Go from OPT to H-1B…

If you’re studying in the United States on an F-1 visa and you want to work here after graduation, OPT (or Optional Practical Training) is priceless.  OPT is a 12-month work allowance given to F-1 visa holders allowing them up to 12 months of U.S. work authorization for relevant employment.  If you haven’t heard of OPT before, you should sprint to your International Student Services office to get the complete details.

Here are 4 reasons why OPT is a must have for internatinal student job seekers:

  1. Get experience – U.S. work experience is pretty important to most American companies.  With OPT, you can get up to 12 months of it.  Pay particular attention to the connections between your work in the U.S. and your prior experience in your home country.  This is value stuff for later job interviews in the U.S.
  2. Get close to contacts – When you’re working inside a company, you’ve got access to lots of people who can provide you information and guidance on your career.  This is informational interview gold!  Start building connections with people who can appreciate your value.  My book can give you details on how to do this.
  3. Carry you through H-1B delays – After your internship, if you’re able to win a full time job, your OPT can be used to keep you working happily at your new employer until the H-1B filings have been completed.  For example, in past years, there have been more H-1B applications filed than spot open.  When this happens, the government randomly selects people from the pool until all the spots are filled.  If you’re not lucky enough to get one of the spots, you can use your OPT to stay with the company until the next lottery (if you’ve got enough left).
  4. Easy to get – All you need to do to get OPT set up is to apply for it with the help of your international student services office.  Unlike with the H-1B, there is no action required on the part of the employer.  You just show up and start working.

Lots of American employers use internships as a way to test a candidate’s fit with the company.  If all goes well over the course of a summer, the chances of retaining that person as a happy and productive employee over the long term go up significantly.  OPT can position you to take advantage of this model and turn your OPT into and H-1B.  Get an internship with OPT, and then spend the summer delivering quality work and showing your employer that they can’t live without you.  Watch the H-1B materialize! 

A parting note:  Many international students I’ve encountered try to use OPT to evade questions about their US work authorization status.  For example, when asked,”Do you require sponsorship for full-time employment in the United States,” they’ll say “no” because they have OPT.  This answer is misleading to employers because what they are really trying to determine is whether they can keep you on as a full-time employee just like any other.  With OPT you are only eligible for 12 months of U.S. employment, and if you’ve gotten your job by insinuating otherwise, your employer won’t be happy.

In my opinion, part of the problem lies with the American obsession with politically correct questions.  I’ve been involved in quite a few discussions about what questions recruiters are “allowed” to use to get work authorization information from candidates.  For some reason, companies can’t ask you any question that could be construed as an attempt to uncover your national origin, creed, color, race and a slew of other things that most normal people would  be absolutely fine talking about.  They can’t ask you directly about citizenship or green card status.  Thus, recruiters are forced into verbal gymnastics to get the informatin they want without ‘offending’ you.  If you take advantage of this vague situation to imply that you don’t require full time work authorization, it won’t be appreciated by your employer.

This annoying American aversion to asking direct questions can be confusing for international students.  My recommendation is to be very clear about your work status whenever asked.  If a company asks about your work status, tell them you require work visa sponsorship for full-time permanent employment. Then you can tell them about OPT, and that it will give the company a chance to try you out before making any commitment to sponsorship.  Doing so will not only show the company a path to hiring you that they may not have known about, but it will also help you build the credibility you need to get the job you want.  And credibility is everything in beginning new professional relationships.   So get out there and turn that OPT to H-1b!

3 Responses to “Go from OPT to H-1B…”

  • LQleft Says:

    Interesting. Has anyone else had H-1B questions asked at the very beginning of the interview process? Hard to get past them…

  • Purity Says:

    I beg to differ especially with the last paragraph. In the recent past especially with the downturn of the economy more and more hiring managers are informed on the various visa statuses. In fact during phone screen interviews they inquire about your visa status.

  • Dan Says:

    Thanks for your comment. I’ll agree that more and more hiring managers are being informed by HR on what visa sponsorship is these days. But I still contend that relying on their knowledge of how sponsorship works is a big mistake. In general, knowing the ins and outs of the visa process isn’t in their job description.
    Also, visa questions only come up if you’re overtly digging for jobs and going through the standard – and very crowded – job search process. If you’re approaching managers through informational interviews (my preferred method), there’s no reason to be ‘screened out’ regardless of your status. You’re not talking jobs; you’re talking information. And you don’t need a visa to get that. It’s all about having an oppotunity present your value before talking about visas. Otherwise, a company has no compelling reason to reconsider its policy against sponsoring your visa.

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