07 Feb How to Apply for OPT (Optional Practical Training)?
Most often students studying in the USA on an F-1 visa are unclear whether they can work during or after their studies. Or, the work options they can avail of after getting work permission. But very few know that to get work permits in the States, an F-1 student has to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT).
What is OPT for international students?Optional Practical Training or OPT, in short, is the work permit for temporary employment in the United States. Once an F-1 postgraduate or undergraduate student completes 9 months of study in their respective degree, USCIS (the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service) makes them eligible for OPT. It is industrial or practical training that international students generally opt for to complete their degree.
So, through an OPT, an international student can work in an organization even if they are a non-resident of the US. Through OPT, you get the allowance of working anywhere in the US without chasing other kinds of work permits or visas. The F-1 students get employment options that are directly related to their field of study. However, optional practical training is only available to international students in the US with an F-1 visa.
To learn more about the universities offering scholarship programs in the USA, read this blog: 125 Universities That Offer Scholarships to International Students in the USA
Types of Optional Practical Training:International F-1 students are eligible to apply for OPT in two ways:
- Pre-completion OPT: You need pre-completion OPT to find work while you are studying. However, the work allowance comes with its own limitations.
Candidates are eligible for pre-completion OPT only when they are enrolled full-time in a college or university, certified by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).
You can only work part-time (20 hours or less per week) when your school or university will be in session. You may work full-time (up to 40 hours a week) during break or when your school will not be in session, e.g., during summer breaks. Full-time work is also permitted when you will have completed all your coursework in school. A maximum period of 12 months is allotted for F-1 students applying for pre-completion OPT.
- Post-completion OPT: As is suggestive of the name, you can apply for post-completion OPT after completing your degree. Through post-completion OPT, you can get consent either part-time or full-time.
However, there is a catch. If you happened to have worked under post-completion OPT, USCIS will subtract the time you worked from your post-completion permit time.
For instance, if you worked for 10 months during pre-completion OPT, you would then be allowed only up to 2 months for post-completion OPT.
STEM OPT Extension
If you happen to have pursued a course in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields, you are eligible to get a 24-month extension of post-completion OPT employment opportunity provided you meet a few criteria.
1. You happen to be an F-1 student who studied a STEM degree enlisted on the STEM Designated Degree Program List.
2. Got an initial grant of post-completion OPT employment opportunity based on the STEM degree you pursued, and
3. Your employer is enrolled in and uses E-verify.
Refer to OPT Extension for STEM Students for more information.
How to apply for OPT for international students?
The eligibility criterion is quite flexible – you need not have an existing job offer to apply for OPT.
OPT enrollment window starts right after you get enrolled in a qualifying institution for nine months. However, as stated earlier, you can only get employment opportunities after you get enrolled for one year of coursework.
STEP 1Your Institute’s DSO (Designated School Official) can make a recommendation for your OPT in your SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) record.
You can achieve this by –
a. Endorsing your Certification of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status (Form I-20), and
b. Including the required notations in your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.
STEP 2Request for an Application for Employment Authorisation (Form I-765) from the USCIS along with paying the required fee and attaching the supporting documents mentioned on the form.
Based on the category you fall in, you may be required to submit the following supporting documents:
- Information of your degree
- Proof of income
- F-1 status certificate
- Identity proof
Furthermore, your eligibility category determines the address or location where you can file for OPT.
However, ensure that you have duly filled in all the required fields. Otherwise, you may run the risk of losing the employment authorization altogether.
After you’ve filed your documents and paid the fee, wait for your EAD (Employment Authorization Document) to come through. It is better that you start work after you receive the permit. Otherwise, you will then be working without legal consent and may run the risk of facing grave consequences.
What are the OPT requirements for international students?
You can apply only when you fulfill the following criteria-
i. The employment opportunity you seek should be directly in line with the subject of your study.
ii. Your F-1 status should be legal at all times; and
iii. Your OPT application will not be processed if you engage in CPT or Curricular Practical Training for 1 year or more.
To know more about Day 1 CPT, read more here: What is Day 1 CPT?
What is the OPT period for international students?
The average time to successfully process your application can be up to 90 days. So, it is always safe to apply way ahead of the date you wish to start working. You will thus be prepared for any hiccups in the application process and eliminate the scope of time conflicts.
When is the right time to apply?
The right time for applying depends on the degree you are pursuing. To state it broadly-
If you are applying on the basis of a non-STEM degree, then:
- You can apply after your institute’s DSO has recommended the OPT in your SEVIS record.
- It is best to apply after 9 months of school, provided that you don’t start working before completing a full academic year.
- The best time to apply for post-completion training is up to 3 months before or within 2 months of completing your coursework.
- You could also apply within 1 month of your school’s DSO recommending it in your SEVIS record.
What can I do when my OPT ends?
After it ends, you can explore quite a few options about what you can do next, especially if you don’t have H1B approval yet. Many students opt to stay in the US to explore more work opportunities. Thankfully there are some options for such students to prolong their stay.
What are options I can explore after my permit ends?
After the OPT period expires, every student is given 60 additional days of permit to stay in the US. You can apply for any one of the following six options to increase your stay period:
- Extend your permit
- Apply in a Day 1 CPR University
- Get a Work Visa with the exemption of H1B
- Start your enterprise
- Study for a Ph.D. ( without applying for a second master’s degree); and
- Get married
However, these factors change from time to time and depend on your situation. So, it is up to you to pick the more reasonable option and make your journey from OPT to a green card.
If you fail to pursue any one of these six options, then you will have to leave the USA after the permitted grace period of 60 days.