Want to Stay in the US? Transition from OPT to H-1B

When an international student’s optional practical training (OPT) begins to wind down, making the switch to an H-1B or Green Card is a common idea that comes up.

While it is possible to remain in the U.S. on the OPT program for several years, many people decide that a more permanent working situation within the United States could fit their goals better. In these cases, making the switch to an H-1B or a Green Card begins to make a lot of sense.

Making the Switch

The first thing that you will need to do when making the switch from an F1 visa to an H-1B is to gather all the required documents. A helpful checklist can be found here.

In short, Form I-129 must be completed and submitted along with all other required documentation. However, there are a few things that H-1B hopefuls must keep in mind while embarking on the H-1B journey.

Here is a brief outline of the process:

Gather Documents for OPT to H-1B Transition

When preparing a petition for an H-1B, you will need several essential documents.

  • A CV or Resume – One of the requirements of the H-1B is that applicants have a specific field or expertise. Submitting a detailed CV or resume helps the USCIS identify what that expertise is.
  • Passport – A passport is also required for change-of-status requests and visa applications.
  • Degree – Another requirement for an H-1B is to show that you hold a university degree. While there are some exceptions to this requirement, most applicants will need to provide proof that they are, indeed, skilled workers who can fill the job roles they are applying for. Along with a university degree, transcripts are also requested.
  • Forms I-20 and I-94 – Form I-20 and I-94 are proof that an F-1 visa exists and that immigration status is valid. Showing these as part of the process of switching from an F-1 visa to an H-1B visa is necessary.
  • When applying for an H-1B from an OPT program, showing documentation for OPT is also required.

Finding Sponsorship

To apply for an H-1B visa, whether you are on OPT or not, it is necessary to find an employer who is willing to be a sponsor. There are many employers who are happy to do this and knowing where to look for potential options is a great place to begin.

There are two conditions that the USCIS looks at when determining the employer’s ability to be a valid sponsor.

The first consideration is whether the employer is prepared to pay a wage that equals at least 95% of what U.S. citizens would make for the same job title.

For obvious reasons, this requirement is in place to protect the H-1B holder and it is always a good idea to make sure that the employer follows this rule.

Another consideration that the USCIS takes into account is the level of competition for a particular job description. This rule is in place to protect American workers from losing jobs to foreign nationals and the employer is required to offer the same position to local workers as well as H-1B holders.

This second consideration is important to know about because different fields and jobs will carry varying levels of competition and some can be, therefore, more difficult to get approval for.

File Petition

The employer is the one who will file the application for an H-1B. There are numerous rules associated with the application process, as well as a cap on how many applicants can be approved.

While the process and payments involved with applying for an H-1B visa are relatively straightforward, one of the more challenging parts of the process is dealing with the cap that is placed on new applicants. Important information regarding the timeline for the application process can be found here.

Generally speaking, there is a cap of 85,000 new H-1Bs each year with 20,000 of those reserved for graduate degree holders. Regardless of how many new applicants there are only those who ‘beat the cap’ will be able to work on an H-1B. It is good to apply as soon as possible to avoid getting left behind.

Cost of Filing an H-1B

The cost of filing an H-1B is multi-faceted and applicants should be aware of the various fees included in the process. There is a filing fee, an ACWIA fee, a fraud prevention fee, and a legal fee. Here is a breakdown on each:

  • Filing Fee –  The filing fee is required to start the process of getting an H-1B visa. The filing fee is $460, though this is updated from time to time. It is always a good idea to check the latest updates on fees here and here.
  • ACWIA Fee – The American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998 (ACWIA) states that employers with fewer than 25 employees must pay a fee of $750 and employers with more than 25 employers should pay a fee of $1,500.
  • Fraud Prevention Fee – The fee for fraud prevention is $500.

Final Thoughts on Switching from OPT to H-1B

Whether you are going to an H-1B from an F-1 visa or from an OPT program, the process is pretty straightforward, though not always easy.

Many international students have trouble finding employers who not only meet the criteria to be valid employers for the H-1B visa, but also who are willing to go through the hosting process. The process can be both time-consuming and expensive for some employers.

That should not stop you though. There are many employers who understand the value that international workers bring to the table, and they are certainly ready and able to help.

Check out the H-1B employment resources at Interstride for more comprehensive guidance in finding and securing your H-1B status.

Related Questions

Is it possible to apply for H-1B status by myself? 

It is not possible to apply for an H-1B alone. Part of the application process asks for information from an employer, and this information is required for the successful completion of Form  1-129.

What should I do if my H-1B visa application was denied?

It depends on the reason for the denial. If the applicant missed the deadline or was not chosen for the H-1B lottery, it is possible that waiting and filing early the following year is the best course of action. If the application was denied for any other reason, such as an employer fault, missing paperwork, incomplete payment, etc. A new application with corrected information will be required.

 

Health Insurance for International Students

Students often wonder if they are getting a good deal on the insurance package that they choose. The complex language used on forms related to health insurance for international students can often be a bit confusing.

Thankfully, universities often work with specific health insurance companies to help curb the difficulties that come with selecting a health plan in another country. These firms have access to tailor-made plans that are built with student needs in mind. There are times, however, when students need to find a health insurance policy on their own. In either case, knowing what to consider before making a final choice can be helpful.

Read on to learn how to choose the best health insurance for international students.

Factors Affecting Health Insurance for International Students

Finding the perfect health insurance means striking a balance between several factors. It can be a little tricky at first to find a health insurance policy that checks all of the necessary boxes. However, it is not as complicated as it seems at first. By taking some key elements into consideration while searching, it is possible to narrow the choices down considerably.

Visa

The type of visa that an international student has is a key factor. Some U.S. visas have a health insurance requirement and others do not. F-1 visa holders, for example, are not required by the U.S. government to maintain health insurance. In contrast, J-1 holders must have an active healthcare plan while living in the United States.

H-1B visa holders also have to get a health insurance plan. Health insurance may come from an employer or be supplied by the visa holder, but it is important to note the length of time that it takes to be considered a long-term visitor. H-1B holders are considered short-term visitors until they reach the 6-month mark, at which point they become eligible for health care plans under the Affordable Care Act. During the preliminary phase of the H-1B, a private health insurance plan is needed.

Transitions

Another common consideration is how health insurance requirements change when making transitions in life.

If you are a current student looking to apply for an H-1B visa or Green Card, you may need to change your policy from the one provided by your school.

It is also possible that F-1 visa holders who wish to stay and work in the US after graduation will apply for Optional Practical Training, also known as OPT. If granted permission to stay in the US and work, obtaining health insurance will be a necessary step in that process.

There are many types of transitions that international student may go through. Making sure that health insurance issues don’t crop up can be helpful.

School

Many schools will require international students to have health insurance regardless of visa type. In fact, most universities expect their international student body to have some form of health insurance. Some schools are very specific in what they require, as well as deciding on which insurance companies and policies their students must adhere to. Others allow their foreign students to

Checking with student advisors before looking for health insurance independently is crucial. All international students should be aware of the rules that affect their health insurance situation. If maintaining insurance means keeping a scholarship, a student visa, or a place in an educational institution, then understanding how it works is an essential part of life as a student.

Cost and Coverage

Not all health insurance policies are the same. So, figuring out the cost and coverage is the next step. Health insurance companies usually offer several tiers of coverage to international students. Each tier provides additional features and coverage. With greater coverage comes an additional cost, however. So, it is always wise to carefully consider what the insurance policy can offer and what your needs are.

Examples of additional features to expect include travel insurance, passport insurance, lower copays, greater options for doctors and medical centers, eye checkups and glasses, dentistry, and more.

Limitations

While comparing plans, checking for service limitations should also be on the to-do list. Health insurance plans in the U.S. always have a few limitations so making sure that an insurance plan that you are interested in isn’t lacking in a specific area of need is a good idea.

Some questions to ask include:

    • Can I use my international student health insurance in my home country when I visit home?
    • Is maternity covered?
    • How much will I pay when I go to the doctor or hospital (deductible)?
    • What happens if I get into a car accident?

Health Insurance for International Students

Below are some of the best health insurance plans for international students. Each one of the health insurance companies listed below ranks highly in quality of service, good coverage, and fair policy rates. In addition, many of the plans presented here are intentionally structured to match well with school and visa requirements. In addition, these same insurance providers have packages that work for recent grads and any international students who may be entering the workforce for the first time.

Final Thoughts

Remember that before you choose a health insurance plan, it is always good to check with your school international student office, your visa requirements, and any other factor that might impact your decision.

Depending on your situation, you may need specific things from a health insurance plan. In fact, you might not even need to go through the process of getting one yourself. Employers, exchange programs, and schools may provide you with viable options.

José Ortega

After beginning his career at Bimbo Bakers in Mexico, José completed his MBA at UCLA, during which he scored an internship with Walmart Mexico. This internship coupled with José’s global experience and education led to his current role as VP of Central Operations of Walmart China.