I am an international student on an F-1 visa in the United States and planning to pursue a PhD in mathematics. I've been looking into career options after graduation, and lots of people from my current undergraduate program who have gone on to complete PhD's (especially in pure math) have become professors at liberal arts colleges after graduation, with fewer of them doing postdocs or becoming R1/R2 university professors.

Considering my visa situation, would it be possible to become a professor in the future at a liberal arts college? Do they sponsor H1B visas or is this very uncommon? Could you work as a professor at a liberal arts college on an OPT or extended OPT?

  • Googling "h1b professor" strongly suggests that many universities use H1Bs for new professors. I have no idea on the limits of the OPT programs.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented May 12, 2021 at 21:01
  • 1
    A relevant answer: academia.stackexchange.com/a/58195/17254
    – Anyon
    Commented May 12, 2021 at 21:16

3 Answers 3


H1B visas in the United States are intended for specialty workers and are appropriate for individuals with PhDs using those skills to teach students. H1B visas are awarded through a lottery system. Fortunately, non-profit organizations, including universities, are exempt from this lottery and can obtain H1B visas much easier. This visa is the most typical visa for someone in your situation. Reputable US institutions interested in hiring you should be willing to and have the infrastructure to apply for an H1B on your behalf. H1B visas are valid for 3 years and may be extended for an additional 3 years for a total of 6 years.

Optional practical training (OPT) following an F1 visa is required to be directly related to the student's area of study. Teaching in the field of your PhD would fulfill this requirement. As an individual in a STEM field, you would be eligible for a STEM OPT extension for up to a total of 24 months. A benefit of this approach is that the application cost is lower ($410 versus up to $4500 at the time of this answer not including legal fees). Your employer may file a petition on your behalf to change status from F1 OPT to H1B.

Beware of J1 visas, as they are intended for "exchange visitors". These visas typically trigger a two year home country physical presence requirement after completion of your stay before you are again able to apply for other visas including H1B and permanent residency.

Caveat: My experience is exclusively at R1 institutions, and thus may not be fully applicable to "liberal arts colleges"


The main current answer is spot on regarding visa types, but explicitly says that the author doesn't know the small liberal arts college (SLAC) environment. I am a math professor at a SLAC. We have hired many international faculty members over the years. The normal thing is to hire directly after finishing a PhD, and such professors usually start on their OPT. If they are on the tenure track, then we (the university has an office for this) get them an H1B visa, and eventually a green card. I know several people who went through this process, in several different departments. Normally, for a visiting assistant professor (VAP) we don't sponsor an H1B visa, probably due to the cost and due to the large number of applicants we get who do not need such a sponsorship. However, everything is negotiable, and I can easily imagine a situation (e.g., a computer science professor) getting such a sponsorship if there was a big demand for the courses they could teach, and not so many good applicants in the applicant pool.

Lastly, it is MUCH easier to get a job at a SLAC if you are already in the country. Even for a VAP job, we want an on-campus interview, to know that you can teach. It's highly unlikely to fly someone in on an international flight for that. So, I'd say it's best to apply for jobs at SLACs in your last year as a PhD student, before you leave the US. Lastly, some R1 universities have mentorship programs designed to help PhD students who want to end up at a SLAC, e.g., OSU has the Preparing Future Faculty program.

  • Hi @David do you think that asking whether the school provide Green Card Sponsorship during the "second round" interviews is a good idea? I'm also an applied math international student and going to have an 'in campus interview' for a permanent faculty position at a SLAC. They did mention that after one year of OPT they can sponsor for H1B but did not mention anything about green cards. So, I don't know whether it is appropriate to ask about it during the interview.
    – Charith
    Commented Apr 14 at 20:59
  • I would not ask about the visa or green card till you had an offer in hand Commented Apr 14 at 21:26
  • Ah I see. Thanks for the quick reply!
    – Charith
    Commented Apr 14 at 21:31

Many colleges will not sponsor visas because it is inconvenient and there is a risk the visa will not be awarded. Some colleges will sponsor visas. So yes, it is possible, but not likely.

  • If your goal is simply to get a visa, private businesses will be more help to you. Commented May 13, 2021 at 1:46

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