How to Change Student Visa to Work Visa in USA: A Comprehensive Guide

If you’re an international student aspiring to work in the USA after completing your studies, you may be curious about the process of transitioning from a student visa to a work visa.

This journey is not without its complexities, given the various requirements and limitations that one must navigate.

How to Change Student Visa to Work Visa in USA
How to Change Student Visa to Work Visa in USA | photo courtesy | Getty Image

 

In this article, we will elucidate the steps and options available to switch from an F-1 or M-1 student visa to an H-1B or another work visa in the USA.

Understanding Student and Work Visas

A student visa is a nonimmigrant category permitting you to enter and study in the USA full-time at an accredited institution.

It encompasses two primary categories: F-1 and M-1

F-1 visas cater to academic students enrolling in degree, diploma, or certificate programs at colleges, universities, seminaries, conservatories, high schools, or language schools.

M-1 visas are designated for vocational students enrolling in nonacademic programs, such as technical or trade schools, distinct from language training.

A work visa, on the other hand, is a nonimmigrant classification allowing you to work temporarily in the USA under specific employer and occupation conditions.

There exists an array of work visas, with the H-1B visa being the most common for international students.

H-1B visas are designed for workers in specialized occupations necessitating at least a bachelor’s degree or an equivalent in a specific field of study.

Examples of such occupations encompass engineers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants, and IT professionals.

How to Change from Student Visa to Work Visa in the USA?

To transition from your student visa to a work visa in the USA, follow these steps:

Secure a job offer in the United States

It’s imperative to note that you cannot initiate the work visa application process independently.

You require a U.S. employer willing to sponsor you and submit a petition on your behalf.

Additionally, the employer must demonstrate a shortage of qualified U.S. workers for the position and assure that your hiring will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers.

Assess your eligibility for H-1B status

Qualifying for an H-1B visa necessitates possessing a bachelor’s degree or higher in a specialized field relevant to the job offer.

Furthermore, you must possess the requisite skills and experience for the job.

If your bachelor’s degree is from a non-U.S. institution, you may need to have your foreign credentials evaluated by an authorized agency.

Register for H-1B petition submission

Due to the high demand and limited supply of H-1B visas, there is an annual cap on the number of petitions accepted by USCIS each fiscal year.

The cap for fiscal year 2023 stands at 65,000 for regular petitions and 20,000 for petitions filed by U.S. master’s degree or higher holders.

Your employer must participate in the H-1B lottery by registering online with USCIS during the designated period, typically in March.

If your employer is selected in the lottery, they can then submit the H-1B petition to USCIS within 90 days.

Compile supporting documentation for the H-1B petition

The employer is responsible for submitting several supporting documents with the H-1B petition, including:

    • A certified Labor Condition Application (LCA) from the Department of Labor (DOL), affirming that the employer will pay you the prevailing wage and provide you with equivalent benefits and working conditions as U.S. workers.
    • Form I-129 Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, seeking a change of status from F-1 student to H-1B worker.
    • Form I-129 H Supplement and Form I-129 Data Collection Form.
    • A copy of the job offer letter and a comprehensive description of the job duties and requirements.
    • Evidence of your educational qualifications, such as copies of your degree, transcript, diploma, or credential evaluation report.
    • Proof of your identity and immigration status, such as copies of your passport, I-94 record, F-1 visa stamp, and I-20 form.
    • Verification of your Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization, if applicable.
    • The requisite filing fees.

Submit the H-1B petition to USCIS

The employer must dispatch the completed H-1B petition package to the relevant USCIS service center based on their location.

Presently, the processing time for H-1B petitions ranges from six to nine months, contingent on the workload and backlog of USCIS.

However, the employer has the option to request premium processing service for an additional fee of $2,500, ensuring a decision within 15 calendar days.

Await USCIS decision and approval notice

Upon approval of your H-1B petition, USCIS will dispatch an approval notice (Form I-797) to your employer.

This notice will specify the validity period of your H-1B status, typically three years, extendable for an additional three years.

Additionally, the approval notice will incorporate a new I-94 record, indicating your transition from F-1 to H-1B status.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Transitioning from Student Visa to Work Visa in the USA

Transitioning from a student visa to a work visa in the USA offers various advantages and disadvantages that necessitate consideration prior to making a decision.

Some of the benefits include

  • Legal authorization to work in the USA for a specific employer and occupation aligned with your education and skills.
  • The potential to earn a higher income and access enhanced career opportunities and prospects in the USA.
  • Unrestricted travel in and out of the USA without the need for a new visa, provided your H-1B status and passport remain valid.
  • Eligibility to apply for a green card (permanent residence) while under H-1B status, contingent on meeting the eligibility criteria and having an employer willing to sponsor you.

Conversely, some of the drawbacks encompass

  • Being subject to the annual cap and lottery system for H-1B visas, which implies no assurance of securing an H-1B visa even with a job offer and meeting the requirements.
  • Dependency on your employer for your H-1B status. In the event of job loss or employer withdrawal of your petition, you would lose your H-1B status, necessitating departure from the USA or finding another employer able to sponsor you within 60 days.
  • Limitation to working for the employer and in the occupation that sponsored your H-1B visa. Changing jobs or employers mandates filing a new H-1B petition and obtaining USCIS approval.
  • Adherence to the regulations and guidelines of the H-1B program, encompassing tax obligations, maintenance of health insurance, compliance with labor laws, and reporting any alterations in personal or employment information to USCIS.

Conclusion

Transitioning from a student visa to a work visa in the USA is a complex but achievable endeavor, contingent on securing a job offer from a U.S. employer willing to sponsor an H-1B visa.

Familiarize yourself with the requisites, limitations, benefits, and drawbacks of transitioning from F-1 or M-1 to H-1B status.

Additionally, prepare for the potentially lengthy and uncertain processing period with USCIS.

If your ambition is to remain and work in the USA post-graduation, initiate your search for potential employers and opportunities as early as feasible. Consultation

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