Many types of visas exist, but only a handful are particularly relevant to foreign students and workers in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Here is a brief rundown of some of these common visas and work permits:
F-1: This student visa is for those who are studying in the U.S. After completing their studies, students can apply for an optional practical training (OPT) work permit, which allows them to work legally in the U.S. for up to one year. Foreign nationals with a STEM degree can apply for a 17-month extension. After the OPT expires, foreign nationals can be unemployed for up to 90 days before they are no longer permitted to work in the U.S. Students with a STEM extension are given an additional 30 days of unemployment time, for a maximum of 120 days.
J-1: This exchange visitor visa is granted to foreign nationals to temporarily work and study in the U.S. until the end of their exchange program. Postdocs are typically granted a J-1 visa. After the visa expires, foreign nationals can remain in the U.S. for an additional 30 days, after which they need to return to their home country. If they want to return to the U.S., they need to stay in their home country for two years. However, this requirement can be waived by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security if, among other considerations, their home country does not object.
H-1B: This temporary work visa is for skilled, educated individuals employed in specialized occupations. Employers who want to sponsor an H-1B visa for a foreign worker need to attest to the U.S. Department of Labor that they are not displacing a qualified U.S. citizen to fill the position and that they will pay the foreign worker the prevailing, or actual, wage.H-1B visa holders are eligible to apply for a green card.
EB-1: This “extraordinary ability” green card, which confers permanent residency, is granted to those who can demonstrate extraordinary ability (EB-1A), are an outstanding professors or researchers (EB-1B), or are multinational executives or managers (EB-1C). The bar for getting this type of green card is extremely high, with the applicant needing to show a substantial number of publications, international prizes, and other evidence of extraordinary ability for the EB-1A subcategory.
EB-2: This “national interest waiver” green card is granted to those with exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business who can demonstrate that their employment in the U.S. would greatly benefit the country. The bar for this type of green card is lower than that for an EB-1 green card.