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  United States (Going From F1 to H1 to Green Card)

If you are international student in the USA on an F-1 visa, then you have an excellent opportunity to eventually become a permanent resident of the USA. Students come to the USA either on an F-1 or J-1 visa. The J-1 has one advantage over the F-1: it allows the J-1 holder's spouse, who would receive a J-2, to work in the USA while their spouse is studying. But after their education or training, J-1 and J-2 holders have to return to their native countries for at least two years before they can re-enter the country to work. For most individuals from the Third World, this condition usually means that you may never have another opportunity to settle in the USA. But the F-1 has no such restrictions. F-1 visa holders can apply for jobs and use the jobs to get their permanent residence, also known as the green cards.

International students planning to stay back must remember a few things that will help make their progress from an F-1 to an H-1B and then onto the green card smooth and uneventful.
It is always easier if one has at least a master's degree. Unless you arein a high demand area like nursing or information technology, a bachelor's degree is usually inadequate. The labor department, which gives the permission to hire foreign workers, finds it hard to believe that anyone with just a bachelor's degree has such unique skills that there are no Americans who can do that job. In information technology, it is generallyunderstood that skilled workers are unavailable, so even a bachelor's degree will do, but not in other areas.

Never violate your status. As an F-1, you are required to be a full-time student in every semester, which is at least nine credits for graduate students and 12 credits for undergraduate students. When your course work is completed and you are writing your thesis, make sure that you register for that so that your status remains intact. You do not have to register during the summer semesters. Also remember that as an international student you can work only on campus and only for 20 hours a week. If you break these laws you will be out of status. If by any chance you have violated your status, but you still have a valid multiple entry F-1 Visa, then you can restore it by making a short trip overseas ? the Bahamas, Mexico and Canada are all close by ? and then re-enter the USA. While on the subject, it is good to know that F-1 visas are only entry documents. Even if your visa has expired, you can continue to stay in the USA and study, legally, until the validity date on your I-20.

Do not waste your practical training period. All F-1 students are allowed to work off-campus for one year if in the preceding year they have maintained their status as F-1 students. Many students are tempted to avail this privilege in order to make money. It can prove to be a disaster if you do not land a job as soon as you graduate, and you have already used up your practical training period. You will either have to go back or violate your status. Sometimes, even when you get a job on time and your lawyer applies for your F-1 on time, delays at INS , which aren't that infrequent, can abruptly disrupt your life plans. At this time, your practical training period can come in handy. You can start work on your training work permit and not worry about waiting on the INS.

An H-1B is a provision created by the Congress to enable foreigner workers to come to the USA temporarily and help American organizations and business meet a shortfall in expert help. Globalization and the high-tech boom in the USA has created a demand for skilled workers that far outstrips local supply. The amount of H-1B visas available each year varies. In the year 2000-2001, there are 107,000 H-1B visas available. There is a proposal to raise it to 195,000, but that depends on who is elected president. Democrats usually favor immigration, but that might change since globalization is now hurting labor even in the First World. Remember the riots in Seattle and Switzerland against the World Trade Organization?

You can get H-1B sponsorship from two kinds of employers: labor consultants and companies. Some labor consultants hire people whom they can contract to other firms. For example, a company may hire you for $35,000 a year, acquire your H-1B and then subcontract you to some other company at $50 an hour. The company will make about $96,000 by contracting you and profit nearly $61,000. Some candidates who are in a hurry to get a job join such firms. But always remember these firms never sponsor people for green cards. Even larger firms that you could work for directly do not sponsor their employees for green cards. Which means they will use you for six years ? the maximum period available for an H-1B employee ? and then discontinue you. You will have no option but to go out of the USA and won't be able to return for two years. So before you say "I do," make sure that the company you are joining is willing to sponsor your green card. You can join any firm and start looking for another job that will sponsor you. It may entail working in less glamorous places and for lesser wages, but if you want a longer stay in the USA be prepared to pay the price.

You can be on an H-1B for six years, and it takes the entire green card process about three years. You have to be with the same employer during that period. If you switch jobs, you have to restart the entire process.I do not recommend this no matter how much extra the new firm pays. For this entire odyssey you need patience, steadfastness, a good lawyer and about $5,000. The F-1 to H-1B usually costs between $1,500 and $2,000, and the H-1 to green card will cost between $2,500 and $3,500. Remember to hire an immigration attorney. Feel free to interview them and check their past history. Offices in a downtown area are usually good indicators of success, but probably also means higher fees. Do not, under any circumstances, allow ethnicity or back-home connections to influence your choice of attorney. Nothing can be more foolish.

The process sounds tedious, time- and money-consuming and full of legal hurdles. But believe me, it is worth it. The USA is a great country, full of opportunity and freedom. It is a prize worth working hard for.

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