July 28, 2022

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has published additional online resources on uscis.gov (http://uscis.gov/) to provide an overview of some of the temporary and permanent pathways for noncitizens to work in the United States in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). This guide also highlights some of the most important considerations for STEM professionals who want to work in the United States.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services has been lately very active in improving its services for the benefit of applicants. Recently, the institution provided more information on its website concerning some of the permanent and temporary opportunities for noncitizens who desire to carry on their profession in the United States. Those who will be happy to get the newly uploaded information are scientists, technology experts, engineers, and mathematics savvy.

According to their website, attracting foreign talents has always been part of the country’s vision. As long as people are competent and highly talented in their domain, they should be welcome in the United States provided they enter the territory according to the regulations.

Foreign talents are needed to build industries, foster innovation, and create new jobs for US Citizens. That’s why they need to be “attracted” to the country.  Things then have to be easier and clearly stated for aspiring foreign workers, especially STEM professionals who desire to monetize their talents in the U.S.

Skills and Qualifications

Two visa classifications are destined for those with “extraordinary ability”. One of them is the O-1 nonimmigrant visa classification. The second one is the EB-1A immigrant visa classification. A person labeled with “extraordinary ability” is widely known for their expertise. To get an H-18 visa people need to have at least a bachelor’s degree.

For an L-1 visa for example, the applicant has to have a previous relationship with an international company established in the U.S. as well.

Need of a Job Offer?

Some visas such as the green card do not require the petitioner to have a job offer or a company to submit an application on their behalf to USCIS. The only requirement though is that applicants have to prove that they are competent in a given area and willing to pursue their dream work in the U.S.

Other pathways though require a job offer, meaning that a company will have to express the need to hire a certain applicant and hence, submit the application to USCIS on their behalf.

A Possibility to Work Either as a Permanent Resident or Temporary Nonimmigrant

Whether an individual qualified in STEM wants to permanently live and work in the United States or has a temporary work permit in the country with a “nonimmigrant status”, there is still a way.  Working as a permanent resident in the U.S. paves the way to citizenship with all the advantages that go along with it.

Nonimmigrants can get an F-1 OPT, H-1B, L-1, and O-1 and work for a specified period in the United States. They still have the possibility to flip to a permanent resident pathway and eventually get naturalized.

How STEM-qualified nonimmigrants can qualify for a job in the United States?

As specified earlier, nonimmigrants are individuals who apply for a temporary work opportunity in the U.S. If successful, such people are allowed under certain circumstances, to bring in their host country their spouse and children under 21. Most of them eventually get the opportunity to become permanent workers and can apply later for citizenship. Here are pathways to nonimmigrant work permit in STEM

F-1 Optional Practical Training

An f-1 international student is generally not allowed to work in the U.S. However they can benefit from Optional Practical Training (OPT) which is an opportunity for them to work in a field related to their major study area. This can last for 12 months.  There are two work possibilities in such circumstances.

The student can start working before they complete their course of study (which is known as pre-completion OPT) or they can wait to finish their studies before they start (which is called post-completion OPT). Generally, students work after they complete their studies.

However, if they do work before they complete their studies, their post-completion OPT will be reduced by any time spent in pre-completion OPT. Some STEM students are granted the opportunity to work for up to a total of 36 months including 24 months after their graduation.

Eligibility for OPT

To be eligible for OPT, you must be F-1 student who is living in the United States. You must also be seeking a job that directly relates to your major area of study.

To qualify for an initial 12-month-long OPT, a student must have been studying in the United States for a full academic year and hold an F-1 visa. They must apply for a job that relates to their major field of study. Post-completion OPT seekers have to apply 90 days before their complete their study and no later than 60 days after their study is completed.

Another requirement is that for any application to be filed by any student, their school has to enter in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information (SEVIS record a recommendation on their behalf at least 30 days before

If a student needs to have a 24-month STEM OPT extension, the above requirements for a 12-month OPT apply. In addition to that, they must have received a STEM degree. This degree must be on the STEM Designated Degree Program List.

Students also have to apply at least 90 days before their current OPT expires and within 60 days after a recommendation for STEM OPT is submitted by their Designated school officer to their SEVIS record.

H-1B Specialty Occupation

If you are a holder of at least a Bachelor’s degree (or equivalent), you can apply to work in the United States by taking a job that relates to your field of study. And qualifies as a “specialty occupation”. There is however a certain number of people to be recruited that way per year.

The government also allows for exceptions but this depends less on the H-1B holder than on the U.S. employer’s nature. The maximum legal time of an H-1B holder’s stay in the United States is six years. However, there are still possibilities to stay longer, mainly if the worker is in the process of getting permanent resident status.

For each fiscal year, no more than 85,000 H-1B workers will be granted a work permit but this figure includes 20,000 places set aside for noncitizens who got at least a Master’s degree from a US university.  Due to the extremely high level of demand, the USCIS included in the process an electronic selection that allows prospective employers to register potential workers.

A random selection is conducted, generally in March, and only selected people are authorized to file a 1H-1B petition. Exceptions to the cap include employees who are petitioned or employed by the U.S. universities, government institutions, international U.S.-based research institutions, and nonprofits.

Those people can file an H1-B petition at any time. This does not require any electronic process as the 85,000 cap does. H1-B workers who are already in the United States and need to switch employers are also not part of the cap.

Nationals from some specific countries can apply for different types of H1-B equivalents. For example, people from Chile and Singapore should apply for H-1B1 instead.  Similarly, Australian nationals will apply not for an H-1B1 but for the E-3. Requirements are substantially the same but each of these has its own cap.

O-1A Extraordinary Ability

To qualify for the O-1A; the applicant must be a nationwide recognized accepted or internationally proven talent in any field.  There is no annual cap for O-1A and workers under O-1A can receive as many extensions as possible.

Eligible individuals are talents that had managed to emerge as the cream of their field. Generally, they are world-class athletes, musicians, physicians, researchers, or interdisciplinary professionals who are nationally or internationally recognized as very talented and gifted in their domain. Also, seekers of “extraordinary ability” visas shouldn’t come to the U.S.to shift from their profession once in the U.S. They must be willing to continue to build on their assets for an even more significant impact in their field.

L-1 Intracompany Transferee

L-1 visas are for people who work as an executive in an international institution that is based in the United States or has a branch in the country. They must have specialized knowledge pertaining to their position. L-1 visas allow its holder to stay and work in the U.S. for up to seven years.

To qualify for filing an application as an “intracompany transferee”, the worker must have worked abroad for their organization for at least one year within the three years that precedes your filing an L-1 application. There are two categories of L-1. L-1A is required by managers and executives and L-1B is required by people with specialized knowledge.

TN NAFTA/USMCA Professional

Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, qualified nationals from Canada and Mexico can seek temporary entry into the U.S. for business activities.

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