This blog post was co-authored by Interstride, a platform that provides support services, resources, and insights to international students in the US.
The majority of international students want to pursue a career in the US. However, there is no guarantee that international students will be able to stay in the US for work. Obtaining an H-1B visa is not a straightforward process. Several factors are out of an applicant’s control including:
- A highly competitive H-1B Visa lottery – In March 2022, USCIS received 483,927 registrations for 85,000 H-1B visas for 2023 fiscal year.
- H-1B visa application rejections
- Changes to immigration policy
Therefore, international students must have a backup plan in case their H-1B visa petition is denied. Preparing H-1B backup options can help uncover opportunities to stay in the US that may otherwise remain hidden. Here are five options international students should consider for their H-1B backup plan.
1) Consider alternative US immigration options
While the most common work visa in the US is the H-1B, there are many other visa types offered by the USCIS. Depending on your situation, education level, work experience, and goals for working in the US, there may be one or more options suited for you. Here are some of the H-1B alternatives that international students should consider:
- H-1B Cap-Exempt Jobs – International students can apply for positions at higher-ed institutions and non-profit or government research organizations. These cap-exempt organizations are exempt from the H-1B cap, which means they do not need to go through the H-1B lottery process when hiring international students.
- Employment-Based (EB) Visa – There are many EB visas to choose from and the requirements range in complexity. In general, EB visas are designed for skilled workers who hold an advanced degree (Master’s or PhD), have experience in their field, and can provide value to the US.
- Intracompany Transferees Visa (L-1A/1B) – The L visas allow employees of international companies to transfer to the US. You must work for at least a year in a foreign branch of a company to apply for an L visa. This is an excellent option for anyone looking at international companies as part of their backup strategy. If your H-1B is rejected, you can work for the company in another country for a year, before circling back with the L visa.
- Extraordinary Ability or Achievement Visa (O-1 Visa) – The O visa is designed to give applicants who have demonstrated extraordinary success in their field the chance to work in the US for up to three years. Extraordinary ability and achievement must be quantified, and the visa is only valid for work in the same field.
- Cultural Exchange Visa (Q-1 Visa) – The Q visa provides short-term (15 months) cultural exchange-based employment permissions. Employment must be a part of a cultural exchange program organized by the employer.
2) Pursue higher education
International students can pursue higher education to stay in the US. This can add time to an international student’s allowable time in the U.S., and also create work opportunities in the future. Currently, there are 20K H-1B visas reserved for international students with advanced degrees like a Master’s of pHD. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grants STEM OPT extensions to eligible F-1 students once per degree (bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate). That means you can apply for the STEM OPT extension a second time and receive another two years of work authorization in the US. A student can participate only twice in the STEM OPT extension over the entire course of their academic career.
3) Apply to international companies
International students should apply to companies that operate globally. If the H-1B is denied, international companies can put in a request for a position in another country. This option is especially useful for an applicant who has already gone through the vetting process at the target company in the US. In this case, transfers and internal references and recommendations are easier to come by. You can work at the foreign branch for at least a year and then apply for an Intracompany Transferees Visa (L-1A/1B) to try to relocate back to the US or Canada.
4) Continue exploring opportunities back home
Since there are no guarantees in the immigration visa and employment process, it is important for international students to explore opportunities back home.
Create a list of potential opportunities in your home country that you can fall back on. Factors that you may want to consider while putting your list together may include details like:
- the global reach and recognition of the company,
- the possibility of developing a marketable skill set,
- the potential for growth and advancement within the company,
- and how the company may help your case in the future should you wish to apply for a visa again.
International students can find positions at large, multinational companies in their home countries that can give them the competitive edge they need to land a job in another country like the US or Canada.
5) Relocate to a more welcoming country like Canada 🍁
Lastly, international students may also consider friendlier, more welcoming countries like Canada. Canada provides similar and easier pathways to obtaining permanent and long-term working visas than compared to the US. Additionally, many of the same large companies in the US. also operate in Canada.
Applicants with advanced degrees from the US. and other countries have the potential to apply (and get accepted) for permanent residency in Canada through the Global Express Entry Program under the Global Talent Stream (GTS).
Read more on how to immigrate to Canada directly from a Canadian Immigration Expert.
Compared to the US, Canada has easier immigration laws. The benefits of migrating to Canada include:
- Similar culture as the US – Almost all of Canada speaks English and shares similar values as the US, including being sociable and having a strong sense of individualism.
- Shares a border with the US – Canada is next door to the US, meaning travelling to the US is quick and easy. Time zones are the same, and the weather is fairly similar. Canada also benefits from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for economic stability and integration with the US.
- High quality of life – Canada boasts universal healthcare, high-quality public education, mandated paid maternity and paternity leave, and lower crime rates than the US.
- Open and welcoming to newcomers – Canada has long been recognized as one of the most welcoming and accepting nations in the world, with progressive immigration policies that encourage foreigners to call Canada home.
- Merit-based permanent residency process – Unlike the US, Canada does not have limits on the number of permanent resident candidates accepted each year from certain countries. Canada uses a universal point system that favours highly-skilled tech workers.
If you are working for a large company with operations in Canada, you may be able to apply for an intra-company transfer (L-1A/1B) to Canada. However, if your current company does not have operations in Canada, you can work with MobSquad to act as a company’s “virtual” Canadian subsidiary. In other words, we can help technology professionals like you continue working with your current US company from Canada, or assist you in finding new work opportunities in Canada. We can help you obtain Canadian work permits for yourself and your family in as little as six to eight weeks, and Canadian permanent residency (the equivalent of a US Green Card) in about one year.
ABOUT INTERSTRIDE (interstride.com)
Designed for international students, by former international students. Interstride is a platform built to help international students navigate their student journey. From navigating the immigration journey, adapting to a new life in a new country, and finding jobs from international student-friendly employers, they provide access to support services, resources, and insights to help every step of the way. For more information, visit www.interstride.com.
ABOUT MOBSQUAD (mobsquad.io)
MobSquad helps technology professionals facing U.S. work visa challenges remain working with their current company, nearshore from Canada. They also help global technology talent looking for new opportunities find rewarding careers in North America. MobSquad can obtain Canadian work visas for technology professionals (and their families) in as little as six to eight weeks, and Canadian permanent residency in about a year. They manage all ongoing administrative processes, including immigration support, relocation and resettlement services, payroll, legal, offices, and accounting. For more information, visit www.mobsquad.io.