa? 

imageTo circumvent these problems, you decide to go for the F-I practical training visa.

Let's see how you could convince a prospective employer to hire you and, one year hence, how you could convince them to help you secure a H-1B work visa.

Let's take the case of Anand, an Indian studying in the US.

At the job interview

Anand is about to graduate from the University of California, Los Angeles, has practical training and is giving a job interview with a smaller company that is not familiar with the process of securing employment visas.

Here's how he answers a question regarding his ability to work in the US:

"Currently, I am in the US as an F-1 student and I am entitled to work under my practical training visa as soon as I graduate. Your company will not need to file any visas or take any steps before I can begin work with you. If I am able to prove my value to your company, I will need your assistance in converting to a long-term employment visa when my practical training ends. Of course, I will be responsible for the cost of the visa, and all of the paperwork is subject to your approval."

The approach, say many observers of the immigration process, has been tremendously successful. By 'disarming' the issue of immigration, you give a smaller employer the option of hiring you without investing time and money in an unfamiliar immigration procedure.

We have even had students characterise the practical training as 'the perfect trial period' since the company can dismiss the new employee at any time should things not work out, without having to deal with any immigration consequences.

If things work out, many employers will at least contribute to the cost of processing the H-1B visa, particularly for employees who have really excelled in their first year. You should never ask for that upfront, but you can expect it with many smaller companies.

Finally, bear in mind that if you are dealing with a really major corporation -- Dow, Microsoft, and the like -- you can expect them to have in-house or outside attorneys who specifically handle immigration matters.

In such cases, particularly in highly specialised engineering positions and rehab professions (related to health care, where rehabilitation is required to help the patient heal/ improve), your employer will likely pick up the total cost of procuring the visa. 
After one year of employment

It is the end of the first year, Anand's practical training visa is about to expire, and he must raise the issue of securing a H-1B visa with his employer. This is what he says:

"Hi, Sam. I don't know if you remember, but we had discussed the fact that, somewhere down the road, I would need your assistance in transferring my visa category. My student practical training is about to expire -- we get one year after graduation.

"I know that Sozo Engineering doesn't handle immigration paperwork, so I am aware I am completely responsible for the legal cost associated with my transfer in visa.

"Here is a checklist of the information I am going to need to present to my lawyer so he can prepare the paperwork for your signatures. He will then be calling you to explain all of the visa process, and answer any questions you may have. He also asked me to tell you that all of the documentation which is submitted will be subject to your approval, and that your willingness to extend my employment does not in any way create a contract -- if I mess up, you guys are still free to get rid of me!

"Anyway, here is the info, and let me know whether you want to call the attorney or he should call you."

Now, think about it from the standpoint of a human resources professional: they are dealing with hundreds of issues ranging from insurance to workers' compensation. Do they really want to hassle with immigration paperwork?

By taking the initiative and presenting it as your problem not theirs, you are setting the framework for a positive dialogue between you, your employer, and the immigration lawyer. 
Getting and keeping a long-term relationship with a quality US employer is a practical reality for many of the foreign students graduating from US universities. The opportunities are abundant, provided you know how to approach the employer and how to 'd-fuse' the issue of your foreign status.

Once you have your H-1B visa, you can remain in H-1B status for upto six years. While in H-1B status, you can also pursue permanent residency, if your employer is willing to sponsor you. Unless you are a physical therapist or a registered nurse, this process requires a labour certification, a costly and lengthy process that should only be attempted when you are extremely secure in your relationship with your employer. 

The thing to keep in mind is that your US employer is not doing you a 'favour' by hiring you; you are being selected for your skills based upon the professional education you have received in the US, an education identical to that received by US-based graduates. They are hiring you for what you know, not because of where you are from.

Through a skillful and honest presentation of the issues at hand and careful communication with your qualified immigration attorney, both you and your employer can benefit from a long-term relationship that could eventually lead to your permanent residency in the US, if you so wish.

Part I: Studying in the US? Get a work visa


Dr Arun C Vakil is an expert on visa regulations for the US. He holds an MBA from the University of California, Los Angeles and Ph D from the University of Wyoming, Laramie. He is the author of Gateway To America, and conducts orientation courses for students going to the US. He is based in Mumbai.

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