A lot of people have asked me about the exact reality of what it’s like dealing with the US immigration system. In this article, I am going to detail the exact process involved, as of today, if you are a student and want to immigrate to the United States to permanently settle there. While I do have extensive experience with the system, I am not a lawyer and this should not be considered legal advice.
Also, consider that immigration is only one factor in the equation. This does not take into account other factors like education quality, different types of industries, lifestyle differences, salary etc. So, here it goes:
- Once you get admission into a university, you are applying for a F1 student visa. Getting a student visa is straightforward in most cases, especially if you have the funds to support yourself. There have been cases of visa rejection, but in these cases the student had incorrect / insufficient paperwork etc.
- While studying, you have 1 year of CPT (Curricular Practical Training). You can use that to do internships or co-ops with companies while studying.
- Once you graduate, you have a 12-month period to work with an employer using OPT (Optional Practical Training). This can be extended by another 17-24 months with the employer. The employer does not need to sponsor you for this period.
- You can then work on a h1b work visa, which requires sponsorship by the company. The company normal applies for sponsorship during OPT period or OPT-Extension period. The company can apply for h1b sponsorship 3 times during the OPT period of 36 months.
- The h1b visa is acquired through a lottery process; in which there are only 85000 visas given out per year. So, if 100000 students apply for h1b, they enter a lottery where 85000 visas are given out. In years of high demand like 2015/2016, there are up to 200000/250000 applications, so the chance of getting through the lottery is approximately 1 in 3. Given current student visa rules, you have three chances to make it through the h1b lottery.
- Once you are on h1b visa, you have 6 years to work; with a visa extension after 3 years. The employer needs to start a green card application by the end of the 5th year for you to stay on after 6 years. The h1b visa can be extended after the 6th year indefinitely till you get a green card.
- The wait time for an Indian national for a green card is currently 10+ years. There is no wait if the job is an EB1 (minimum requirement for job is a PhD). During the 10+ years, you will need to restart the green card process (in most cases) if you switch jobs or companies. This makes changing jobs/companies very difficult. But it is possible if you are in a high demand field.