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How Can I Stay in the United States After the F-1 Visa?

February 21, 2024
  • Business Immigration
  • News

By Natalie McQuilkin

Many international students with the F-1 Student Academic Visa spend years in the United States obtaining their associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degrees. The F-1 visa allows you to not only further your education at renowned U.S. colleges and universities, but it also gives you opportunity to engage in Curricular Practical Training or Optional Practical Training so you can hone your skills in your field of study, gain real-life work experience, and network with professionals.

For some students, it can be scary to determine what the future will hold after their F-1 visa expires.

That begs the question: Is it possible to stay in the U.S. once you’ve obtained your degree through the F-1 visa?

The answer? Yes – if you are eligible for a self-petition (employment-based green card) or sponsorship.

Today, we’ll highlight how you can remain in the United States after your F-1 visa is complete through various self-petition pathways and sponsorships. Sponsorships can be permanent or temporary in nature. These include the EB-1A, the EB-2 National Interest Waiver, the O-1, and the H-1B. We’ll also explain how you can prepare to apply for these visas and green cards while you’re still a student so you can seamlessly transition into life after graduation.

Self-Petition vs. Sponsorship Pathways

Before we dive into the options you can consider for your life following the F-1 visa, we need to break down the difference between sponsorship and self-petition pathways.

The sponsorship pathway requires you to have a U.S. employer petition for your green card or visa. This also requires the employer to provide you a full-time job here in the U.S. This is appealing to many foreign nationals because it guarantees a job opportunity, and the petition process hinges on your employer, rather than you. These factors can take a lot of the stress off the individual. Meanwhile, for self-petition visas or employment-based green cards, it’s solely up to you to provide all the forms, evidence, and payments to secure the visa you’re applying for. Although it can seem overwhelming to some, you can work with a business immigration attorney, like Eagan Immigration, to ensure you meet all the criteria and provide all the required evidence to solidify your case. Plus, you don’t have to seek out an employer to sponsor you, which can also relieve a source of anxiety for some applicants.

Self-Petition Options: The EB-1A and The EB-2 NIW

The EB-1A Visa: For Those with Extraordinary Ability in the Sciences, Arts, Education, Business, or Athletics

The EB-1A visa allows you to become a lawful permanent resident in the U.S., meaning that you’ll obtain a green card once you’re approved. This visa is designed for those who can “demonstrate extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics through sustained national or international acclaim,” according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

So, what are the eligibility requirements for this visa?

USCIS explains that to “demonstrate you have sustained national or international acclaim and that your achievements have been recognized in your field of expertise,” you must be able to provide evidence for three of the following criteria:

  • Receiving nationally or internationally recognized prizes or awards of excellence
  • Being a member in an association related to your field
  • Having content published about you in a professional journal or other form of major media
  • Being asked to judge others’ work, either on a panel or individually
  • Documentation regarding your contributions of major significance to the field
  • Authoring scholarly articles in professional publications or other forms of media
  • Having your work displayed at exhibitions or showcases
  • Holding leading or critical roles in a distinguished organization
  • Proof that you’ve commanded a higher salary than others in your role
  • Examples of your commercial success in the performing arts

This might seem like a daunting list, but keep in mind that you only need to provide three pieces of evidence from this list. Plus, according to Attorney Whaley’s webinar, there are many ways you can get a head start on fulfilling these criteria while you’re still a student:

  • Obtain and document your work and internship opportunities. Many F-1 visa students have the option to work while studying through curriculum practical training (CPT) or optional practical training (OPT). allows you to work for any employer if the training correlates with what you are studying. Unlike CPT, OPT can occur before or after your program end-date, and you can apply for 12 months of OPT at each education level, such as bachelor’s or master’s education levels. If you have been regularly employed through OPT and have obtained a STEM degree, you can apply for the STEM OPT Extension, which allows you to work for an additional two years in a STEM-related area, according to S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Not only do these training and internship options provide hands-on career experience, but they can also fulfill one of the aforementioned criteria, especially if you ask your supervisor about working on major projects, like scholarly papers that will be published in professional journals. Make sure that if you obtain an internship or job opportunity, you’re documenting all the major projects you’re working on so you can prove your skills and abilities when you’re applying for this visa.
  • Work hard and apply for awards. The more awards you apply for, the higher the chance that you receive an award. You can receive awards for your academic achievement or for co-authoring a published article. You can also reach out to your professors to ask if there are any academic opportunities available that could result in awards. Obtaining just one award crosses off one of the criteria requirements.
  • Find judging opportunities. One way to fulfill the “judging” requirement is to ask professors if there are any judging opportunities you can participate in. One example is volunteering at middle or high school science or history fairs. However, it is important that any judging that occurs is within your specific area of expertise and shows a clear demonstration of skill. As with the internship opportunities, make sure you document where you judged, how the selection process occurred, and what field and level the judging opportunity was for.
  • Join professional organizations. Joining or being invited to a professional organization that requires high achievement from its members is one way to fulfill this requirement. It is important that these organizations are professional and require a certain level of skill, education or merit to join.

As of February 2024, it’s taking the Nebraska Service Center 19 months to process the EB-1A and 22.5 months for the Texas Service Center to process it. However, you should know that you can pay for premium processing to have your visa reviewed in 15 business days.

The EB-2 National Interest Waiver

While the EB-1A can be applied to any educational level, the EB-2 National Interest Waiver (NIW) is tailored to those with an advanced degree, those with a bachelor’s degree plus five years of post-graduate experience, or those with exceptional ability. Most F-1 students will fall under the advanced degree or exceptional ability category, so that’s what we’ll focus on in this section.

To fulfill the first two categories’ requirements, you must be able to provide documentation of your academic record and post-graduate experience, if necessary. If you’re a student interested in fulfilling the exceptional ability category, which, according to USCIS, applies to those who have a “degree of expertise significantly above that ordinarily encountered in the sciences, arts, or business,” you must be able to provide evidence for three of the following criteria:

  • Your academic record shows you’ve obtained a degree, diploma, or certificate related to your area of exceptional ability.
  • Letters from current/former employers documenting at least 10 years of full-time experience in your occupation. This can be a good option for students who are also entrepreneurs.
  • Evidence you’ve commanded a higher-than-average salary. Per Attorney Whaley’s webinar, a couple of examples of this include being an artist that receives commission for their work, or being an engineer who is paid to fix computers on the side. This shows that people are paying you higher than average for your skill or craft.
  • Membership in a professional association. To further establish your “exceptional ability,” make sure that this is a high-achievement association that not just anyone can get into.
  • Recognition for your achievement and contributions in your field from peers, government entities, and professional/business organizations. Some examples of this include recognition of your work while you completed CPT or OPT, or if a document you co-authored was awarded after being published.

Whether you fall under the advanced degree category or exceptional ability category, in order to self-petition, you’ll need to prove that you fulfill the requirements of the National Interest Waiver, which shows that what you plan to do for work in the U.S. is of national importance and eliminates the need for you to have a job offer.

To qualify for the National Interest Waiver, you must prove the following three “prongs,” according to USCIS:

  • The “proposed endeavor” (or what you plan to do for work in the U.S.) has both substantial merit and national importance,
  • You are well-positioned to advance the proposed endeavor, and
  • On balance, it would be beneficial to the U.S. to waive the requirements of a job officer, and thus the labor certification.

You can prove each of these prongs by providing evidence, which is where an experienced business immigration attorney comes in handy. A business immigration attorney can help you prove your proposed endeavor has substantial merit and national importance by presenting information about your field and how your position will help the U.S. Additionally, your attorney can provide evidence about your achievements, degrees, and letters of recommendation. Although you can petition yourself without outside help, having a trusted business attorney by your side can simplify the process and enhance your argument.

Sponsorship Pathways Options: The O-1 and H-1B Visas

The O-1 Visa: For Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement

The O-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa that F-1 visa students can utilize. It’s comprised of two subcategories that can accommodate students:

  • The O-1A visa is designed for those with extraordinary ability in the sciences, education, business, or athletics
  • The O-1B visa is targeted for those with an extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in a motion picture or the television industry

Unlike the previously mentioned pathways, this visa requires a sponsorship from a U.S. employer and a full-time job offer. Additionally, you must meet three of the following criteria for each of the visas. The O-1A criteria is as follows:

  • Receipt of a nationally or internationally recognized prize or award. This can include doctoral dissertation awards, Ph.D. scholarships, awards from professional associations, etc.
  • Membership in field-related associations that require members to have outstanding achievements.
  • Published material in professional/trade publications or major media.
  • Evidence of participation on a panel, or individually, judging others’ work.
  • Evidence of your contributions to your field. This can include evidence that your work has been cited by other journals and testimonials about your work.
  • Evidence of your authorship in scholarly articles, professional journals, or other media.
  • Documentation that you have been employed in a critical or essential capacity at distinguished companies or organizations.
  • Evidence that you have commanded a high salary.

To be eligible for the O-1B visa, many of the criteria options are the same as the O-1A visa requirements, but the following evidence is also accepted:

  • Evidence that you’ll perform or that you have performed in a lead or starring role in a distinguished production or event.
  • Proof that you’ve achieved national or international recognition or achievements based on critical reviews or publications.
  • Documentation that you have a record of major commercial or critically acclaimed success. This can be proven through box office ratings, your standing in your field, or motion picture or television ratings.
  • Evidence that organizations, critics, government agencies, or experts have recognized you for your achievements.

Once approved, the O-1 visa allows you to stay in the U.S. for three years, but your visa can be extended in one-year increments indefinitely. As of February 2024, it’s taking the California and Vermont service centers 1.5 months to process these visas.

The H-1B Visa: For Those with Specialty Occupations

The H-1B visa is an employer-sponsored visa geared toward those with a bachelor’s degree or higher and a “theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge,” according to USCIS. To meet the “specialty occupation” criteria of this visa, your degree must be commonly used in your industry, and your employer and position must require the degree.

The USCIS H-1B Employer Data Hub reveals that the companies that sponsored the most H-1B visas as of January 2024 included Amazon, Cognizant Technology Solutions, Infosys Limited, Tata Consultancy Services Limited, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Meta, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Capgemini America.

As of July 2023, the most common industries that petitioned beneficiaries for an H-1B visa included

  • professional, scientific, and technical services
  • retail trade
  • information
  • manufacturing
  • finance and insurance

However, just because your industry doesn’t top the charts, that doesn’t mean you can’t qualify for the H-1B visa. Remember that this visa hinges your level of education and skill and that a U.S. employer is sponsoring you.

It’s important to note that because of its popularity, 65,000 H-1B visas are available for those with a bachelor’s degree each year, and 20,000 visas for those with a master’s degree or higher are made available each year. Many applicants are selected through a lottery process. We touch on these processes further in

One of the major benefits of the H-1B visa is that it’s a dual-intent visa, meaning that you can just live and work in the U.S., or you can apply for a green card while on the visa. If you’re planning on just working with the H-1B visa, you can stay in the U.S. for as long as six years. As of February 2024, it’s taking the California Service Center 2.5 months to process the H-1B visa, 2 months for the Vermont Service Center, and 1.5 months for the Texas Service Center, according to USCIS.

How Can I Prepare for Sponsorships as a Student?

While self-petitions hinge on your own experience and abilities, sponsorship pathways require you to seek out an employer who’s willing to petition you, which can be a big task. Here are some tips to consider from Eagan’s senior business immigration attorney, Hannah Whaley, if you’re an F-1 student interested in obtaining an O-1 or HB-1 visa after you obtain your degree:

  • Build lasting relationships at your internships, CPT, and OPT. Don’t just do your work and leave – make real connections at these jobs. Keep in touch with your managers and coworkers after you’ve finished your assignments. Ask if there are any opportunities or projects available, even if it’s unpaid. This is a great way to show an employer that you’re dedicated to furthering yourself in your field.
  • Network, network, network. Take advantage of all the networking opportunities at your university. Get to know those who oversee your internship, CPT, or OPT. Attend college-based hiring events for face-to-face interactions with companies. Browse on LinkedIn to connect with companies and employers that are experienced with hiring foreign nationals.
  • Ask U.S. employers the right questions. Not every business has experience in hiring a foreign national, and not every business knows how to go about petitioning a foreign national. It’s important to ask a prospective employer if they have hired immigrants in a similar position, or if they would be willing to hire a foreign national. You can also ask if there are temporary jobs that could lead to permanent positions within the company, and if those roles apply to foreign nationals. If your employer has questions, they can always contact us, too!

How Do I Get Started?

Each of these visas has specific requirements, forms, and documentation, and it can be overwhelming to tackle it all by yourself. An experienced immigration attorney can walk you through all the necessary steps in the visa application process to ensure you’ve got all the correct forms and documentation. Eagan Immigration’s senior business attorney, Hannah Whaley, is happy to help you apply for one of these visas so you can fulfill your dream of creating a life for yourself in the United States after your F-1 visa has expired.

Call our office today at (202) 709-6439 or click this link to get in contact with Attorney Whaley.


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