The Common Law

Student Looking for Work Visa

I'm an international student here on a student visa. I want to stay and work here. Can you explain how to obtain work visas as an international student?

You have three options depending on where you are in your studies. Assuming you are here on an F-1 visa and you have not graduated, you may be eligible for Curricular Practical Training. This is work experience that is an "integral part of an established curriculum," meaning you need to do it in order to get your degree. It could also be work that you will be awarded credit for by your educational institution. This includes work/study, cooperative education, or a required internship or practicum. The amount that you can work is capped at 20 hours per week.

CPT is very limited in its scope, and once you graduate you can no longer work under that provision. A more flexible option if you are still an F-1 student is Optional Practical Training. This allows you to apply knowledge gained in the classroom to practical work experience off campus. Under the F-1 visa, you are allotted 12 months of practical training during or after completion of your studies. Keep in mind that this is 12 months total, so if you work for two three-month summers you will only have 6 months left when you graduate. The OPT can also be a good way to bridge the gap between the end of your studies and the start of an H-1B visa.

The H-1B visa is a work visa that is issued for up to three years and can be renewed once, for a total of six years of authorized work. The United States awards these visas to aliens who have "a residence in a foreign country which [they have] no intention of abandoning," making them nonimmigrant visas, which means it does not put you on track to become a citizen. A maximum of 65,000 H-1B visas are issued every year, and once those are given out, no more are available until the following year. These are reserved for specialty occupations, a category that covers a broad range of jobs. A sponsoring U.S. employer is needed in order to apply for an H-1B visa.

Keep in mind that immigration is a complex area of the law. It is in your best interest to consult an attorney with experience in immigration law to determine which option is best.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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