"Your H-1B visa petition has been denied." This response invokes frustration for the hordes of employers seeking to hire foreign nationals in the U.S., and yet this visa remains extremely popular as it offers eligible non-immigrants temporary employment (for up to 6 years) via sponsorship. In 2008, the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) introduced a lottery to select the 65,000 annual visa slots.
Fast-forward five years and the H-1B visa applicant pool remains enormous. The application process for the 2014 fiscal year commenced on April 1, 2013 and ended just four days later, as over 124,000 applications were received. 20,000 additional H-1B visas are allotted to non-immigrants who have attained a degree (at the master's level or higher) from a U.S. higher education institution. However, the remaining applications from this pool are then added to the random selection for the 65,000 general slots. Further, no visa caps exist for those employed (or seeking employment) by higher education institutions, government research centers, and non-profit organizations.
Nevertheless, these numbers don't illustrate the full spectrum of H-1B denied options available. The list below highlights various employment pathways beyond the H-1B visa for international students and foreign nationals, respectively.
For soon-to-be graduating international students attending U.S. higher education institutions with F-1 visa status:
Optional Practical Training (OPT) offers students (from the bachelor's level and above) a way to work in one's field of study for a period of 12 months. Unlike the H-1B visa, a job offer is not required prior to application and an application can be filed before or after the completion of one's studies (i.e., within a specific timeframe, which should be individually examined).
The Cap-Gap Extension provides eligible graduates — who by and large complete their studies after the April 1st H-1B application deadline — with a period whereby one's F-1 visa status remains valid until September 30. The Cap-Gap Extension allows such applicants the opportunity to stay in the U.S. if their H1-B petition is pending approval.
The OPT Extension is available to existing OPT recipients from certain STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields, whereby an additional, once-in-a-lifetime 17-month extension can be added to one's OPT employment status.
For foreign nationals with education and/or work qualifications attained abroad:
The O-1 visa offers employment to individuals with previously recognized and extraordinary achievement in specific fields, including the arts and athletics. This visa is only open to applicants who seek to continue work in their field.
The H-3 visa offers invited trainees (i.e., interns) to receive training in a discipline that is unavailable in one's native country. It is also available to exchange visitors seeking practical training and experience in the special education field.
The administrative hurdles are undoubtedly challenging for foreign nationals seeking gainful employment in the U.S., but a plethora of H-1B denied options, nonetheless, exist outside this short list and can all be obtained on the USCIS website.