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What International PhDs Need To Know About Getting A Green Card – Answers To 5 Common Questions

Contributing Author: Karthik Pandalaneni, Ph.D.

I recently transitioned into a food company as a Global Food Scientist in my area of expertise.

I planned ahead and started my job hunt 4 months before my graduation.

Throughout my job search I had many rejections.

These rejections came as a result of my status as an international student and because I had a resume that did not highlight my skills.

So, I worked on my resume and covering letter.

I also implemented the valuable tips I received about making LinkedIn updates.

These changes helped me get some attention from recruiters and I received few interview calls.

Unfortunately, because of visa regulations, it still was hard to get a job.

But I kept going.

I kept implementing the job search strategies I was learning.

The suggestions I learned were key for my phone interviews, networking experiences, on-site interviews and salary negotiations.

These tips and suggestions helped me successfully land my new job.

To all the international students out there, I can only say to keep trying and all you need is one yes from an employer.

I have got several rejections solely based on my visa status even after I passed all the interview rounds.

It’s possible, you just have to keep trying and keep implementing the proper job search strategy.

What International PhDs Need To Know About US Immigration

There are a lot of international STEM PhDs.

According to a report by National Foundation For American Policy, international PhDs account for the following percentages of full-time graduate students:

  • 81% in electrical and petroleum engineering
  • 79 % in computer science
  • 75 % in industrial engineering
  • 69 % in statistics
  • 63 % in mechanical engineering
  • 59 % in civil engineering
  • 57 % in chemical engineering

When you finish your PhD and begin to look for work you will be facing the competition of both US citizens and all these other international PhDs.

So it’s vital that you set yourself up for success by learning as much as possible about the immigration process.

Forbes reported that in one year, the US grants about 140,000 employment-based green cards (which is the kind you will likely be applying for).

The best way to be one of the people who receives an employment-based green card is to learn about the process and recognize when you need to ask for help.

Answers To 5 Common US Immigration Questions For PhDs

As an international PhD looking to get hired in the US, you face additional hurdles when compared with US citizens.

But you are tough and you are determined.

You earned a PhD in a new country.

You made a place for yourself in a new country.

You just need to direct that determination and your intellect toward the process of getting hired in industry in the US.

And it starts with educating yourself.

Here are the answers to 5 questions that international PhDs often ask about the US green card process…

1. What is the most common way for foreign nationals to apply for a US green card based on employment?

Most foreign nationals who are working in the US that are not conducting scientific research, have to go through what’s called the Permanent Labor Certification process.

That involves having an employer sponsor you for the green card.

Under the Permanent Labor Process, you can’t file on your own, and the employer has to conduct recruitment that is mandated by the labor department.

That means they must do things such as putting ads in Sunday newspapers and conducting other recruitment online in order to show a lack of US worker availability.

So for jobs that do not involve scientific research, that’s generally the only option available to obtain a green card.

It’s not easy and often companies are unwilling to meet the requirements for recruitment, making it difficult for foreign nationals to get hired.

However, as a STEM PhD you can avoid this process.

Your scientific achievements, your leadership in your field, give you leverage to avoid the Permanent Labor Process.

2. What can PhDs do to avoid the Permanent Labor Process?

If you have made scientific accomplishments that have impacted or influenced your field, then you can look to avoid this labor certification process by applying for a green card based on your own research accomplishments.

As a STEM PhD you meet these criteria.

There are 3 different types of categories where you can obtain a green card based on your research accomplishments.

  1. EB1A: Extraordinary Ability Aliens.
  2. EB1B: Outstanding Professors and Researchers.
  3. EB2: National Interest Waiver.

With EB1A and EB1B, there is a wait to apply for a green card for the entire world as well as China and India.

For immigration purposes “the entire world” means everywhere other than China and India.

For the National Interest Waiver (NIW) category, there is a wait for China and India, but not for the rest of the world.

And this is a relatively new phenomenon.

So if you’re not from China or India, you really should only be applying in the NIW category because it’s easier than the EB1 category and you don’t have to wait.

There were times in the past where people not from China and India, for various reasons, could get the green card faster in the EB1 category, but it’s not the case anymore.

If you are from China or India, you still want to look to the EB1 category as a way to bypass the Permanent Labor Process.

3. Can PhDs who are legally present in the US apply for a green card from within the US regardless of their status?

This is a big misconception that is heard within the scientific community, PhDs don’t think they can apply for a green card while on another type of visa.

But the answer is yes, you can apply for a green card no matter what status you’re in.

So regardless of your non-immigrant status, whether you’re in F1, whether you’re in H1B, whether you’re in TN, J1 or O1A you’re allowed to apply for the green card no matter where you are.

Now that doesn’t mean that you should apply for your green card right this minute.

You might want to wait until you’re in a different classification or wait for your credentials to grow stronger.

Also, H1B is the only category that’s known as a dual intent Visa category.

That means that applying for the 485 green card application does not prevent you from holding H1B status.

So H1B is the best classification to apply for a green card out of, but you can apply for it out of anything.

There are really two parts to dealing with STEM PhDs’ green card applications, there’s your credentials and there’s the strategy of maintaining your underlying non-immigrant status.

You can’t neglect one or the other because they’re both equally important in the decision in terms of how you go about filing for a green card.

So it’s important to get expert help on deciding when and how to apply for your green card.

4. How long do you expect it to take for non-Indians and non-Chinese to get a green card on NIW?

If you’re in H1B status and have enough qualifications, it is suggested that you file the I45 and the I140 together.

The average processing time for the I140 is 5-9 months.

So if you’re in H1B status and you’re filing both forms together it will take approximately 5-9 months for your I140 petition to be approved.

Once your I140 is approved, your green card interview will be scheduled probably within a month or two after because you filed the I45 and I140 together.

If you’re filing out of F1 status or J1 or O1, it’s better to just file the I140 first and then wait to file the I45.

This changes the timeline.

When filing separately, you’re looking at the 5-9 month window for the I140 and after that, you have to file the I45 and it could be anywhere from another 7-10 months to get the green card.

So you’re going to save time if you file them together, but sometimes you have to be risk-free and file them separately.

5. What is the F1 OPT period?

After you graduate from your PhD in the United States, you’re allowed open market work authorization, this is the OPT.

There are certain windows within which you can apply for that and you need to work with your school official.

You cannot miss that window.

You can’t apply too early and you can’t apply too late or they’re not gonna approve it.

So you want to work with your school official to make sure you apply for that open market work authorization EAD at the appropriate time.

Once you get the EAD, you can work anywhere you want that’s related to your PhD program.

You can work in an industry job or an academia job that is related to your PhD program.

You get an initial 12 months of work authorization on the F1 OPT and then you’re allowed a 24 month STEM extension.

However, in order to get that STEM extension, your employer has to be an E-verified employer, meaning they do their I9 forms electronically with the government.

Most companies are E-verified employers, but it’s important to find out so you can know that you will be able to keep working for that company during your 24 month extension.

As an international STEM PhD you can get hired in the US. You can get a green card. But you need to educate yourself, take the time to understand the visa process and get help when you need it. Some of the common questions that many PhDs have are what is the most common way for foreign nationals to apply for a US green card based on employment, what can PhDs do to avoid the Permanent Labor Process, can PhDs who are legally present in the US, apply for a green card from within the US regardless of their status, how long do you expect it to take for non-Indians and non-Chinese to get a green card on NIW and what is the F1 OPT period? Knowing the answer to these, and many other immigration questions is key to getting hired in the US as an international PhD.

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Karthik Pandalaneni, Ph.D.

Karthik Pandalaneni, Ph.D.

Karthik Pandalaneni, Ph.D. is a Global Food Scientist in Dairy Applications. He is an innovative and self-motivated scientist with 2 years of industrial experience along with 4 years of research and management experience gained in the food industry. He has worked across three countries and delivered cross-functional projects and improved efficiency.
Karthik Pandalaneni, Ph.D.