- Search for relevant colleges and courses which interest you.
- Contact these universities and visit websites for information.
- Decide which universities you want to apply for and look at their admission criteria. You can use GyanDhan’s admit predictor to estimate your chances.
- Take the entrance exams like SAT, GMAT, GRE, TOEFL, IELTS.
- Write SOPs(Statements of Purpose) and ask for LORs(Letters of Recommendation)
- Apply to the colleges which fit your interests. You need to submit certain documents along with your application like attested copies of mark sheets, Resume, other certificates/achievements at the state and national level and extracurricular activities.
- And now, after getting an admit, you need to apply for a student visa.
2. Get a student visa.
Post getting an admit, your next step lies in successfully getting a student visa. If you want to attend a university or a college in the US, you will typically need a student visa called the “F1” visa.
You need to submit the following documents to the US consulate to attain this:
1. Valid Passport - Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the US.
2. Non-immigrant Visa Application, including Application fee payment receipt, as you are required to pay before your interview.
3. Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status - Your school will send you a Student and Exchange Visitor System (SEVIS) generated Form I-20 once they have entered your information in the SEVIS database. You and your school official must sign the Form I-20. This form evidences your ability to pay the 1st year’s cost of education. You can use an education loan to give evidence of the same. We, at GyanDhan, will be happy to facilitate your education loan. You can get your quote and discuss your situation with an education loan specialist by applying here.
The visa interview
You will have to fix an appointment with a US consulate. Once you reach the consulate, a digital photograph of yours will be taken and all your fingerprints will be scanned.
Then you’ll appear for a personal interview. During the personal interview at the consulate, additional documents may be requested by the interviewer. These may be documents to prove evidence of academic or financial status which include:
- Transcripts, diplomas, degrees, or certificates from schools you attended.
- Scores from tests that your US school required; such as the TOEFL, SAT, GRE, or GMAT.
- Proof that you will pay all educational, living and travel costs. Again, an education loan works for this purpose.
Under the F-1 visa, you can remain in the US up to 60 days beyond the length of time it takes to complete your academic program, unless you have applied and have been approved to stay and work for a period of time under the OPT Program; which has been discussed in the later sections.
3. The various programs under which you can avail internships or employment.
Being an international student, internships in the United States will provide you with an understanding of what the working culture is like over there, compared to back home, and increase your chances of landing your dream job.
The United States has several rules and limitations for allowing international students to pick up part time jobs during their course of study in the US. In order to work while studying in the US, you must fulfill the following criteria:
- Have authorisation by the Designated School Official (DSO) on your Form I-201D or have received Form I-766, also known as the Employment Authorisation Document (EAD) from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
- Must have completed one year of study in the US to be eligible for off-campus employment under the F-1 visa.
- Your off-campus employment under F-1 visa must be related to your area of study and be authorised beforehand by the DSO (person authorised to maintain the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)) and USCIS.
If you are a F-1 visa holder, you can look at two types of employments:
- On-campus work with a commercial establishment that is under a contract with your institution and provides services like cafeteria, bookstore, etc.
- Off-campus work as part of a scholarship, fellowship, assistantship, post-doctoral appointment at a workplace that is educationally related or affiliated with your campus. For example, a research project with a professor on a grant provided from outside the school.
In addition to the above, you can work as a Teaching Assistant, or Research Assistant in your campus. Such part-time work is not subject to the 1 year rule. However, in this case, you cannot work more than 20 hours per week. Though during holidays, breaks and summer sessions, you may work up to 40 hours per week. Working for more than 20 hours will lead to problems involving reinstatement of student status to deportation.
Here are a few general steps to get an internship:
1. Talk to your international students coordinator about the Curricular Practical Training (CPT). The CPT allows you to have a paid internship after 9 months (taken to be the first academic year) of entering the U.S. The CPT requires that your internship be related to your major and that you receive academic credit for your internship.
2. Once you know you qualify for an internship, you need to start looking for them: You can check out newspapers, online job banks, internship centers, companies and organizations that interest you, etc. Then send your resume to your internships coordinator at your school, who is in charge of co-op and internship programs and apply to the positions you are interested in.
3. After you accept the offer for your internship, you will have to fill out the CPT form at your international student office and get it approved. Your employer and your internship dates will be recorded on your I-20.
4. If you are looking for an internship after you graduate, it will be covered under Optional Practical Training (OPT). You will have to apply to US department of Immigration for approval to work in OPT. You will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) that lets you legally work in the US for usually 12 months.
Now let’s have an over view of CPT and OPT:
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
This is available after the first academic year and where the work is tied to your course of studies. This often takes the form of internships, co-ops, or independent studies. These must be authorized by the school and often will have a classroom component to discuss the educational merits of the work or training. CPT may be on a part-time or a full-time basis. As mentioned above, you must contact the school’s DSO and obtain written permission. It should then be shown to your prospective employer as evidence of your eligibility to participate in CPT. If you complete more than twelve months of full-time CPT, you’re not allowed to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT)! So, be very careful!
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
OPT is another exception to the F-1 no-working rule. It is allowed only after completing the first academic year. OPT activity must be related to your field of study. You must apply to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for an employment authorization card for OPT purposes.
OPT comes in two different forms.
- Pre-completion OPT- which can be used during your vacation and during school. However, during the school year, pre-completion OPT cannot be for more than twenty hours per week.
- Post-completion OPT- Post-completion OPT may be obtained after you complete all of the course requirements in your course of study, with the exception of your thesis or dissertation.
Regardless of whether you use pre-completion OPT or post-completion OPT, you can only have a total of twelve months of OPT. Please note that you cannot have more than 90 days of unemployment during this initial OPT period.
STEM OPT Extensions
Beyond OPT, the government has allowed individuals who have a degree in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields to seek OPT extensions. This is allowed when an employer has signed up for the E-Verify program. The E-Verify program is required in order for you to apply for an extension to OPT. You can apply for up to 24 months of additional OPT.
Recently however, requirements on the STEM OPT extension have become stricter. With this new program, an employer must not only continue to be signed up for the E-Verify program, but must also complete a special form to outline details of a training program for you. If you’re already in the older system of a seventeen-month extension, you may apply to extend the seventeen months for an additional seven months – which will amount to the same twenty-four-months as in the new system.
Note that you can even apply for a STEM OPT extension based on a prior degree. This prior degree, however, must meet certain requirements, including being a U.S. accredited program.
Similar to the initial OPT period, there is an unemployment prohibition. Currently you can’t have more than 90 days of unemployment during the initial OPT period and no more than 60 days of unemployment during the STEM OPT extension.
Before closing out the discussion on employment permission granted to those in F-1 status, one last item to discuss is the cap-gap provision. This allows individuals who are currently in any period of post-completion OPT to extend their OPT time, regardless of the STEM OPT periods and requirements, under the following conditions:
- An employer has filed a change of status H-1B petition for the individual while there are still H-1B visa numbers available.
- The petition is not frivolous.
- The individual’s OPT is still valid at the time of the filing.
Under these conditions, the OPT would be extended until September 30 of that year, unless the petition filed by the employer was not chosen for case processing or unless the petition is denied.
Certain other programs and aspects related to gaining employment need to be discussed as well:
As Indian students, we are used to the concept of campus placements and on-campus recruitment for getting jobs. However, there is no concept of placements in America. Most US universities have a cell called a Career Services Center, which helps you get jobs and helps you prepare for interviews. The on-campus recruitment is always driven by student interest. Companies that recruit through the university do not offer a job directly. What they offer is an internship or co-op. Companies like to see your work for a few months before they hire you full time.
Co-Op Education Program
In a Cooperative program, the period of study alternates with work. The Student Co-Op Program is a formally structured program where the intent is to recruit students, while still in school, to fill permanent positions upon graduation. Co-op programs are generally undertaken at colleges and universities. The salary will most probably be given on hourly basis and depending on your choice of course or major, you can make around $10-$16 per hour.
4. Get a work permit and work visa
After getting full-time employment, you’ll need to apply for a work permit. A work permit is a photo identity card issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It is also called an Employment Authorization Document or EAD.
To work beyond your OPT, you need the highly competitive work visa – referred to as the “H1B visa”. Under special circumstances, you may qualify for other visas, but such circumstances are so rare that we don’t discuss them in this article.
H1B visas are applied for by employers and you cannot personally apply for them. This means you need to have a job offer from a company who is willing to sponsor your H1B visa (it has non trivial fee and is subjected to regulations by the US government.). Few complications are involved such as H1B visas are issued only for some job categories where government feels enough local American work force is not sufficiently skilled or available. For example. while H1B visas are easily issued for software programmers, they are not for marketing or HR roles – this is one reason why more foreign students go for Computer Engineering than let’s say MS in Marketing. So, while a lot of Marketing jobs may be available in US, it is not necessary that companies will hire international students (who require H1B visas) for these positions. Usually, if a company cannot sponsor H1B visa in future, they also don’t offer internships to those candidates even though internships do not require H1B. In short, you need to understand that:
- To work long term in USA, you need a H1B visa sponsored by a US based company.
- H1B visas are issued for specific roles and some fields are friendlier to getting these. Examples include IT, software engineering, finance etc.
- Indian students should consider whether they can get work visas after graduating in their desired field or not. If H1B visas are not issued easily in your field of study, you may have to come back to India for employment after graduation.
- Even when you get H1B visa, you can only work for that employer. This means that you cannot work part time at any other place in parallel and you cannot start your own company while working on H1B visa.
- H1B visas are issued for 3 years after which they can be reissued for another 3 years – thus 6 years in total. By the end of your 6 years, if your employer has filed your green card application, you can keep extending your H1B visa on a yearly basis. However, if your green card has not been filed at the end of 6 years, you need to live outside USA for at least 1 year before you can get H1B for 3 years again.
- H1B visas are extremely competitive and subject to strict quotas. If the government receives more H1B applications than the quota, then they are picked by lottery and your getting the visa depends on your luck.
One more interesting thing about these visas – F1 visas are granted on your intention of coming back to your home country after studying and thus proving that you have no intention of working in USA. Thus, in your F1 visa interviews, you should be prepared to show that you want to come back to India after studying. On the contrary, to keep working in USA, you need a H1B visa. A sensitive time comes when you start working on OPT (the limited time for which you can work directly on student visa until you get the H1B) and your company has applied for H1B visa. In this period if you are traveling to India and re-enter USA on F1 visa (till the H1B is issued), you may be declined an entry due to conflict of interests since your H1B application means that you want to work in US whereas F1 visa status expects you to go back to your home country upon completion of your program. This is why some people prefer not to travel after graduation until you have received your H1B visa.
So, you should be aware of some visa intricacies so that you can plan your studies, travel and career accordingly. Do no worry as we have carefully jotted them down here.
5. Apply for permanent residency.
Having a Green Card (officially known as a Permanent Resident Card), allows you to live and work permanently in the United States.
You can apply for a green card under these listed criteria:
- As a first preference immigrant worker, meaning you:
- Have extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics, or
- Are an outstanding professor or researcher, or
- Are a multinational manager or executive who meets certain criteria
- As a second preference immigrant worker, meaning you:
- Are a member of a profession that requires an advanced degree, or
- Have exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business, or
- As a third preference immigrant worker, meaning you are:
- A skilled worker (meaning your job requires a minimum of 2 years training or work experience), or
- A professional (meaning your job requires at least a U.S. bachelor's degree or a foreign equivalent and you are a member of the profession), or
- As a physician (for medical students) who agrees to work full-time in clinical practice in a designated under served area for a set period of time and also meets other eligibility requirement.
You will receive a conditional green card first. Then, in two years from the date of the conditional green card, you must apply to remove the condition to receive a 10-years green card. Then, every 10 years the green card must be renewed. You just have to file an application to remove the condition within 90 days of your status expiring.
Note that there are country-specific annual limitations on green card issuances. Given the high volume of Indians who apply for them, the current estimated wait time for green cards through the H1B route is around 12 years.
However, in five years from the issuance date of the conditional green card, you can apply to become a U.S. Citizen. All rights and privileges of a 10-year green card are exactly the same as the conditional green card.
6. Get citizenship
There is no limit on the number of times you can renew a green card. Still, you can apply for US citizenship after staying on the green card for a minimum of five years. We understand that a lot of you have loyalty to our homeland or want to maintain an Indian citizenship; however the most amazing fact over here is that the United States recognizes dual citizenship. That is, you can avail the citizenship of the US without losing the citizenship of your home country.
Now, to file for a U.S. citizenship, you must:
- Have a Permanent Resident (Green) Card for at least five years.
- Meet certain eligibility requirements including being:
- At least 18 years old at the time of filing
- Able to read, write, and speak basic English
- A person of good moral character
- Go through the naturalization process which includes preparing and submitting form N-400, the application for naturalization, taking the U.S. Naturalization Test comprising of basic questions related to the US and having a personal interview.
Best of luck from our side!