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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?

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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"

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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.

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

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