Student Visa: Transferring to Work Visa after Graduation

Many international students in Kentucky want to stay in the U.S. after graduation. That may be permitted if the graduate successfully negotiates the immigration process. The ability to legally work in the U.S. is limited if you are in the country on a student visa, but there are other approaches you can take after graduation.

There are two types of nonimmigrant visas for those studying in the U.S., the F and M visas. The F-1 allows you to enter the U.S. as a full-time student at an accredited academic institution. The M-1 visa category includes students in vocational or other nonacademic programs.

F-1 students may not work off-campus during the first academic year, but may accept on-campus employment subject to certain conditions and restrictions. After the first academic year, F-1 students may engage in restricted, off-campus employment. M-1 students can have in-practice training only after they have completed their studies.

For students using an F-1 visa, your stay in the country can be extended by twelve months if you’re accepted for an F-1 OPT (Optional Practical Training) which covers practical training in your field of study or starting a business where the majority of your work must be directly related to your major area of study. To do so you must have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis in an approved college, university, conservatory, or seminary for one full academic year while maintaining your F-1 status.

There can be a total of 12 months of this training during undergraduate or graduate studies or after you complete school. If you graduate with a qualified Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) degree, and are in an approved post-graduate OPT period, you may apply for a 17-month STEM extension of their post-graduate OPT.

Another option is an H1-B visa if you are self-employed or an employer is willing to sponsor you. You need to show the following:

  • There is a genuine employer-employee relationship, which can be established if the employer can show it has the right to control your employment, including its ability to hire, pay, fire, supervise or otherwise control your work.
  • If you own your company, the control of your work is exercised by others such as through a board of directors, preferred shareholders, investors or by some other method your organization can control the terms and conditions of your employment.
  • Your job is considered a specialty occupation and you have a college degree that’s related to it or, if you lack a degree, you are paid at least the actual or prevailing wage for your occupation, whichever is higher.

You could apply for a green card (permanent residence) if you have a job offer and your employer is willing to petition for the green card for you.

There are also visas that apply to particular situations which may allow a recent graduate to work in the U.S.

  • An R-1 visa is for a foreign national who will be working in the U.S. temporarily as a minister or in another religious vocation or occupation at least part time.
  • An E-1 nonimmigrant visa allows a citizen of a treaty country (one with which the U.S. has a treaty of commerce and navigation) to be admitted to the country to engage in international trade on his or her own behalf. Certain employees of such a person or of a qualifying organization may also be eligible for this classification.

If you live in Kentucky and are a college student or recent graduate and you have questions about how you can obtain legal status while working in the U.S., contact our office so we can discuss the legal process, the applicable law and how we can help.