Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 Students : All Details

    Updated on: 11 Aug 2022

     


    Most of the international students studying in the USA want to work after they complete their graduation or are still in college to gain some practical experience. It is where the role of OPT comes into play.

    What is OPT?

    OPT means Optional Practical Training. It is temporary employment that allows international students to work in the USA and is directly related to your F-1 major area of study. This certainly helps you get practical life experience. Once your details are verified and eligibility criteria are met, you can easily obtain OPT employment authorization for up to 12 months. Also, students pursuing STEM(Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) subjects can extend this further for 24 months. Generally, students need OPT once they graduate, but you can apply for it even when you are studying!

    However, in pre-completion OPT, the duration will be deducted from the overall period.

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    Eligibility criteria for OPT

    Under the following conditions, a student is eligible for OPT:

    • In a SEVP-certified school or university, the student has completed one academic year as a full-time student.
    • English should not be their second language.
    • The student's employment must relate to the student's major area of study.
    • A student doesn't need a job letter before getting the OPT.
    • Before starting, a working student needs to get an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).

    Types of OPT

    It is mandatory that whatever OPT you are willing to apply for should be directly related to your major area of study.

    Now, let's look at the types of OPT:

    • Pre-Completion OPT: You can apply for pre-completion OPT once you get enrolled on a full-time basis for one academic year at any university, college, or seminary. Also, it's not mandatory to have an F-1 visa for that one full academic year; your non-immigrant visa can work too during that time. Once you get authorization for pre-completion OPT, you can work up to 15-20 hours or less per week while you are studying in school or at a university. You can work as a full-time employer when your school or university is off.
    • Post-completion OPT: Once you have completed your studies, you can apply for post-completion OPT. You can work up to 20 hours per week as a part-time or full-time employee under it.

    Generally, these two are the most important, but the following two can be considered:

    • 24-month (STEM) OPT Extension: Students pursuing or who have graduated from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields are eligible for this type of OPT extension for up to 24 months.
    • Cap-Gap OPT Extension: Many regulations allow some students with a pending or approved cap-subject H-1B petition to remain in F-1 status during the cap-gap period. The regulations fill the "cap-gap," which would otherwise occur if F-1 status were not extended to eligible students.

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    How to apply for OPT?

    The OPT application process is technical. While applying, it is important to keep all the deadlines in mind. Ask the international student center if you need any clarification. If you skip any steps, your chances of finding work in the United States may suffer.

    So, keep the following steps in mind:

    Timing

    Before applying for any OPT, be it pre or post-completion, you must be enrolled in school in the US for at least 9 months.

    For post-completion OPT, you can apply 90 days before your graduation and a maximum of 60 days after graduation. You can select your preferred date for your employment on the application itself.

    Also, as discussed earlier, you need to get your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS. USCIS might take some time to process your application, so you should apply for OPT as soon as possible for the smooth functioning of your job process.

    You cannot start to work before you have received your employment.

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    Application Steps

    It is advisable to consult your international student advisor while filling out the steps for the application form.

    However, below are some basic steps that might help you out:

    • I-765 Form: This is the main application form for employment authorization. Once your school approves it, this needs to be submitted to USCIS. Your school or college provides this form with starting and ending dates and other information about your personality.
    • The Filling Fee: It generally costs around $410.
    • Passport-sized photographs: Within 30 days of submitting your application, you should take at least two identical color photographs of yourself. You can check the specific size and other things in the I-765 form. The important thing to remember is to write your name and SEVIS ID number at the back of your photograph.
    • Various Document Copies:
      • You will need copies of your form I-94 arrival/departure record
      • EAD card 
      • updated I-20
      • passport ID page

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