Immigrate to America by Study
Immigrate to America by Study Visa; a Pathway to United States Citizenship
It is possible to go to the United States on a student visa, convert that visa into a post-study work visa and eventually obtain permanent residency and citizenship. However, the process can be complex and may take several years to complete. Here’s how to start off going to the United States as a student and then convert this into progressively stronger visas until ultimately you become an American Citizen.
The first step is to obtain a student visa, which allows you to come to the United States to study at an accredited institution. To obtain a student visa, you will need to apply to a U.S. school, provide evidence of your ability to pay for tuition and living expenses, and demonstrate your intent to return to your home country after you complete your studies. Once you have a student visa, you can study in the U.S. for the duration of your program.
Post-Study Work Visa
After you complete your degree program, you may be eligible to apply for a post-study work visa, also known as Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT allows you to work in the U.S. in your field of study for up to 12 months (or 24 months if you have a STEM degree). During this time, you can gain valuable work experience and potentially find an employer who is willing to sponsor you for a work visa or permanent residency.
The Optional Practical Training (OPT) visa is a temporary employment authorization for international students in the United States who have completed a degree program. OPT allows eligible students to gain work experience in their field of study for up to 12 months after graduation.
Here’s a more detailed overview of the OPT program
- You must have been enrolled full-time in an academic program for at least one full academic year (or equivalent) prior to completing your program.
- You must have a valid F-1 student visa and be in good academic standing.
- You must apply for OPT before your student visa expires and no later than 60 days after your program completion date.
- You must have a job offer or be actively seeking employment in your field of study.
OPT allows you to work in the United States for up to 12 months after you complete your degree program. You can choose to use the full 12 months at once, or you can split the 12 months into multiple periods of employment. For example, you can work for three months after graduation, then take a break and return to school and then use the remaining nine months of OPT later.
Types of OPT
There are two types of OPT: pre-completion OPT and post-completion OPT. Pre-completion OPT allows you to work part-time or full-time while you are still enrolled in your degree program. Post-completion OPT allows you to work full time after you complete your degree program.
STEM OPT Extension
If your degree is in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, or math) field, you may be eligible for a 24-month extension of your OPT. To be eligible for this your employer must be enrolled in the E-Verify program, and you must have a job that is related to your field of study.
To apply for OPT you need to work with your Designated School Official (DSO) to submit an OPT request to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You will need to provide documentation of your eligibility including your I-20 form, passport, visa and financial documents. If your application is approved, you will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) that authorizes you to work in the U.S. for the duration of your OPT.
While on OPT, you must maintain your F-1 student visa status by complying with all the rules and regulations. You must report any changes to your employment status or address to your DSO, and you must not exceed the maximum number of days of unemployment allowed (90 days for post-completion OPT, and 120 days for STEM OPT extension).
If you find an employer who is willing to sponsor you for a work visa, you can apply for a non immigrant work visa such as an H-1B visa. To be eligible for an H-1B visa, you must have a job offer from a U.S. employer in a specialty occupation, have a degree or equivalent work experience in that field, and meet other requirements. If your employer sponsors you for an H-1B visa you can work in the U.S. for up to six years.
If you want to stay in the U.S. permanently, you can apply for a green card, which is also known as permanent residency. There are several ways to obtain a green card, including through family sponsorship, employment sponsorship, or a diversity lottery. If you are sponsored by an employer, you may be eligible for an EB-2 or EB-3 employment based green card depending on your qualifications and the demand for your job.
Once you have been a lawful permanent resident for at least five years, you may be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. To be eligible, you must have maintained continuous residence in the U.S., be able to speak, read, and write English and pass a civics test. Once you become a U.S. citizen you can enjoy the full rights and privileges of citizenship including the right to vote and the right to hold a United States Passport.
If you are considering using the Immigrate to America by Study pathway to Permanent Residency and Citizenship take a Free Visa Assessment for your options.
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Jacqueline Chow is an international immigration and visa expert with over 15 years of experience in the field. With a background in law and a passion for helping people, Jacqueline has built a reputation as a trusted and reliable source of information and advice on all aspects of immigration and visas. She has worked with clients from all over the world, including high-net-worth individuals, professionals, skilled workers and families. As a sought-after speaker and commentator Jacqueline has been featured in various media outlets and has given talks on immigration and visas at conferences and events around the world.