What happens after OPT?
As a current international student or international student who graduated, you bring with you not only the skills you've acquired at Mount Holyoke, but a wealth of cultural and linguistic knowledge that enriches any workplace. The USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) regulates the hiring of international students and graduates by field of study (academic majors). While organizations in the business world and research institutions are most familiar with the rules and regulations governing the employment of foreign nationals, other sectors like the non-profit world are also possibilities for the international student or graduate. For a wonderful explanation of visas following graduation, see the Curran and Berger Visa Information page. As an international student or alumna from Mount Holyoke, your search for employment must be conducted keeping USCIS regulations in mind. While the list of restrictions governing on- and off-campus employment may appear daunting, please realize that the guidelines are quite clear in terms of what is and isn't permitted by the USCIS.
What happens after Optional Practical Training (OPT)?
For the graduating senior or alumna who is interested in continued employment in the U.S. after OPT, the most common option is the H-1B Temporary Worker visa. This visa allows foreign nationals to work in the United States in specialty occupations for a period of up to six years (please note that the full six year period cannot be requested from the start; USCIS will only approve a three-year petition. In addition, some employers will request the H1-B for a shorter period only). The H-1B visa CANNOT be obtained by the individual alone, but must be sponsored by an employer. This application process can take up to 4 or more months, so it is recommended that F-1 graduating seniors apply for OPT before the completion of their course of study. This way, they can be working on OPT while their employer decides whether they will file the H-1B peition for the employee. You should note that the H-1B visa can be hard to obtain. There is a numerical limit of 65,000 visas given every year (plus an additional 20,000 to students with a Master's degree or higher from a US Institution) and every year more than 65,000 applications are received and USCIS choses the applications to be adjudicated by a lottery system.
One of the requirements for the H-1B, is proof of a Bachelor's degree (either a copy of the diploma or letter from the Registrar's Office). The College can not write this letter until a student has completed their requirements for graduation. The College will also not write the letter if a student has completed all their degree requirements but is still enrolled in classes.
An important feature of the H-1B visa is that one does not have to prove "non-immigrant intent", as is necessary for the F-1 student visa. The H-1B visa is in the "dual-intent" category in USCIS classification, which means that H-1B applicants are relieved of proving that they intend to return to their home country after employment.
It is important that graduating international students and alumnae interested in the H-1B work closely with employers to determine the feasibility of H-1B sponsorship on the part of the employer. This discussion ideally begins during the interview process. Please check the following handout entitled Hiring International Students which provides useful information for potential employers.
Also, as a reminder -- H-1B employment is NOT subject to the annual cap if the beneficiary will be employed at an institution of higher education or a related or affiliated nonprofit entity, or at a nonprofit research organization or a governmental research organization.