How do you utilize the last year of your student visa?
Every year, there are nearly 1 million international students studying in the United States. These students are some of the best and brightest young minds in the world – bringing into the country the dreams of a generation of artists, entrepreneurs, and engineers looking to contribute to the fabric of American society.
For students like us, the limitations of an F1 Student Visa can be a source of anxiety. Upon graduation, you have the option to pursue OPT (Optional Practical Training) in which you secure and work a job that relates to your college major.
While STEM graduates have up to 3 years to work on OPT, others have only up to 12 months.
As I near the end of my first stint in the states, here are four ways to make the most out of the last year on your student visa.
1. Focus on Gaining Practical Skills
Firs of all, it’s crucial to secure a full-time job during your last semester in college in order to extend your stay and utilize your year of OPT.
The time you get to work will allow you to gain ‘real world’ experience.
In my year of OPT, I tried my best to hone in on my writing and communication skills.
This included learning how to write feature articles, website content, and business papers. I also learned how to better manage social media channels and how to make business presentations.
These are skills that are translatable to future jobs, and communication is only gaining greater importance in the workforce.
To be competitive in any industry or region you end up working in, make sure you focus on gaining practical skills that are translatable to future jobs.
2. Nurture Your Creative Spirit
“I really want to open up my own blog or website..but I’m worried about what other people think.”
How many of us have thought the same?
In your post-graduate life, you’ll realize that you have plenty of spare time. If you work a 9-5 job, you have up to 4 hours a day to work on a creative project. That’s up to 28 hours a week.
The best creative decision I made in 2019 was creating Third-Culture Thoughts.
With the support of my friends and family, I mustered the guts to create my first blog and to post it on social media for my network to see.
Two months later, I’ve learned how to build a website, engage with an online community, and post content consistently.
In the end, you learn more about yourself, gain entrepreneurial skills, and you get to boost your self-esteem with a project you can truly call your own.
3. Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst
While everyone’s financial situation is different, there are several ways you can continue your dreams in the states.
H1B Visa Sponsorship
First, you can get sponsored by a company you are working for. This is a tedious process that involves attorney fees and a big commitment from the company you work for. You also need to have patience and luck to win and get picked in the H1B lottery (less than 33%). It is expensive, but worth a shot for those with the support of their company.
Apply to Graduate School
This option can be very beneficial to your career.
While it can be pricey, getting a graduate degree in the right field can strengthen your chances of gaining employment in a competitive field post-graduation. This can even lead to gaining a PhD, where you are exempt from the H1B cap if hired by an educational institution (i.e. become a professor at a university).
My decision to apply to graduate school has given me great relief and determination to continue my dreams. It can also open doors for me in the field of international development with multinational corporations.
Even if you end up not going to graduate school, it’s good to have a backup option.
Granted, you may get married with someone from the states and go through the permanent residency process as well. This takes around 6-12 months.
To make the most out of the last year on your student visa, make sure you have other options.
No one else will fight for you but yourself.
4. Make Trips with Your Friends
To conclude, this is a decision that can breathe life into an otherwise stressful year.
Constantly wondering about where you will be in a year gets tiring. But spending time with friends makes the journey worth fighting for.
In my case, I’ve traveled to see my best friends in the Bay and watched an NBA game at Staples Center. I now make random coffee trips in the morning with friends and get drinks with old classmates.
It reminds me to be grateful for the people who truly care about me. We truly can’t do it alone.
In the end, it’s about the journey, not the destination.