Thousands of Indian students head to the United States to attend the university each year. It is a well-trodden path that usually starts with a student visa and ideally ends in the right to stay and work. Yet, to ensure the best results, it is important to carefully set out your ultimate goals and start planning early. So, what questions should students be discussing with their parents?
What is the best visa?
Most students opt for a student visa – either the F or M category depending on whether the course is academic or vocational. The normal requirements are to have an offer from a legitimate education institution and to be able to prove you have sufficient funds to cover your studies and board in the United States.
Student visas suit most people initially because the costs are relatively low, and the application process is quite straightforward. However, these visas have limitations when it comes to working during term time and after graduation leading some students to seek out alternative solutions. One in particular – the EB-5 Visa – has grown in popularity among Indian parents seeking a brighter future for their children in the United States.
This Green-Card–by-investment program offers the opportunity to study and work freely in the United States, and students may even qualify for in-state tuition and domestic bursaries.
Do I want to work while I am studying?
Student visas permit a limited amount of work during term time. Students are allowed to work on-campus part-time, provided they are employed directly by the school or by a private business engaged in student services.
After their first year, students are permitted to obtain off-campus work experience related to their field of study under either Current Practical Training (CPT) or pre-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT). Students can only work part-time in these off-campus roles during term time but are allowed to work full-time during school holidays.
Conversely, students with a Green Card through the EB-5 program hold permanent residency, giving them the freedom to work for any employer on- or off-campus for as many hours as they like during term time (unless the school has its own rules about working hours). There is also a less administrative burden on the employers of Green Card holders than of students on CPT and OPT.
Do I want to Stay and Work in the United States after Graduation?
Whilst student visas are a relatively low-cost and straightforward route to studying in the United States, they are not always the optimal route when it comes to staying on to work in the long term.
Upon graduating, there are multiple hoops a student needs to jump through to pursue a career in the United States. Firstly, there is post-completion OPT, which permits a student to stay in the United States to work in a field related to their degree for up to twelve months. If a student has done pre-completion OPT, this time is deducted from the twelve-month total.
Anyone employed in the science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) field, can apply for a two-year extension to their OPT. After that, the lucky ones will be able to obtain an H-1B visa through the lottery system, where, again, STEM professionals are looked upon more favourably.
Indians are by far the largest beneficiaries of H-1B and it is a well-used path from India to the United States. The H-1B visa is renewable for up to a maximum of six years, at which time the employee must return to India or find another visa in order to stay.
A natural longer-term fit for the H-1B visa is to apply for a Green Card through the EB-3 Skilled Professional route, but this visa category has so many applicants from India that new applicants face a multi-year waiting list.
One key limitation of the H-1B visa is that the sponsoring employer holds much of the power, making salary negotiations and job changes more difficult. Conversely, the EB-5 Investor Visa allows a student to work for any employer in the United States and there is no requirement to leave the country if you do not have a job. This offers the candidate time to find the best job and to potentially negotiate better terms and conditions.
Does the whole family wish to accompany the student to the US as well?
For some parents, the dream is to send their children to the United States whilst remaining in India. For others, however, they want to keep the whole family together and move to the United States as well.
Student visas obviously do not allow parents and siblings to tag along, however, options are available. Again, the EB-5 Visa is a strong contender for those who can afford the minimum $5,00,000 investment. A single investment and application can include not only the applicant but also a spouse and any children under the age of 21.
Parents also have the option to move quickly to the United States if they wish to acquire, start or expand a business there. Indians can obtain the E-2 Investor Visa via Grenada or apply for a new office L-1 visa in the hopes of moving to the United States. Children can accompany their parents to the US until they are 21, which means they could pursue some or all of their academic studies on their dependent visa without requiring their own student visa.
How far in advance should I start planning?
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a slowdown of visa processing at embassies and consulates worldwide and so it has never been more important to plan ahead. The five US embassies and consulates in India are currently open to student visa appointments, and this will be expanded to other key visa categories in the coming months.
The prolonged closure has caused a backlog that will take time to clear. If you are considering a visa application, it is always helpful to take a position in the queue as soon as possible.
Forward planning is particularly important in the EB-5 Investor Visa category, especially where a child’s education is involved. EB-5 applications take time to review because of a high volume of applications and the need to properly account for each dollar invested in the program.
The primary applicant can include a spouse and any children under 21 in a family application, however, if a child passes this age threshold whilst their application is being processed, they would require their own separate application and investment.
As always, there are multiple immigration options open to aspiring students and their families. The best option is to discuss your circumstances with a US-licensed immigration lawyer because it is never too soon to start thinking about your child’s future in the United States.