Career Tipper blog has received several inquiries on how do international students transition from a student to an employee. For many international students that process can be confusing and take longer than expected. I reached out to a Human Resources professional that works with international students to successfully complete the process of becoming employees after graduation. Below I’m very glad to share the insight of Alondra DeGroat from a recent question and answer session I had with her.

Alondra DeGroat is a Human Resources Professional that has over 19 years of experience in multiple Human Resources roles in various industries ranging from telephonic to travel to logistics. Ms. DeGroat has earned her Masters in Human Resource Management and Masters in Project Management. She is also an active member of the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM). Ms. DeGroat finds helping others to grow professionally and handling employee relations professionally fulfilling. She currently works with students who are on OPT (Optional Practical Training) Visas seeking to transition to H1B Visas. She also assists employees who are on H1B visas to transition to Green Cards. Outside of her professional interests; Ms. DeGroat likes to travel, read, write poetry, and enjoys being around family.

Career Tipper: What are the key steps that college students at any level need to remember when transitioning from Optional Practical Training (OPT) to a H1B?

DeGroat: Most international students have a goal after they graduate to remain in the US to work and gain relevant professional experience to their degrees.
Many students should identify an employment opportunity before graduation to secure a position with a company where they can use the OPT visa program to gain needed work experience and skills. The OPT length of employment is up to 29 months before sponsorship is needed (The initial length is 12 months with a 17 month extension).

International students should actively pursue opportunities to gain valuable professional experience by looking for internships with companies in their chosen industry that will provide them with the specialized experience they will need to secure future employment. Internships are great highlight points for international students to have on their resumes when searching for companies that are willing to sponsor international students. As a student intern, an actively enrolled international student can also inquire with the company they’re interning with to determine if there are open positions that would be a good fit for the international student’s skill set and see if the company is willing to sponsor international students. The key is to start the sponsorship discussion early.

International students should be looking for companies that will allow them to transition from a F1 student visa to an OPT to gain necessary professional skills. They should start targeting these companies 6 months to 1 year prior to graduation.

Career Tipper: What are a few dos’ and don’ts while working on OPT?

DeGroat: While working on an OPT, one must be mindful of their plans and actions at all times. While the 12 month OPT is pending, travel is possible but not recommended. While the 17 month OPT is pending, travel is not allowed. The candidate would need a valid EAD (Employment Authorization Document) card to re-enter the country. Once the OPT is approved and the candidate has a job, they may travel and re-enter to resume work at the same position.

Candidates cannot accept any monies from perspective employers until their start date at the company (I.e. relocation expenses, bonuses, etc.). Any accepted monies can be considered as illegal.

Candidates are not eligible to work until they receive their EAD card from their college.
After securing the position; candidates should enjoy the job and use the experience to further their specialization.

Career Tipper: What are the key differences between the visa categories?

DeGroat: Let’s discuss a few different visas and their requirements for international students to develop a basic understanding of visas – F1, M1, H1B, & O1A.

F1 Visa – To enter the United States to attend, a university, college, high school, private elementary school, seminary, conservatory, or any other academic institution, including a language training program.
M1 Visa – To attend any vocational or other recognized nonacademic institution, other than a language training program.
H1B Visa – This is a non-immigrant visa that allows temporary workers to work in the United States for a specific amount of time in a specialty occupation. The purpose of the H1B is to give U.S. employers the opportunity to hire foreign professionals if a U.S. citizen or resident is not available. In order for the visa to be issued, both the employer and employee must satisfy specific requirements.
O-1: This non-immigrant visa is for the individual who possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who has a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and has been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements.

Visa Descriptions Credits

US Department of State

Career Tipper: What is the best perspective for students and candidates to have while going through the OPT process?

DeGroat: The best perspective for international students and candidates to have while going through the OPT process is to be optimistic and follow all directions provided to them by their college’s Office of Immigration and the Human Resources office of their employer. Complete all the documents as directed and submit all documents on time. International students should keep and have easy access to copies of all documents related to their immigration process. They will need the documents repeatedly throughout their OPT and H1B process. Documents include all transcripts from previous colleges and copies of vital records (i.e. birth certificate, social security cards).

Career Tipper: What has been your most rewarding experience in assisting students transitioning from an OPT to a H1B?

DeGroat: My most rewarding experience in assisting international students transitioning through the process; is receiving the approval from USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) for them to become employees. Knowing I have helped assist the employee to transition from one visa to the next is a wonderful feeling. For an employee to receive validation that a company considers their experience and skills exceptional and would like to sponsor them; is an honor for me to know that I was a part of making that happen.

Career Tipper: What type of training did you have to acquire to successfully and accurately complete the process for obtaining visas?

DeGroat: To successfully and accurately complete the process for obtaining visas, I attended various workshops being held by immigration attorneys as well as working directly with them for guidance and support. I have also worked with visa expeditors who have assisted in securing business visas for employees. The visa expeditors assist by physically taking all completed documentation after it has been completed into the various country consulates to expedite the visa process for the candidates.