The majority of international students want to pursue a career in the U.S. However, there is no guarantee that international students will be able to stay in the U.S. for work. Obtaining an H-1B visa is not a straightforward process. Several factors are out of an applicant’s control including:

  • A highly competitive H-1B Visa lottery

    In March 2022, USCIS received 483,927 registrations for 85,000 H-1B visas for 2023 fiscal year

  • H-1B visa application rejections
  • Changes to immigration policy 

Therefore, international students must have a back-up plan in case their H-1B visa is denied. Preparing H-1B back-up options can help uncover opportunities to stay in the U.S. that may otherwise remain hidden. Here are 4 options international students should consider for their H-1B backup plan.


1) Consider Alternative U.S. Immigration Options

While the most common work visa in the U.S. is the H-1B, there are many other visa types offered by the USCIS. Depending on your situation, education level, work experience, and goals for working in the US, there may be one or more options suited for you. Here are some of the H-1B alternatives that international students should consider. 

  •  H-1B Cap-Exempt Jobs – International students can apply for positions at higher-ed institutions and non-profit or government research organizations. These cap-exempt organizations do not need to go through the H-1B lottery process when hiring international students. 
  • Employment-Based (EB) Visa – There are many EB visas to choose from and the requirements range in complexity. In general, EB visas are designed for skilled workers who hold an advanced degree (Master’s or PhD), have experience in their field, and can provide value to the U.S.
  • Intracompany Transferees Visa (L-1A/1B) – The L visas allow employees of international companies to transfer to the U.S. You must work for at least a year in a foreign branch of a company to apply for an L visa. This is an excellent option for anyone looking at international companies as part of their backup strategy. If your H-1B is rejected, you can work for the company in another country for a year, before circling back with the L visa.
  • Extraordinary Ability or Achievement Visa (O-1 Visa) –  The O visa is designed to give applicants who have demonstrated extraordinary success in their field the chance to work in the U.S. for up to three years. Extraordinary ability and achievement must be quantified, and the visa is only valid for work in the same field.
  • Cultural Exchange Visa (Q-1 Visa) – The Q visa provides short-term (15 months) cultural exchange-based employment permissions. Employment must be a part of a cultural exchange program organized by the employer.


2) Apply to International Companies

International students should apply to companies that operate globally. If the H-1B is denied, international companies can put in a request for a position in another country. This option is especially useful for an applicant who has already gone through the vetting process at the target company.  Transfers, references, and recommendations in this case are easier to come by.

International students may also consider countries other than the U.S. Countries like Canada provide similar and easier pathways to obtaining permanent and long-term working visas than compared to the U.S. Additionally, many of the same large companies in the U.S. also operate in Canada. 

Applicants with advanced degrees from the U.S. and other countries globally have the potential to apply (and get accepted) for a permanent residency in Canada through the Express Entry Program.


3) Continue Exploring Opportunities Back Home

Since there are no guarantees in the immigration visa and employment process, it is important for international students to explore opportunities back at home.

Create a list of potential opportunities in your home country that you can fall back on. Factors that you may want to consider while putting your list together may include details like: 

  • the global reach and recognition of the company, 
  • the possibility of developing a marketable skill set, 
  • the potential for growth and advancement within the company, 
  • and how the company may help your case in the future should you wish to apply for a visa again. 

International students can find positions at large, multinational companies in their own countries that can give them the competitive edge they need to land a job in another country like the U.S.


4) Pursue higher education

Lastly, international students can pursue higher education to stay in the U.S. This can add time to an international student’s allowable time in the U.S., and also create work opportunities in the future. Currently, there are 20K H-1B visas reserved for international students with advanced degrees. Recipients of advanced degrees also have the chance to extend their OPT program by one year.  

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