H1B Alternatives

In 2008, Homeland Security launched the STEM OPT extension. In the same year, the H1B lottery was introduced. Now, immigrant tech professionals could work for 3 years after graduation, but securing an H1B visa afterwards was based on a lottery system with terrible odds. In fiscal year 2023, the USCIS received nearly 500,000 registrations of which less than 1 in 4 were selected in the H1B lottery.

What happens if you are not selected in the H1B lottery? Many employers believe they have no choice but to lose that employee. While the options are limited, it is important to evaluate all of them before parting ways with your employer. Remember, your manager doesn’t want to lose a valuable employee either, but they are not immigration experts. If you bring them options to consider, they will work with you.

Below you will find a comprehensive list of H1B visa alternatives to consider when your STEM OPT is expiring and the H1B lottery may not pan out. It’s never too early to plan for this scenario.

H1B Alternatives

Keep U.S. job and work remotely from Canada

What if you could keep your U.S. job and work remotely from Canada? Same salary, same job, same time zone…and a path to Canadian PR in less than 2 years.

L1 Visas

If your employer has other offices outside of the U.S., they could send you to work at that location for 1 year and bring you back on an L1A visa.

EB1 Visas

EB1 is the employment-based visa designed for ‘priority workers’ belonging to specific occupations and professions.

O1 Visas

O1 visas are reserved for those with extraordinary abilities, but you would be surprised how many folks in the STEM fields can meet the requirements with pre-planning.

Cap Exempt Jobs

Certain institutions are exempt from the H1B visa cap and can sponsor as many H1B visas as they need. This includes higher education institutions, nonprofit or government research organizations.

Day 1 CPT

Day 1 CPT allows some Master’s and PhD students to start CPT immediately. In other words, they are allowed to work immediately. Not all educational institutions offer this.

L1 Visa Overview

The L1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa which allows foreign companies to temporarily transfer their employees from a location abroad to an office in the U.S. For large employers, it’s the go-to option for employees that do not get selected in the H1B lottery. However, the employee does have to spend at least one year in the office abroad before coming back to the U.S. on an L1 visa.

Typically, an L1 visa is awarded for 3 years. Like the H1B visa, the L1 visa is a dual intent visa, which means you can apply for a green card while in L1 status. There are two types of L1 visas – the L1A and L1B. The L1A visa is reserved for managers or executive level employees whereas the L1B is for employees with specialized knowledge.

If the green card is your ultimate goal and you are born in a country that currently has a lengthy backlog (e.g. India/China), you want to enter the U.S. on an L1A visa over an L1B visa. It gets you in a shorter line to the green card.

EB-1 Visa Overview

The EB-1 Visa is an employment based visa for foreign nationals that is split into 3 different categories:

  • EB1-A visa for extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, business, education or athletics
  • EB1-B visa for outstanding professors and researchers
  • EB1-C visa for multinational managers or executives

For those looking for H-1B alternatives, focus on learning more about the EB1-A visa. While the bar for qualifying for this visa is very high, it isn’t only for Nobel prize winners or Ph.D’s. Immigration attorneys have shared that they have received approvals for Engineering Heads, Product Managers and more.

Two of the biggest benefits of this visa are:

  • You can self-petition, meaning you don’t know need an employer to sponsor your application
  • If you are from a country with decades long backlogs in the EB2/EB3 category like China and India, the wait times for a green card are shorter via EB1-A.

O-1 Visa Overview

The O-1 visa is also an employment based visa for foreign nationals with extraordinary abilities, but it works differently than an EB-1 visa. Key differences:

  • The O-1 visa allows temporary employment and needs to be renewed
  • You cannot apply for a green card through the O-1 visa, whereas the EB-1 visa leads to permanent residence
  • You can self-petition for an EB-1 visa, but an employer must sponsor an O-1 visa petition

If you are looking into backup plans should the H-1B lottery not work out, the O-1 visa should be on your list. It may be a long shot, but talk to an immigration attorney before ruling it out as an option. Make sure to speak to one that specializes in these types of visas and have them evaluate your experience for an EB-1 or O-1 visa. If you do not meet the criteria, be sure to ask if there are any gaps you can fill in the next year or two to meet the criteria.

Cap Exempt H1B Jobs

As you all know, there is a cap on the number of H1B visas available every year. The good news is there are exemptions to this cap, allowing certain employers to petition for H-1B visas for qualifying foreign nationals without being subject to the cap lottery.

Who qualifies for a cap-exempt H-1B visa?

Generally, employers who are institutions of higher education, non-profit research organizations, or certain government research institutions can file H-1B petitions for qualifying foreign workers without being restricted by the annual cap.

Where does one find a cap-exempt job?

Finding a cap-exempt job that matches your skillset is not easy. There are sites like HigherEdJobs which list job postings from higher education institutions. You can also look direclty on career pages of nonprofit research organizations.