International students looking to work in the United States have a few options for obtaining the necessary authorization. Although many international students get the opportunity to complete their training or research in the U.S., staying and working in the country is not always possible. Therefore, depending on your education level and the job you want to pursue, you should consider obtaining either a green card or a work visa.

Differentiating Between a Green Card and a Work Visa

As an international student, applying for a visa that will fit your needs can be confusing. Aside from thinking of the type of visa you need to stay in a certain country, you also need to understand how to pay your student loans, especially if you are studying abroad, so debts won’t pile up.

A green card, also known as permanent resident status, gives a foreign national the right to live and work permanently in the United States. Green cards are typically issued upon completing an immigrant visa application process. Requirements for obtaining a green card vary depending on individual circumstances and country of origin; however, all applicants must meet certain standards.

A work visa is another option for international students looking to work in the United States. The primary purpose of a work visa is to allow foreign nationals to enter and remain in the US for temporary employment. To be eligible for a work visa, applicants must have an offer of employment from a US employer. Commonly used visas include H-1B visas for specialty occupations, L-1 visas for intracompany transfers, O-1 visas for individuals with extraordinary ability in their field, and J-1 visas for trainees and exchange visitors.

In addition to the above-mentioned visa categories, international students may be eligible for other temporary work permits, such as Optional Practical Training (OPT) or Curricular Practical Training (CPT). OPT is a form of employment authorization that allows individuals with F-1 student status to work in the United States for up to one year. In contrast, CPT allows students to gain practical experience related to their field of study.

Work Visas

Work visas are temporary visas and require a sponsoring employer in the U.S., or special qualifications, such as having advanced degrees or specialized skills in the sciences, arts, or business. The following are just a few of the visas available to foreign nationals for temporary employment in the United States. Depending on an individual’s qualifications, experience, and background, there may be other visa options that could be suitable. It is recommended that those interested in applying for work-based visas contact an experienced immigration attorney or adviser to discuss their options and determine the best course of action.

J-1 Visas

J-1 visas are available for individuals participating in exchange programs or internships, such as research programs or medical residencies. The Exchange Visitor Program (J-1) is managed by the U.S. Department of State, and participants must be sponsored by an organization designated as a J-1 exchange visitor program sponsor. Thus, J-1 visa holders must have a job offer from an approved U.S. organization who will act as the sponsoring employer.

The J-1 visa is a good option for international students who intend to complete their internships, residencies, or research in the United States. However, applicants must demonstrate that they have sufficient funds to support themselves during their stay and that the exchange program or internship is related to their field of study. Additionally, they must provide sufficient proof of ties to their home country, such as family or property. Finally, J-1 visa holders must return to their home country upon completion of the exchange program to fulfill the visa terms. These are required because the J-1 visa is not a dual intent visa. This means that J-1 visa holders cannot apply for a green card while in the U.S. and must return to their home country at the end of the exchange program or internship before they can pursue permanent residence. However, there are special cases when you may apply to convert a J-1 visa to a green card, such as marriage to a U.S. citizen or employer sponsorship. 

During the application process for a J-1 visa, the applicant will be asked to present a DS-2019 form issued by the sponsoring organization and confirm that you have been accepted into the exchange program. Generally, professionals who are granted this type of visa include scientists, specialists, professors, researchers, university and college-level students, and trainees in specific fields such as business or finance.

L-1 Visas

L-1 visas are temporary work permits that allow multinational companies to transfer employees from their foreign offices to the U.S., or vice versa, for short-term assignments. These visas are generally used by large corporations and companies who need specialized workers with unique skills that cannot be easily found in the country of origin. The L-1 visa is a dual intent visa, meaning that it allows the worker to apply for permanent residence while they are in the U.S.

To be eligible for an L-1 visa, applicants must have worked with the company abroad for at least one year within the three years before applying for the visa and must be sponsored by their employer. Those who qualify for this visa are executives, managers, specialized knowledge workers, and employees with essential skills. It is important to note that the employee must be strong enough in their field of expertise as they may be asked to prove it during visa interviews.

Additionally, an L-1 visa applicant must demonstrate that the U.S. office of the employer is related to the foreign organization it’s transferring the employee from and must have a valid passport and other documentation to prove their qualifications. 

O-1 Visas

The O-1 visa is a temporary work permit designed for individuals with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics. To qualify for this visa, applicants must demonstrate that they have a level of expertise significantly above their peers and can prove their achievements with evidence such as awards and recognition from national organizations. Furthermore, the applicant must be sponsored by an employer who has established a need for their services.

The O-1 visa is also a dual intent visa, so applicants can apply for permanent residence while they are in the U.S. without having to return home first. The O-1 visa is typically issued for periods of three years and can be extended.

International students can apply for the O-1 visa if they have achieved a high degree of success in their field and demonstrate that they are among the few at the top of their profession. While this visa is not easy to obtain, it may be worth pursuing if you have a unique skill set that would make you an asset to your employer. 

H-1B Visas

The H-1B visa is designed to allow companies in the United States to temporarily hire highly skilled foreign workers in specialty occupations such as engineering, computer programming, and other scientific or technological fields. This type of visa requires the applicant to be sponsored by an approved U.S. organization that will act as the sponsoring employer.

To qualify for an H-1B visa, applicants must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in their field of specialty and demonstrate that they are qualified for the position they are applying for. Additionally, the employer must pay the applicant at least the prevailing wage set by the Department of Labor and prove there is a shortage of U.S. workers to fill the job opening.

The H-1B visa is also a dual intent visa, so applicants can apply for permanent residence or a Green Card while in the U.S. on a work visa. Like the O-1 visa, the H-1B visa is typically issued for periods of three years and can be extended up to six years. Also, it is important to note that applicants may not stay in the U.S. on an H-1B visa for more than six years at a time unless their underlying immigration status changes. 

International students can go this route when applying for a visa if they have the qualifications and experience necessary to fill a specialty occupation. This can be an effective way for international students to gain permanent residency in the U.S. without having to return home. 

Green Cards

A green card allows an individual to live and work permanently in the United States. To obtain a green card, applicants must meet certain criteria, such as having an immigrant relative in the United States or employment-based sponsorship. Green card holders must be able to demonstrate good moral character, financial stability, and the ability to support themselves without government assistance. 

International students may be eligible for a Green Card if they have received employment-based sponsorship, such as through an employer who is petitioning them to work in the United States. Students need to be aware of all of their options when applying for a visa, as each situation may have different requirements and eligibility criteria. But once a Green Card application is approved, an individual has the right to live and work in the United States as a permanent resident. This can be a great option for international students who want more permanence than what other visa types offer.


Navigating the complexities of US immigration law can be difficult. Consulting with a qualified immigration specialist can help ensure that you have the best chance of obtaining the right visa or green card for your situation. 

No matter which path you choose, as an international student, you should familiarize yourself with your options and make sure to comply with all applicable laws and regulations when applying for any status in the US. With the right preparation and knowledge, you can take advantage of the many opportunities for studying and working in the United States. 

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* This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide direct legal advice.