4 of the most popular visa options for professionals looking to emigrate to the USA

The United States is home to more college-educated immigrants than any other country.

This is according to a new Pew Research report which found that as of 2015, there were 14.7 million immigrants ages 25 and older with a postsecondary diploma or college degree living in the US – more than triple the number in Canada (4.4 million) and more than four times as many as in the United Kingdom (3.4 million).

President Donald Trump has expressed his support for the ‘immigration of talented and highly skilled people’ to the US, and the American public appears to share that view,” Pew Research said.

“In a spring 2018 survey conducted as part of the Center’s recent report, 78% of US adults said they support encouraging highly skilled people to immigrate to and work in the country.

“More than eight-in-ten Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (83%) said this, as did 73% of Republicans and GOP leaners.”

While there are a number of emigration options open to people looking to move to the US, Pew Research found that four options typically stand out as the most popular for highly-educated immigrants.

These include the H-1B visa programme, the F-1 visa programme, the Optional Practical Training programme and green cards.

You can find a break down of these programmes below.


H-1B visa programme

The H-1B programme is the USA’s biggest visa programme for temporary employment of foreign-born workers who have specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or higher.

It allows US employers to hire foreigners to work on a temporary basis.

H-1B visas are awarded directly to companies (rather than to individuals) on a first-come, first-served basis.

Since 2005, Congress has set an annual cap of 65,000 such visas per year, plus an additional 20,000 H-1B visas per year for foreigners who have a graduate degree from a U.S. academic institution.

“The Department of Homeland Security recently issued a rule that changes the way H-1B petitions are selected, prioritizing individuals with US graduate degrees,” Pew research said.

“H-1B visas are good for up to six years and can be renewed if the visa holder has a pending application for permanent residency in the US.”

Demand for H-1B workers has soared in recent years, with far more applications than available visas. In fact, in each of the past five years, the programme’s cap has been reached within a week of the application period opening, which occurs in April each year.


F-1 visa programme

The most common type of foreign student visa is the F-1 visa, typically given to those pursuing college degrees in the US, including associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

“Since the Great Recession, there has been dramatic growth in the number of foreign students who are newly enrolled at US colleges and universities through F-1 visas,” Pew research said.

“There were nearly 364,000 such students in 2016, more than double the number in 2008. This 104% growth rate compares with a growth rate of 3.4% in overall college enrollment during the same period.

“The number of foreign students on F-1 visas grew sharply at both public and private academic institutions, but it grew more quickly at public colleges and universities than at private ones (107% vs. 98% growth between 2008 and 2016).”


Optional Practical Training

The OPT programme allows foreigners who are full-time students at American colleges and universities to remain in the country on a temporary basis to gain practical work experience after they graduate.

Unlike the H-1B programme, the OPT programme does not require applicants to be sponsored by an employer, and it does not set a cap on the number of people who can participate.

But the duration of legal residence under OPT is shorter than it is under H-1B: Participants may work in the US for 12 months after graduation, extendable to a maximum of 36 months for those with a degree in a science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) field.

“The OPT programme has become an increasingly popular pathway for foreign graduates of US colleges to remain in the country,”Pew research said.

“In recent years, the number of people approved for OPT has surpassed the number of workers who received initial approval for H-1B visas. In 2017, a record 276,500 foreign graduates received work permits under OPT, compared with 108,100 people who received initial approval for H-1B visas.”


Green cards

Pew Research found that many college-educated immigrants live and work in the US through green cards, which provide lawful permanent residence to around a million foreign-born people each year.

However, it’s important to note that green cards are not specific to college-educated foreigners and are available to immigrants regardless of their educational background.

“Around two-thirds (66%) of all new green cards issued in fiscal 2017 went to immigrants who were sponsored by family members, while 13% went to refugees or asylum seekers,” Pew Research said.

“Employment-related categories accounted for 12% of the green cards issued in 2017 – including those with employment-based green cards, workers’ family members and those previously sponsored under the H-1B visa programme.”


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4 of the most popular visa options for professionals looking to emigrate to the USA