US visa options for graduates and entrepreneurs.Getty Images/Hemera

Drawing to the end of our series, Deirdre O’Brien tell us of the US visa options for graduates wishing to remain in the US when their time on the J-1 is up.

Deirdre is an US Immigration Lawyer with O’Brien & Associates in New York.

US visa options for graduates and entrepreneurs

Foreign graduates may qualify for J-1 intern visas to work in the US for up to 12 months. Irish graduates have an added advantage and can obtain a J-1 Intern Work and Travel (IWT) visa to travel to the US to look for an internship. People without a degree but with 5 years of relevant experience may qualify for an 18 month J-1 trainee visa.

The problem with intern and trainee visas however, is they end after 12 or 18 months, respectively, and what to do then? Many US employers will offer an intern or trainee employment but a work visa is required.

The H1B professional visa is the relevant category for degree holders and is granted for 3 years initially. Spouses of H-1B visa holders are not eligible for work authorization.

Sadly, only 65,000 of these visas are available annually and this quota is woefully short of demand. It opens on April 1 every year for a work start date of October 1st and in April 2015, over 233,000 visa petitions were received within days of opening.

When it’s oversubscribed (as it has been for the last 3 years), United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) puts all petitions into a computer generated lottery to decide which ones will be accepted for processing; in April 2015, chances of “winning” were nearly 3:1 – only 36% of entrants “won” the H1B lottery.

What about the unlucky 64% and their would-be employers?

For students on an F-1 visa, Curricular Practical Training (CPT) may sometimes be an option, see: http://ow.ly/MB9mM

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) students may apply for a 17-month STEM extension in certain circumstances.

For USCIS Q&A on this topic, see: http://ow.ly/MB7eK

For Stem degree list, see: http://ow.ly/MB7t6

The problem for J-graduates is they may need to return to their home country or go elsewhere for a period before being able to work in the US again. This is a direct effect of the restrictive H1B program and many graduates are lost to the US as a result.

Other destinations seek to attract foreign talent and Canada regularly advertises its open-door policy, blatantly contrasting it with the lack of H1B visas in the US.

Immigration reform has been stalled to date but promises to be a hot topic in the upcoming Presidential campaign.

The following is a very brief description of the most common visa categories; for more information, see: http://ow.ly/MBaIl

E-1/E-2 treaty trader/investor visas are available to nationals of countries which have relevant treaties with the US, including Ireland and the UK. E-1 visas are for foreign companies with US based customers and E-2 investor visas are for companies investing in starting or acquiring a business in the US. An “E company” gains umbrella status and may transfer nationals of the relevant country for managerial or specialist roles. Spouses may obtain work authorization.

This is a great visa option for any graduate who can secure a job with a US company which is owned by nationals of the applicant’s country. Networking in the right places is required! E-2 is also currently the closest thing to a US Start-up visa for entrepreneurs.

L-1 visa is for intra-company transfers and requires the applicant to have been employed as manager or specialist by a related foreign company for at least 1 year before being transferred to the US. It’s generally suitable for more well established companies rather than start-ups. Spouses may obtain work authorization.

O-1 visa for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement in sciences, education, business, athletics or the arts is worth exploring for entrepreneurs, although many graduates may be too early in their careers to qualify; see: http://ow.ly/P8hHt Spouses of O-1 visa holders are not eligible for work authorization. O-1 visa holders may qualify for permanent residence/green card (EB-1 petition).

TN visas are available to Canadian and Mexican professionals under NAFTA and E-3 visas allow Australian professionals to work in the US; spouses of TNs are not eligible for work authorization but E-3 spouses are.

All the categories discussed above are non-immigrant or temporary but in some cases, permanent residence (green card) may be an option or even the best option, see: http://ow.ly/PH9Cc

Conclusion

As in all walks of life, knowledge is power and advance planning is essential for a positive outcome. Set yourself up to succeed in the US! Take advice so you’re ready to seize opportunities when they arise.

Deirdre O’Brien has been practising US immigration law for almost 20 years; with offices in NY and Kilkenny, Deirdre and her team specialize in business immigration for SMEs and start-ups. O’Brien & Associates has an excellent reputation on both sides of the Atlantic for expertise and professionalism. Deirdre is a regular public speaker and has written extensively on US immigration and related matters.

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