Monday, November 2, 2015

What is OPT? Your Questions Answered

By Jordan Friedman
World Education Services

If you’re an international student on the path to graduation in the U.S., you can remain in America for several months even after you earn your degree.

International students with F-1 visa status in the U.S. have the option to remain in the country for 12 additional months (or more, for some students) upon graduating. Two types of training opportunities exist for international students: curricular practical training (CPT) and optional practical training (OPT). Today, we’re going to focus on the latter.

What is OPT? 

OPT enables you to work in a field of study directly related to your major for up to 12 months after graduation. Though some students may choose to start working under OPT while they are enrolled in school through a “pre-completion OPT” plan, most choose to do so upon graduation in a “post-completion OPT.”

You’re permitted to apply for OPT at each education level. For instance, you can stay for 12 months in the U.S. after earning a bachelor’s degree, and then an additional 12 months if you go on to earn a master’s degree.

The number of international students pursuing OPT degrees has risen tremendously over the past decade. In 2006, the number was at about 38,000. In 2014, it was nearly 106,000. That’s a 178 percent increase.

What are the requirements for an OPT job?

Your OPT job MUST be related to your major or field of study. Students who enroll in a pre-completion OPT can work part-time (up to 20 hours a week), but those who register for a post-completion OPT may work full-time.

How and when do I apply for OPT?

The University of Washington has published application steps for OPT on its website. Here are the documents you’ll need:

  • Optional Practical Training Request Form
  • I-765 Form
  • Photocopies of all previously issued I-20s
  • Photocopy of passport ID page
  • Two passport-style photos
  • Photocopy of the front and back of your I-94 card
  • Photocopy of previously issued EAD (if applicable)
  • $380 check or money order made out to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security”
  • Completed G-1145 Form (optional)

Schools may also have some of their own requirements for applying for OPT. For example, the University of Michigan has applicants complete an OPT Online Certification Course beforehand.

It’s also essential that students apply as early as possible, and you don’t need to have a job lined up in order to apply for OPT. According to the University of Washington, students should allow for at least three months of processing by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and additional time for obtaining an academic adviser’s signature on an OPT request form, ISS processing, and mailing to USCIS. You will not be permitted to start working until this entire process is complete.

What is the OPT STEM extension?

Those students who graduate with a degree in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering or mathematics – are eligible to stay in the U.S. for an additional 17 months after completing the 12-month period.

This may change, however, as the Department of Homeland Security has proposed additional benefits to the STEM OPT extension, including extending the additional time from 17 months to 24 months. Read more about the legal proceedings surrounding the OPT extension and its future on our blog.

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