Set your children up for success in the US with an EB-5 visa

How the EB-5 Program has become the most popular way for F-1 students to live and work in the US without restrictions

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Published: Wed 15 May 2024, 10:01 AM

The US is steeped in history and opportunity, making it one of the most attractive destinations for international students seeking the highest level of education, and a pathway to lucrative and diverse career opportunities. Among the various visa options available, the F-1 student visa – and subsequent transition to H1-B Employment Visa remains a popular choice (despite its limitations) for students aiming to pursue their academic and professional aspirations in the US. In recent years, the EB-5 Visa has emerged as an increasingly popular alternative option, due to its straightforward path to permanent residency, flexibility and family inclusions.

Understanding the F-1 Visa

The F-1 visa is a non-immigrant student visa that allows foreign nationals to enter the US for the sole purpose of pursuing a full-time academic program at an accredited school or college. This visa is currently the most popular way for foreign students to enter the US for higher studies. As the US is the most coveted option for post-secondary education for students from the UAE, thousands of individuals apply for an F-1 visa each year from the region.

One facet of the F-1 visa is that it gives students the opportunity to engage in Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT allows students to gain practical work experience related to their field of study for up to 12 months after completing their academic program. For Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) students, this period can be extended by 24 months. However, STEM status is not automatically granted, and requires students to apply through their designated school official (DSO). It is crucial to bear in mind that STEM status is temporary, and comes with limitations on the duration of part-time enrolment.

The OPT is often seen as an advantage for students as it means they can seamlessly begin work in the US after completing their degree without having to worry about securing a separate visa under employer sponsorship. Since the employer does not need to do sponsorship paperwork (as they would on an H1-B or L-1 visa), students may find it easy to find a position on OPT status. However, the OPT has an expiry date, making it a short-term solution to the longer term issue that is needing a valid working visa to remain in the US indefinitely. Employers may also struggle to keep someone employed once their OPT expires for this same reason.

F-1 Visa Restrictions

While the F-1 visa does open doors to educational opportunities, restrictions accompany this visa. Firstly, F-1 Visa holders must maintain full-time enrolment status throughout their academic program (with very little flexibility) in order to ensure compliance with the student visa regulations. Working off-campus without proper authorisation (which is difficult to obtain) is strictly prohibited, though limited on-campus employment is sometimes allowed.

Additionally, F-1 Visa holders face restrictions on the duration of their stay in the US, as they are typically granted only until the completion of their academic program, with the short-term OPT being the only available route to remaining in the US post-graduation. Travelling outside the US may also require obtaining a valid travel signature from the designated school official. Students on the F-1 Visa must comply with these restrictions at all times to maintain legal status in the US. These restrictions often stop foreign students from obtaining crucial work experience during their education, making it difficult to keep up with the CVs of their US peers. Oftentimes, internships (both during the school year or in the summers) at large companies are not possible due to employment restrictions on the F-1 visa, which can be extremely detrimental to the student considering that these internships form an important aspect of education in the US. This type of work experience is an important CV builder that strengthens students’ position when looking for a job post-graduation.

Are H1-B Employment Visas a Viable Option?

The H-1B visa allows immigrants to work in highly skilled job positions. It is the visa that the vast majority of international graduates apply for in order to remain in the US post-OPT. To obtain an H-1B visa, students must overcome two major difficulties: the first is finding an employer willing to invest the capital and resources required to sponsor them, and the second is being lucky enough to be selected via the H-1B lottery system.

The nature of the H-1B visa lottery dictates that even in the event that a student is fortunate enough to find an employer who is ready to sponsor them, they still face an uncertain route to obtaining a visa. Due to the extremely high demand of H-1B visas, the category has become oversaturated; therefore to ensure fair selection, H-1B visas are now allocated through a lottery system. Companies must first submit an application to sponsor foreign workers or newly graduated international students, at which point they will enter the application pool by April 1st of each year. However, the annual H-1B quota of 85,000 is often filled immediately, while hundreds of thousands of applicants wait in the pool.

One of the key difficulties with this process is that selection is completely random and not based on merit; the talent and skills of the applicant are not taken into consideration during the selection process, nor is the size of the company committed to sponsoring the applicant, or the salary offered. The draw is based on pure luck. To illustrate the slim probability of being selected for an H-1B visa, during the 2024 pre-registration period, USCIS received more than 780,000 H-1B pre-registrations for the 85,000 quota.

In the scenario that a student is fortunate enough to find an employer who will sponsor them and is also selected in the H1-B lottery, it is important to be mindful that, like the F-1 student visa, even this category comes with its own set of limitations. Due to the visa being explicitly tied to an employer, if one were to lose their job, they have just 60 days to find another position, after which they must leave the US, irrespective of the amount of time the H-1B holder has spent in the US working for their employer. Due to economic factors, the tech industry has proven volatile and faced mass layoffs in the US over the past two years, meaning many foreign workers under H-1B visas have been forced to leave the country that they’ve called home for many years. This vulnerability is a huge drawback of the H-1B Visa.

Many H1-B holders also find it difficult to achieve true career growth while on this visa, as vertical growth often means that the individual has to apply for a new visa with every new job title. Finally, the backlog for some nationalities to move from H1-B to green card has become increasingly long, sometimes stretching to 20+ years. With no light at the end of the tunnel, these issues illuminate the uncertainty that can come from living and working under a H1-B visa.

Why is the EB-5 Investor Program a Secure Option?

Since 2022, the EB-5 Program has become increasingly popular amongst F-1 international students and H-1B holders alike. Many parents are looking at the EB-5 Program as an avenue that will ensure that their children can rightfully live and work in the US without the restrictions/uncertainty that surrounds other Visa Programs, and as a way to be competitive with their US peers.

Under the EB-5 Program, applicants have the opportunity to invest a refundable amount of USD $800,000 into an EB-5 approved project, and in return gain residency (and eventually a Green Card) in the US. This program offers a straightforward and certain path to the US Green Card when compared to other options.

The EB-5 application can include the investor, the investor’s spouse, and any children they have under the age of 21. In the event that a child is over 21 years old (or if a parent is only considering the program for the benefit of their child who is a US student), the child can be made a primary applicant, having the funds for the investment gifted to them from a parent. This strategy is being used by many families across the GCC who already have a child studying in the US on an F-1 visa, or on a post-graduation OPT.

More and more families are applying for an EB-5 Visa once their child has graduated from a US university and failed to secure an H1-B visa, however this option becomes less and less viable each year, as allotted slots remain stagnant while application numbers continue to increase exponentially.

Should I wait to Graduate from University Before Investing in an EB-5 Green Card?

It can be tempting to wait until a student graduates from university to find out if they want to stay in the US, or if they are lucky enough to be drawn through the H1-B lottery (a more affordable option), at which point they will have a clearer indication on whether they will have enhanced employment opportunities. However, statistics show that the majority of international students wish to remain in the US after completing four years or more of study.

Many students find that after four years of studying and networking in the US, they have a vast array of career building opportunities in front of them post-graduation, with only visa status standing in their way. It is of great benefit to international students and their families to learn how the US immigration system works before the child starts their studies in the US, or graduates from a US program. Having this knowledge ahead of time allows them to make more informed decisions about their future.

With this knowledge, students and their families can map a realistic career path more easily and accurately. The EB-5 Program allows families to unlock more benefits than any other, and the earlier they choose to start the application process (usually before the child goes to the US for their studies) the higher the chances of the student having a smooth transition to their career in the US. In addition, application for a green card well in advance will ensure it doesn’t impact the student’s career in any way, even if there are unforeseen delays in the process.

Options for International Students

The landscape of student visas in the US is vast and dynamic, offering international students diverse opportunities to pursue both their academic and professional goals. Despite their limitations, the F-1 visa, and its subsequent transition to H1-B, remain popular choices. However, the EB-5 Visa continues to show growth in popularity due to the relatively low investment sum (a refundable investment of $800,000 in parts) and clear path to approval, citizenship and the right to legally work in the US for the applicant’s entire family.

Begin your Journey towards International Studies

Step Global is a Dubai based leading immigration advisory firm in the MENA region, with over 13 years of experience in the EB-5 industry. They are the single point of contact between all parties involved to ensure the most optimal chance of approval for your application for migration. Because of this, they hold one of the highest track records of approvals in the region. Due to the vast experience and expertise of Step Global’s award winning legal team, they have helped countless students achieve their goal of overseas study and work in the US.

At the centre of Step Global’s policies sits the understanding that by handling their clients’ applications, they have a responsibility to not only their future, but the future of their family too. The experienced immigration team will always provide exceptional standards of service and trustworthy advice, whether you are seeking educational opportunities for your children, a better quality of life, global access, more security and stability, access to better healthcare or simply enjoying endless freedom. Step Global looks forward to assisting you and your family achieve the American dream.

Preeya Malik, Managing Director, Step Global.
Preeya Malik, Managing Director, Step Global.

Attend Step Global’s Free Seminar

Step Global invites anyone interested in knowing why the EB-5 Program remains a popular choice for students who are aiming to pursue their academic and post-graduate professional aspirations in the US.

Join us for a free seminar on Sunday, May 19 at The Ritz Carlton, DIFC, Dubai. Preeya Malik (Managing Director, Step Global), an award winning immigration lawyer, will be there in person to present the program, share her insights with attendees and answer all questions.

To book your info session scan the QR code on the advert or call 04 770 7825.


Slots will fill up quickly, so please don’t hesitate to secure your seat today.

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