Thursday, May 21, 2015

OPT: What You Need to Know


By Xiao Lu
World Education Services 

Compared to other study abroad destinations, the United States gains an edge by offering international students Optional Practical Training (OPT) opportunities. OPT is a 12-to-29 month period, during which F-1 visa students are permitted to work in their major fields after graduating from a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral program. It’s a great opportunity for students who want to gain work experience the U.S. If you’re an international student who has recently arrived in the U.S, or a current student who wants to work here after graduation, read this blog! We’ll discuss your likelihood of obtaining an OPT visa after graduation, and the places across the U.S. that offer the most opportunities to work under OPT.

1/3 of International Students Apply for OPT After Graduation

Unlike the H-1B working visa, there’s no limit on how many international students can get an OPT visa. After graduation, would you prefer to go straight home or extend your stay in the U.S. with an OPT visa? That’s entirely up to you. The Brookings Institution says approximately one out of every three international students chose to use OPT from year 2008-2012. Even if you don’t have an internship or job offer yet, you can still apply for OPT for after graduation. Just know that your OPT must be approved before you can start work. And make sure you’re not unemployed under OPT for more than three months – otherwise your OPT could be cancelled.

If you are interested in pursuing a life and career in the U.S., OPT serves as a great bridge. When you’re approved for OPT, you receive an Employment Authorization Document, or EAD card, which enables you to apply for a Social Security Number (SSN). Without an SSN, you can’t get paid! With an SSN, you can also apply for a credit card. Furthermore, employees on OPT have a lower tax rate than those on an H-1B. Folks with OPT pay only federal and state taxes; people on H-1B pay federal and state taxes, as well as FICA (Social Security and Medicare) taxes. Don’t worry about what FICA stands for, it’s boring.

45% of International Students on OPT Stay in Their School’s Metro Area

Metro size and industry clusters are the two main factors that determine your chances of getting hired on OPT. So when choosing a school and a major, it helps to know which geographic locations and which occupational fields best facilitate employment. According to Brookings, 45 percent of international students on OPT work in the same metro area where their school was located. If you go to school in the New York metro area, you’ve got a great chance of finding employment on OPT in that area; 75 percent of OPT graduates in and around NYC find jobs locally. Honolulu, Hawaii (75%); Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, Washington (74%); Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, Florida (70%); and Las Vegas-Paradise, Nevada (67%) round out the five metro areas with the highest percentage of employed OPT graduates working locally. Now, if you don’t go to school in one of those places, that’s fine! You’re just more likely to have to move to find employment on OPT. And that’s OK, too; job-hunting and interviewing out-of-town (and moving) can be stressful, but they can also be an adventure.



Implications for International Students


1) OPT is a great opportunity to gain work experience in the U.S., whether you eventually want to go back to your home country or remain in the states. Either way, your American work experience will be of great value to future employers.

2) If you’re looking for a local job opportunity, start networking with alumni and professors. They’re usually friendly to students.

3) Find a city where you can leverage your international status as an advantage. For example, Las Vegas has a large demand for multilingual workers since it’s a travel-oriented city. If you didn’t go to school in a major city like the ones listed above, and you’re having trouble finding work locally, these are the places to look.

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