H1B Alternatives for MBAs

Didn't win the H1B Lottery? There are alternatives there for you. We listed 8 possible approaches to explore.

H1B Visa Stamps
H1B Visa Stamps

Most of the students interested in moving to the US are interested in using the MBA as a way in to the American job market. With the process becoming harder in the last few years, more international prospective students are concerned. Ten years ago most students from top schools that wanted to remain in the country were able to get a H1B work visa to work here for up to 6 years. Today less of 1/3 students are lucky enough to get it. Lucky, because the H1B is a lottery system and not a merit based one. If you are looking for H1B alternatives for MBAs, you came to the right spot. We listed out the options and their pros and cons for you, below.

Disclaimer: This article was written by MBA graduates, not lawyers. We strongly recommend not relying only on the advice below and consulting with a lawyer and your employers before going forward. The purpose of the article is to lay out the options that past MBAs have taken.


If you majored in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) or if you obtained a US STEM undergraduate degree, you may be lucky enough to land a STEM OPT. The OPT can be used for pre-completion work (internship) or post completion full time work.

As long as you major in some area with a focus in science, technology, engineering or math. In practice, this doubles your chances to get the H1B lottery since you get up to four attempts, instead of only two.

It’s difficult to get as an international MBA

According to the USCIS previously obtained STEM degrees must be from a US accredited and a Student Exchange and Visitor (SEVP) certified programs. Degrees you will obtain in the future also count. However, very few regular MBA programs offer majors that comply with the requirements for a STEM OPT. If you are in a dual tech degree program such as MIT Sloan’s LGO or Kellogg’s MMM, you may be eligible for a STEM OPT as well.

If you can get it, you’ll save a lot of money

There’s one more major benefit. On OPT F1 status you do not need to pay Social Security tax/Medicare (FICA taxes). Unless, you are in the US for more than 5 years. This is because you are still considered a student.

For an average MBA salary, this can save more than $500 net a month, while you’re waiting to get your H1B Visa.

2. Day 1 Green Card Process

Big tech companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Google also agree to start your Green Card process very early, often from day 1. Given that the first stage of the Green Card (PERM Stage) is taking between four months to one year, you might be able to start the second stage of the process and receive a new EAD right about the same time your OPT expires.

Most big tech companies will sponsor a Green Card

Speaking with employees of big tech companies we collected a few pieces of advice.

Amazon and Google do sponsor the green card to MBAs, but you will have to be very proactive. Search their “wiki” on your first day and then talk with your boss after you’ve done your homework.

Microsoft employees are also eligible in most cases we heard. But you might want to negotiate an early start as part of your employment agreement. Among MBAs, Microsoft has a reputation of being the “fastest” to deliver a green card from the moment you apply. However, it’s really not up to the company to determine the speed in many cases.

Facebook has a 3-month rule. Employees need to work at the company for three months before Facebook will sponsor your Green Card. However, if you get along well with your manager and gain her/his agreement, you will be able to start the process immediately.

3. O-Visa

Have you published articles and studies, or received prizes? Can you provide some other form of evidence of public recognition in your field of work? If so, go for the option of going after the O-Visa route.

Similar to the H1B, this visa is also a work visa that is valid for up to 6 years. The main difference is that it is a merit-based visa and, if applying with premium processing, you can get an answer within 15 days.

If pursuing this path, look for a good lawyer. It is not only important to show that you are an individual with an extraordinary talent, but also that this talent is fundamental for the role you occupy in your current job post-MBA. You can find more information about the eligibility criteria in the USCIS website.

4. EB-1

If you are eligible for an O-Visa, it is very likely you can also apply for the EB-1 or EB-2 which are the Residence versions of the O-Visa. The criteria here is slightly more stringent than the O-Visa and the visa takes longer. With premium processing, you can hear back about your EB-1 petition also in 15 days. However, you then need to request a change of status. After doing so, you can expect a new temporary EAD card in 3 months. The actual Green Card should take 6-7 months. You can find more information about the eligibility criteria in the USCIS website.

5. First Day CPT

If none of those work for you as H1B alternatives, you might want to consider reapplying for another masters in a school that has first day CPT. You can find a handy list of schools here.

These schools will typically recruit year-round, admitting new students every three months. They typically require you take regular online classes and attend physical classes once a month. The great advantage of them is that you are eligible for a CPT work permit of 40 hours per week as soon as school starts and it can usually last for another one to two years while you are in school, giving you more chances to apply for the H1B lottery.

Besides the burden of having to study while you keep a full time job, there is a risk of decreasing your chances for an H1B or a Greencard. The government might interpret this course of action as trying gaming the system. It is highly recommend talking to a lawyer and understanding the implications if you wish to go this route.

6. J Visa

Companies can also agree to request and extension of your Practical Training and say they would like to sponsor your training program for longer than your 1 year OPT. By doing so, you can get a 18-month J Visa after the OPT expires. Similar to the first day CPT, this helps buy you some extra time to apply for the H1B lottery.

The disadvantage is that usually the J Visa requires you to go back to your home country for at least two years before you can get a new visa for the US. In some cases, you might request exemption to go back if your profession is not listed in the DOS/DOL exchange skill list in your country. In practice that is almost the same as arguing that your profession is not needed in your home country and hence, you do not need to go back. You can check the exchange skill list on this website.

7. Green Card with National Interest Waiver

You may also apply to the Green Card requesting a National Interest Waiver (NIW). This route allows you to self-petition without being sponsored by a company. With the NIW you are essentially requesting to skip the PERM stage on the basis of having a skill important for the US. This is generally considered more difficult than the O Visa or the EB-1. However it could be a great option to buy time.

It takes over 1-year for the government to reply to your NIW request. While you wait to hear back, the government issues you a new temporary EAD card that is valid until you get a reply. So if you time things correctly, you can apply and request your EAD card just about the time that your OPT expires and probably buy yourself time to apply for an additional H1B lottery or get a sponsored Green Card.

Again, there is always the chance that the government will think this is considered “gaming the system”. So we recommend talking to a lawyer before choosing this path.

8. Electronic Diversity Visa Lottery

Although you might not have been lucky enough to be selected in the H1B lottery in April, you might want to still try your chances in the October Green Card Diversity Lottery. You do not need to be in the US nor have a job to be eligible to apply. Every year the US publishes a list of countries in which it has admitted less Green Card holders than its quota.

You can read more about the visa and the eligibility criteria here.

Disclaimer: This article was not written by lawyers. We strongly encourage you to consult a lawyer before considering any of the options above. The goal of this article is to point students possible alternatives to the H1B. We recommend talking to your companies and lawyers about what each of these options entail.



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