An F-1 to H-1B visa transfer process is an easy one provided you have a job and an employer who is willing to apply for your H-1B visa.
Three years back, one of my friends had applied for an F-1 to H-1B transfer just 2 days before October 1 and he got his H-1B visa.
However, during the last 2 years, it had become more difficult to get an H-1B visa due to the high number of applications submitted to the USCIS.
OPT in F-1 Visa and F-1 to H-1B Status
International students in F-1 visa have to apply for an OPT (optional practical training) before graduation.
They can work using OPT as a full time employee or as part time. They can also volunteer during an OPT period.
Since the new 90 days unemployment OPT rule was published in April 2008, students have to find a job in their field before the 90 days of OPT start date or else they will be out of legal status.
If a student happens to volunteer for a company in the same field, then those days will not count under the 90 day period in OPT.
However, if a student starts to search for jobs just after graduation, it will be very hard to find employment within 90 days in OPT.
F-1 to H-1B Process
If a student in F-1 visa (OPT) wants to apply for an H-1B visa, here is a list of things he/she would need:
- OPT card in hand
- Job offer
- Employer willing to sponsor H-1B visa
- Employer must submit an H-1B visa application on the 1st week of April 2009
- If a student completed a master’s degree in the U.S., your employer can submit your application in the advanced degree quota
- Some immigration attorneys want student to have a master’s degree before they can file H-1B application under the master’s degree (advanced degree) quota
- Some immigration attorneys will file H-1B visa application in advanced degree quota, even before graduation (if graduation is in May)
- H-1B visa application should be picked in the lottery (if there is going to be an H-1B visa lottery in 2009)
- If an H-1B application is submitted using premium processing, then student should get approval in 3 weeks after selection in the lottery
- To get an H-1B approval notice (I-797), all the required documents should be in their proper order
- If USCIS needs more details, an RFE on H-1B will be issued, asking employers to provide more details
- Overall, a lot of luck is required to go from F-1 to H-1B.
- After an H-1B visa approval, a student (now employed) is good to work for the employer.
I hope by now, the above 13 steps should have given you a good overview of what to expect when changing from F-1 visa into H-1B visa in most cases.
Converting F-1 to H-1B
After an H-1B visa application is approved, your OPT will be made invalid even though you have an OPT expire date after the H-1B start date.
With the new OPT rule, students in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) degrees can get 17 more months in OPT.
I would say that changing from F-1 to H-1B is a much better option than getting a STEM extension. If H-1B extension is not selected, then an OPT extension will be better.