Post-study work visa USA

The professional opportunities that the United States offers international students after graduation are among its biggest draws as a top study-abroad destination. Its diverse labour market promises students flourishing careers, granting access to some of the world’s leading corporations, industries and networks. But does the US give post-study work visas to facilitate this journey? This guide explains everything students should know about post-study work visas in the USA, including how to obtain a post-study work visa USA.


Who is eligible for a post-study work visa?

As its name implies, a post-study work visa is a type of work permission granted to students who have completed an academic program in the US. That entails having one of the following visas:

F-1 visa

The F-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa issued to students pursuing full-time education in the US. These are students attending university, seminary, language training programs or any other academic institution in the country.

M-1 visa

The M-1 visa is similar to the F-1 visa except it’s for students taking a course of study that’s not fully academic in nature. It’s meant for students attending established vocational schools or other recognised non-academic institutions such as business schools, flight academics or technical colleges.

J-1 visa

A J-1 visa is a temporary visa issued to foreign nationals participating in an approved exchange visitor program in the US. This could be to study, lecture, teach, conduct research or observe. Holders of a J-1 visa may also receive medical training or education.


What is a post-study work visa?

A post-study work visa is permission granted to foreign nationals to remain in the country to work after completing their studies. Generally, these visas allow graduates to pursue a career related to their field for a limited time. The USA post-study work visa duration will vary depending on certain circumstances, like if the student had previously taken employment as a student or if they graduated with a specific degree.


Post-study work visa options in the USA

The US offers different post-study work pathways to international students. Here are the options that they can explore:

F-1 visa

Students on an F-1 visa can apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT), a work permission available to eligible students. It allows them to take temporary employment related to their degree for up to 12 months. To be eligible for OPT, a student must:

  • be in the US with a valid F-1 visa
  • be enrolled at a US educational institution for at least one academic year
  • be seeking work related to their major area of study
  • not have completed a 12-month full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) program
  • not have a criminal record during their time in the US
  • be eligible for an Employment Authorisation Document (EAD)
  • not be enrolled in an English as a Second Language course.

There are two types of OPT: pre-completion OPT and post-completion OPT. Pre-completion OPT is when a student works before graduation (after being enrolled full-time for at least one academic year in their program). They can work for 20 hours or less per week while school is in session or full-time when school isn’t in session. Meanwhile, post-completion OPT is when a student undertakes employment after finishing their studies. They can work part-time for at least 20 hours a week or full-time for up to 40 hours a week.

Students can take both pre-completion OPT and post-completion OPT. However, the amount of time the student has worked under the former will be subtracted from the duration allowed for the latter. For example, if a student has been employed for three months under pre-completion OPT, they may only work for nine months under post-completion OPT.

STEM OPT Extension

International students with a degree in certain STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) fields can apply for a 24-month post-completion OPT extension. This applies to students who:

  • received a STEM degree listed in the STEM Designated Degree Program
  • are currently working in a post-completion OPT period, having received an initiation grant of post-completion OPT authorisation based on their STEM degree
  • are employed by (or wish to work with) a company that uses the E-Verify program
  • have a signed Form I-983 (“Training Plan for STEM OPT Students”).

The extension allows eligible students to work after graduation for up to three years.

H-1B visa

The H-1B visa is an immigrant visa granting foreign nationals the right to work in the US for American companies. To be eligible for this visa, the applicant must obtain a job from a US-based company in a field that demands specialised knowledge and skills. This generally includes any professional-level job that requires a bachelor’s degree or higher.

In the case of an H-1B visa, the employer applies for the visa with the US Immigration Department (instead of the candidate). Once approved, the candidate receives a work permit to get a visa stamp to work for the employer.

An H-1B visa is valid for three years and can be extended for up to six years. Candidates may also apply for a further extension depending on the type of work. In case the visa holder quits their job or is dismissed, they may find a new job or apply for a change of status within 60 days to remain in the US. Alternatively, they may return to their home country.

The H-1B visa allows dependent family members (spouses and unmarried children under 21) to join the visa holder during their stay in the US. They do this by applying for H-4 visas, which would allow them to attend school, open bank accounts, get a driver’s license and receive a social security number.

Green card

Unlike OPT and the H-1B visa, a green card provides more than just post-study work permission. It’s a step towards permanent residency in the US.

International students may be eligible to get a green card if they:

  • receive employer sponsorship (through an EB-2 or EB-3 employment-based green card)
  • seek asylum due to the danger to return to their home country
  • receive sponsorship from a relative who owns a business in the US and hires them based on their qualifications
  • participate in military services
  • receive parent or child sponsorship.

Green card holders receive several rights, including the right to work. However, they also assume many responsibilities expected of American citizens.


Explore post-study work opportunities in the USA

upGrad GSP can help you steer students towards the right path after graduation. Contact our business development experts to know more about post-study work visa USA and opportunities for post-graduation employment in the country.

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