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How to move to the USA and make your dream come true – the story of Anna Kharlamova

Anna is an ordinary girl from a provincial town in Russia. She does not have the ability to invest in a business or apply for an O-1 gifted visa, does not work for an international company and therefore cannot be transferred to a US office. She is in love with a guy from Serbia and does not think about marrying an American. In general, she is the most ordinary person who nevertheless made her dream come true, and now lives and works in the USA.

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FLEX program

Currently, the FLEX (Future Leaders Exchange) program is closed in Russia, but my story began with it. Participation in the program allowed high school students from Europe and Eurasia to receive a scholarship for an academic year in the United States, live with a host family, and attend an American high school. After three rounds of the competition, I, like 237 other Russian schoolchildren, left for the USA for the 2013-2014 academic year.

FLEX students could not choose their host family or even the state they were going to. Out of several applicants, I was chosen as the host daughter for a retired couple from Texarkana, Texas.

Texarkana is a mid-sized town on the Texas-Arkansas border. There wasn’t much to do in Tk (as the locals call Texarkana), so it was all about the two largest high schools, Texas High and Arkansas High, and local businesses and restaurants. Because my host family lived in the Texas area, I attended T-high. It was also the only school that had a swim team. I was a swimmer for many years and constant training was a necessity throughout the year. I’ve always easily adapted to new surroundings, and it didn’t take me long to figure out how everything worked. During the year in Tk I took several “chill” and “figure out what you like” classes:

  • went to the Homecoming (boys invite girls in the fall), Sadie Hawkins (girls invite boys in the spring) and end of year prom dances;
  • visited several cities (New Orleans was one of my favorites);
  • tried food from all over the world;
  • won the regional swimming championship.

    More importantly, in one year I learned about the country, culture and people around me, and also told others about the real Russia.

After returning home, I decided to try to go to college in the USA . A year later, I was accepted into a four-year course at an American university on a full scholarship.

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In May 2019, I graduated from the University of Little Rock with a double major in Marketing and Business Analytics and also received a Sales Certificate.

Before I tell you how my lifestyle changed from student to worker, let me clarify one more important immigration issue.

Types of visas with work permits

  1. J-1 visa or exchange student visa

Visa type: non-immigrant

Duration: The duration depends on the duration of the program.

Issued upon confirmation of enrollment in the exchange student program. This visa is issued for any period of time. Some are for 3 weeks, some are for the whole academic year, as is the case with the Flex or Fulbright programs.

2. F-1 visa or student visa

Visa type: non-immigrant

Length: Must be officially issued for # years of university study (2 or 4).

Issued upon confirmation of enrollment at the university. An official visa must be issued for the duration of the study described in the I-20 (a document confirming the study of an international student at a US university). Anna was always given this visa for only 1 year and had to renew it annually. Students who are citizens of other countries, such as Spain, Italy, South Africa and many others, are generally issued this visa for 4 years at once.

3. CPT or Curricular Practical Training

Visa: the same F-1 that the student already has

Visa type: non-immigrant

Length: up to 12 months while studying at a US university

CPT is a work permit that allows F-1 visa students to work off-campus in paid or unpaid occupations as long as the type of work matches the academic focus.

“Curricular Practical Training is specific work authorization to give F-1 international students permission to work off campus in paid or unpaid positions when the work meets an academic requirement.”

I will add that international students are allowed to work on campus up to 20 hours a week at any time during their studies, and this is even in paid specialties. During my 4 years at the University of Little Rock, I worked on campus. Over the years, I changed 3-4 different specialties: working in Testing Services (testing office), leader of the student assistance program, and even as a Resident Assistant (assistant in the dormitory). All specialties were paid, and helped cover expenses while studying. In addition, you do not need to obtain any work permits.

Let’s return to CPT. I received CPT when, after my 3rd year in the summer of 2018, I worked as an intern at a company outside the university. My internship lasted only 2 months: work 40 hours a week with excellent pay. The experience I gained helped improve my resume.

SRT also does not have to be done in one sitting. In my second year, in the spring of 2019, I completed another internship (20 hours of work per week) at a logistics company. And after graduating from university in the spring of 2019, I decided to go full-time in the same company. But since I had already graduated from university, I had to change my status.

4.OPT or Optional Practical Training

Visa: the same F-1 that the student received at the university

Visa type: non-immigrant

Duration: 1 year, but for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) specialties it is allowed to apply for an extension of OPT for another 24 months, that is, the full period is 36 months.

“Optional Practical Training (OPT) is work authorization for F-1 students to gain knowledge in their field of study and use the skills that they have obtained through their studies at the university. OPT can be either pre-completion or post-completion, but most commonly occurs after graduation. Approval of OPT results in an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) giving students permission to work in their field of study during the allotted time of OPT.”

As with SRT, so with ORT, the student visa does not change! Your status in the United States changes. You are also in the country as a student.

A very important point is the type of stay. All of the visas listed above are non-immigrant. You are not immigrating to the country when you come on these types of visas, you are staying in the country on the basis of permission, and only for the allowed period of time.

The work permits listed above, CPT and ORT, can only be obtained during/upon completion of your studies in the United States.

My major in business analytics was a STEM major. After the end of the initial year at ORT, I submitted documents to renew my work permit. Received permission for 24 months, until July 2022.

During the pandemic, I switched to a new specialty in a new industry, and currently work as a Business Intelligence Analyst .

A new specialty means more paperwork, because in the USA, with any change of employers, you have to update international documents, in my case, ORT.

Once a student receives ORT, it is advisable to look for an employer who is willing to sponsor the employee.

When ORT expires, if you don’t change your status, you have to return home.

Possible options for extending your stay in the USA

1. Marriage to an American citizen

Most people find this option the most effective. After marriage, you can apply for a Green Card. The “marriage confirmation” process takes 8-12 months. In quotes, because this is not just a confirmation of the union, but a check for the presence of pure and true meanings of the fictitiousness of marriage.

This process is considered immigration . That is, it is considered that you have immigrated to the United States.

You can apply for a Green Card through marriage at any time you are present in the United States. When you are outside the United States, the procedure becomes more complicated.

2. H1B visa or work visa

Visa type: non-immigrant

Duration: usually 3 years, after which it must be extended for another 3 years.

Applying for H1B is again a complicated process that the US government makes more difficult every year.

Partial list of “conditions” for applying for an H1B visa:

  • the employer must sponsor you, that is, he must pay for the entire expensive process, not you. ~$5,000 for documents and legal services;
  • Often a company is only allowed to sponsor once a year during a certain period (March-April);
  • You can only apply for a visa through a lottery. Even if you have an employer willing to sponsor you, obtaining a work visa is not guaranteed. For example, if you have a bachelor’s degree, the chances of getting a work visa are about 22%;
  • Every year the minimum salary at which you are eligible to participate in the lottery increases.

Obtaining a work visa is a very difficult, expensive and lengthy process. Not everyone can do this. But there is a chance of getting a work visa.

3. Study again

Remain at F-1, but either move to a “new level” of education (master’s, doctoral) or receive another bachelor’s degree. The visa will still have to be renewed because the I-20 document changes.

While I’m trying to get a work permit, my employer is trying to sponsor me. If I am not selected through the work visa lottery, then I will enroll in a master’s program after the summer of 2022.

There are many options for extending your stay in the USA, as well as initial entry into the country, so you don’t have to go through them alone by signing up for a consultation on entering the USA . Repafi specialists will answer all questions and help strengthen your case so that the admissions committee will definitely include you in the list of students. 

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