H-1B Visas & OPT: How to Stay in the US After Your MBA
Staying in the United States after you graduate from business school is an attractive prospect. The US offers a wide range of high-paying MBA careers across a variety of industries.
For this reason, thousands of students apply to US business schools every year, in the hope of landing a job there after graduation.
There are, however, a number of requirements and procedures that graduates need to go through before securing their career in the US.
From optional practical training (OPT) to H-1B visas, here is everything you need to know about staying on in the US after your MBA.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
After you graduate from your MBA program, you’re eligible for optional practical training (OPT), which is a 12-month period in which you can stay on and work in the US.
This allows you to work in any industry area that is related to your field of study. For MBA graduates, this offers a wide range of opportunities, including self-employment.
Graduates from STEM-certified MBA programs are eligible for an additional 24 months (three years in total) for their OPT.
Candidates must request recommendation from their schools for the OPT. You can apply for this up to 90 days before you complete your degree, and no more than 60 days after you graduate.
During your OPT, you are eligible to apply for an H-1B visa, which is the work visa for high-skilled migrants. This is the most common way for MBA graduates to stay on and work in the US.
To apply for an H-1B visa, you must have an employer sponsor.
There is an annual cap on the number of H-1B visas issued, which currently stands at 85,000. 65,000 are allocated to students with at least a bachelor’s degree, and any additional 20,000 to students with at least a master’s degree. H-1B visa applications regularly exceed the cap by a long way: in 2021, it’s estimated that 275,000 applications were received.
Once the cap is reached, all candidates are entered into an H-1B visa lottery, through which you are randomly selected. Since visas are allocated first to master’s students, then to bachelor’s, MBA graduates with both degrees can enter the lottery twice.
Graduates from STEM-certified MBAs have an additional advantage. The 24-month extension of your OPT means that you have two additional years (and two additional lottery cycles) to apply for an H-1B.
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It’s also worth noting that graduates with certain employers are exempt from the cap. These include institutions of higher education, or companies associated with institutions of higher education (such as universities, school districts, and hospitals affiliated with medical schools).
The US Green Card is the ultimate end point for MBA graduates looking to stay on in the US. This is when migrants are afforded US citizenship.
There are several eligibility criteria for a Green Card. Family is one way: if you’re married to a US citizen, or have a parent or sibling, then you can be eligible.
Employment may be the more obvious route for MBAs. Individuals are considered first preference if they “have extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics”, “are an outstanding professor or researcher”, or “are a multinational manager or executive who meets certain criteria”. Second preference is granted to individuals who “are a member of a profession that requires an advanced degree”, or “have exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business”.
A maximum of 140,000 Green Cards are given annually. There is a cap on the total each country can receive: 7 percent, or 9,800 visas, irrespective of the population of each country.
Other options for MBA graduates
There are various options for US graduate student visas:
O-1 visas are given to “individuals with extraordinary ability or talent.” This means excelling in fields including sciences, business, arts, education, or athletics. To apply, you must be able to demonstrate that you are in the very top percent of achievement in your field.
O-1 visas, however, are extremely difficult to apply for, so it’s best not to pin your hopes on it.
L-1 visas are granted to individuals who have spent at least one year working at a company that holds a US office. This can grant you to stay for up to five years as an employee, and up to seven years as a manager.
Unlike other visas, there are no caps on the number of L-1s granted.
TN, E-3, or H1B1 visas
Certain countries have special agreements with the US to grant access for speciality workers (e.g., highly skilled immigrants with bachelor’s or master’s degrees) to live and work in the US.
TN visas apply to Canadian and Mexican citizens, as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), to go and work in the US for up to three years. These are allocated for specific professions including accountants, engineers, lawyers, pharmacists, scientists, and teachers.
E-3 visas are granted to Australian specialty workers for up to two years. You must be an Australian national and have an offer of employment in the US.
H1B1 visas are granted to speciality workers from either Chile or Singapore. The number issued is capped at 1,400 for Chileans, and 5,400 for Singaporeans.
While applying for visas in the US can take time and effort, if you want to stay in the US after your MBA, there are ways to do so.
Find your best fit MBA program
Our free guide, Finding Your Best Fit Full-Time MBA Program, gives you the expert tips and guidance you need to confidently narrow your options and identify the programs that make the most sense for your needs, preferences, and career goals.