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Four paths for highly educated immigrants to enter the U.S.

The United States is the largest destination for foreign-born workers with a college or post-secondary level education. According to Pew Research Center, 14.7 million immigrant ages 25 or older with a college or post-secondary degree legally immigrated in 2015. This number is more than triple of those who immigrate to second-place Canada (4.4 million) or third-place United Kingdom (3.4 million).

The numbers, however, also tell a different story. Comparing the same three countries, the share of college or above educated amidst the general total tells a different story. The percentage of immigrants with post-secondary education ranks the numbers this way:

  1. Canada: 65 percent
  2. United Kingdom: 49 percent
  3. United States: 36 percent

Four options for working in the U.S.

Below is a very brief overview of different paths that migrants take to study or work in the United States:

  • H-1B visa: This is the most common way that U.S. companies use to hire foreign workers. These visas are temporary, but can last up to six years. There are a total of 85,000 approved applicants.
  • F-1 visa: This is the most common type of foreign student visa. It is often used for pursuing B.A. or higher degrees. The total is nearly 364,000 approved applicants.
  • Optional practical training: This program often comes into play after an F1’s graduation if the applicant wishes to get further experience and training. There is no need for an employer to sponsor the applicant and time limit ranges from 12-36 months. The record total of approved applicants was in 2017 with 276,500 approvals.
  • Green cards: A post secondary degree is not required, but about one million college graduates use the green card, which allows for lawful permanent residence without citizenship. About two-thirds of these applicants were sponsored by family members.

Which is the right fit?

Those who wish to work or study in the United States are advised to consult with an immigration attorney. These legal professionals can help determine which approach best fits the applicant’s needs. They can also provide knowledgeable guidance for filling out paperwork in an effective manner and handle appeals if the initial application is rejected.

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  • American Immigration Lawyers Association
  • State Bar of California | California Board of Legal Specialization
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