International Students and Visas: A Workshop

  • January 21, 2022
iJOBS Blog

By Natalie Losada

During the What Can You Be with a PhD co-sponsored iJOBS event this past November, there was a very interesting workshop session unlike most others. It was called “Can I Stay, or Should I Go? A Visa Workshop” and it was not something I was familiar with as a US citizen. However, I attended and recorded a hopefully useful guide (or at least a comforting homage to the difficult process) for choosing a visa in the US.

The session facilitator was Brendan Delaney, a native of Northern Ireland and attorney at Frank & Delaney Immigration Law, LLC.  His focus is on representing foreign-born nationals and US employers with immigration matters in the US.  As someone who has never filled out a visa application, I was suddenly brought into a confusing world of specific rules and options that would lead to more questions.  But that being said, Delaney made the session welcoming and the information unintimidating.  It shows that career building events like this are not just for networking, but for learning and gaining power over the fear of the unknown.

Right from the start of the session, Delaney gave some important advice that can hold you steady through your visa experience.  Delaney said to first and foremost be flexible. The list of options is an “alphabet soup” and you might not get your first choice.  That leads to the second piece of advice: you must think about your long-, mid-, and short-term goals to determine the best visa for your plan.  There are different offers depending on your specific title and institution, so while you might want to keep your options open, it also helps to have some specific plans to weigh out your options.

Delaney’s talk circulated around learning. First, you can’t be afraid to learn by networking with colleagues and doing independent research to make a well-educated decision about your visa.  Ask questions to the people you know, not only about the visa options, but also about the different career paths you might want to pursue.  Second, you should be proactive and keep abreast of global changes.  Policies can change when new politicians are elected or in between elections, but you need to check with the international office’s resources to know when changes occur to minimize surprises.  The third tip was to always keep in contact with your visa sponsor, and be ready for changes.  You, your visa sponsor, and the employees at the international office are all on the same team, so don’t be afraid to talk to your teammates and learn more.  Delaney never ceased to preach that the international office are your friends, so take advantage of their knowledge!

The visa advice continued with a general orientation towards planning.  Planning is an important part of any career, but it’s essential in holding a visa.  Delaney explained that if your visa expires, you may be able to extend it or change your status (like changing to a visitor status) but it is important to check your situation with your visa and/or program sponsor. You should also plan for processing delays because of pandemic lay-offs, lower work force, etc. This is especially true if you leave the country to visit home.  Make sure everyone (your visa sponsor, and anyone else relevant) is on board when you travel just in case you get stuck.  Remember to hope for the best, but expect the worst.

An Intro to the Alphabet Soup of Visas






Research Scholars, “exchange visitors”


Research Associates, “specialty occupation”


Recognized extraordinary or essential to extraordinary individual

Simplified table of the meaning behind certain letters in the names of US visas.

Delaney’s slides were complete with details on multiple visa options, but here I’ll provide a quick peak into the many pieces of information.  Temporary visas include F-1, J-1, H-1B, and O-1.  As a student with an F-1 you can apply for optional practical training (OPT) extensions.  Or certain individuals there is also a STEM OPT extension, but all OPT extensions should be checked and reviewed with your university.  J-1 visas are generally administered by the institution and can be transferable within academia. It is possible that you may be subject to a 2-year home residence requirement.  H-1B can be “cap exempt” (university positions) or cap subject (private industry).  This subtle difference again show that your specific title matters.  For an O-1, a waiver is not required.  You should look carefully at the immediate features of each visa, but you should also look carefully of the limitations you might have later.  Certain visas cannot be applied for after you’ve already held a particular visa.  Make sure you know the policy of the visas very well, especially if you want to go to industry, because recently there are higher levels of scrutiny and adjudication standards for industry titles. As the above examples of visas are what I took from the talk, it is important to note that the specifics should be reviewed and discussed with a professional, including your international office (University setting) or an immigration attorney. 

As wonderful as it would be to have a simple set of steps to follow when choosing a visa, one size does not fit all.  Brendan Delaney wanted everyone to understand that your visa plan depends on your individual experience, skill set, resume, etc. Talk to your international office for assistance!  You can take advantage of applying to more than one visa type, but remember you can only hold one status, and you want to make the right decision.  Remember that communication, and research, is the key.


This article was edited by Junior Editor Gina Sanchez and Senior Editor Samantha Avina.