Many international students studying in the U.S. on their F-1 student visas usually consider staying and working in the U.S. more permanently or even obtaining green card. One of the best options to achieve this is to change visa status from an F-1 visa to an H-1B visa and grow professionally in the U.S.
However, this might be a leap for some because an H-1B worker is intended for professionals and high-skilled workers who received the job offer from an U.S. employer. After graduating, they will have limited practical training experience under the F-1 visa, but it is still possible to meet eligibility requirements.
If you consider you could use this option, we prepared this article to provide the most viable information and explore how the application process works and how to apply for a change of status from an F-1 to an H-1B visa.
However, if any questions arise while reading through it, do not hesitate to contact us and let us help you take the stress and anxiety over the immigration process.
How International Students Can Make the Switch From F-1 To H-1b?
Before we get to know how to change your status with and without opt, let’s learn the basics of these visas.
What is the F-1 Visa?
The F-1 visa is a student visa that allows visa holders to come to the U.S. as full-time students. But after graduating, many students want to transition to working in the U.S., and the H-1B visa seems to be the most popular work visas available.
International students can achieve F1 status in two ways:
- Through consular processing or seeking a visa from outside the U.S. at a U.S. consulate or embassy
- Through the change of status, or getting the status from within the U.S.
Optional practical training
Optional practical training (OPT) is 12-months of temporary employment intended for F-1 visa holders to gain experience. It can be used under certain conditions:
- During studies or
- After graduation
Sometimes, students will use the optional practical training and then file for their H-1B visa.
Regardless of wether you use OPT, you can apply for an H-1B, but you need to have a degree when filing for your H-1B.
If you have completed everything but thesis, you can apply for pre-completion OPT or post-completion OPT.
Your previous degree and work experience can be used as the basis of determining wether you are the fit for the offered job.
Key points bout the F1 visa
- An accredited school and authorized by the U.S. government to accept international students school has to sponsor your petition by issuing a Post-Completion OPT Form I-20. After obtaining it from Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVIS), the school will submit that to the USCIS.
- You will need to fill out a DS-160 online nonimmigrant visa application.
- You must attend the sponsoring school to maintain F-1 status.
- F-1 visa holders are not authorized to work in the U.S. unless they obtain permission (Optional practical Training – OPT).
What Is The H-1B Visa?
The H-1B visa status is an employment based visa intended for temporary workers having bachelors degree and knowledge required in specialty occupations. Non-citizens who want to work at a U.S. company in a particular job on an H-1B visa have to be highly skilled professionals and work in a “specialty occupation.” A specialty occupation is a position that the U.S. government believes typically requires a 4-year college degree or higher education.
H-1B Visa Requirements
The H-1B is for special occupations, DOD cooperative research, development project workers, and fashion models with distinguished merit and ability.
One of the H-1B visa requirements is to have a bachelor’s degree as a minimum requirement for the offered job position.
Students must have a confirmed job offer from a U.S. employer willing to sponsor their H1-B applications.
Key points about the H-1B visa
- Intended for professions that require theoretical and practical application of specialized knowledge
- You need to have a a bachelor’s degree job offer from the U.S. employer
- The U.S. employer files your petition
- You cannot quit or change jobs, employers, or transfer status without official permission from USCIS.
- The company must pay you a “prevailing wage,” a fair salary, depending on your work type and location.
Requirements for F-1 to H-1B Transfer
Once you are sure the job is a specialty occupation, you must also qualify yourself for that job and the transfer. You need to meet the following criteria:
- Obtained a U.S degree required for the specialty occupation from an accredited U.S college or university.
- Hold a foreign degree equivalent to a U.S bachelors or higher degree in the specialty occupation.
- Possess an unrestricted state license, registration, or certification authorizing you to fully practice the specialty occupation in the state of intended employment.
- Have education, training, or related experience and recognition of expertise in the specialty, equivalent to completing such a degree.
Transferring From F1 to H-1B
Now when you know what it takes to transfer your status from F-1 to H-1B, you can see that, unfortunately, it is not possible to do it before you obtain the degree. But let’s see how this process goes.
Change of status is when a noncitizen in the U.S. goes from one visa status to another. To go from F1 to H-1B, you must apply to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
One of the ways to transfer your status is to utilize your OPT quota and then apply in the following year.
Also, you can obtain relevant documents from the university attesting to your certain graduation.
Applying for a Change of Status From Within The U.S.
Find an H-1B Sponsoring Employer
The first and most essential thing to have when considering applying for an H-1B visa is a job offer from a sponsoring employer who will file your petition.
The sponsoring employer filing your H-1B petition needs to be in good standing and prove to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that you will be paid at least 95% of the prevailing wage for the applicable occupation.
Also, the employer needs to prove that your employment will not have an adverse effect on the work conditions for current workers within the company. Filing the I-129
Form I-129 is the document your employer must file with the H-1B petition to request a transfer of visa status. As the beneficiary, you cannot file the petition or pay for the petition’s filing fees.
Employer Files an H-1B Petition
The sponsoring employer file the H-1B petition on behalf of prospective workers as soon as possible since there is a limited number of H-1B visas issued in the following year.
There are two categories:
- In the general category, there is 65,000 H-1B in the following fiscal year
- And in master’s cap, there are 20,000 visas (for people with master’s degree, doctoral degree and other advanced degrees).
The sponsoring employer will file the H-1B petition as a Change of Status. If the petition is approved, the foreign worker will be granted H1B visa status and allowed for the employment start date on October 1st.
The Employer Files for a Cap-Gap Extension
When the employer’s work authorization and F-1 status expire while waiting for the H1B visa petition to be approved, they can apply for a cap-gap extension.
If you get this extension, you will be allowed to remain on F-1 visa status while waiting for your H-1B to be approved.
But if you don’t get the cap-gap extension or you don’t qualify for it, and your F-1 status expires before October 1st, you need to leave the U.S. and apply for an H1B visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy in your home country. Once USCIS approves your petition, you can re-enter the U.S. again on H1B visa status.
The Employer Submits a Labor Condition Application LCA
Labor Condition Application is for your employer to attest to your employment details ensuring the minimum labor conditions have been met. When your H-1B petition is approved, your employer will have to file a Form ETA 9035/9035E for a Labor Condition Application with the United States Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration. After your LCA is approved, it will be valid for up to three years of your employment.
The Employer Completes Form I-129
Your employer will use and complete Form I-129 to apply for the change of status from an F-1 to an H1B visa. Once this form is approved, you may start working under your H1B visa for the sponsoring employer.
Prepare Supporting Documentation
Your prospective employer must submit several supporting documents with the H-1B petition. You, as the F-1 student, will have to provide the following documentation:
- Your updated resume
- A copy of your degree and transcript
- Copies of all previously issued I-20 forms (supporting information on the student)
- The last three payslips (if you are currently employed under OPT)
- A copy of your Arrival and Departure Record, I-94 form, and relevant passport pages (including the F-1 visa stamp and related passport biographic page)
- A copy of the signed and certified Labor Certificate Application,
- A full job appointment letter followed by the description of the job requirements, salary, and the period your employer wishes to employ you
- Copy of the original signed offer letter with job description and other employment details
- Copy of your Employment Authorization Document EAD (if employment authorization document is applicable)
The employer must pay some fees:
- The H-1B filing
- ACWIA fee.
- The fraud prevention and detection fee.
If you want to expedite the process, you or the employer can pay the premium processing fee.
Denials of F1 to H-1B Applications
When you want to transfer your status from F1 to an H1-B visa, USCIS may not approve your change of status. If you get the denial of your change of status petition, you can go through an appeals process. But, keep in mind that you should discuss that process with an experienced immigration attorney since understanding the matter and the reasons for the denial are essential for further steps.
Remember, if you depend on the approval to be approved from F1 to H1B to be legal in the U.S., it is important not to wait and undertake necessary steps as soon as possible.
Law Firm Specialized In Providing Immigration Services Can Help You
On your immigration journey, no matter wether you are an employer sponsoring a foreign employee, or you are a worker in specialty occupation, it is important to have proper guidelines in the process of change of status from F1 to H1B visa. Making any mistakes can cost you loosing the opportunity to grow professionally. If you need help to transfer your status or get the green card, investing some time and money in searching for and hiring an immigration attorney can bring you successfully to the end of your immigration journey.
The process of applying for the F1 to H1B visa and green card can be challenging. Hiring an immigration attorney can bring you more benefits than just getting the H1B visa or the green card, but more importantly uncover the winning strategy and lead you across the most safest root.
The Herman Legal Group has over 25 years of experience in providing immigration service and helping individuals and companies to obtain a desired visa. Our friendly and professional team may want to help you go through F1 to H1B visa process by analyzing your case, identifying the available options, and helping you decide the safest, most cost-effective, and quickest route to success.
Schedule a personal consultation with Attorney Richard Herman by calling 1-216-696-6170 or booking online. Consultations can be conducted by zoom, skype, WhatsApp, facetime, or in-office.