Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a temporary employment opportunity offered to international students with an F-1 status. The student must either be a graduate or an undergraduate who has been pursuing his degree for a minimum period of nine months. Such a student is granted permission by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to work for the duration of 12 months to acquire the necessary and vital practical experience and training which would complement his field of study or education on a student visa.
Types of OPT
An F-1 student can participate in OPT that is in direct relation to his field of education in 2 ways:
Pre-completion OPT and Post-completion OPT.
If you are on lawful, full-time enrolment at a college or university that is U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certified for an entire academic year, then you are eligible to apply for pre-completion OPT.
Note that an F-1 status is not a prerequisite for the ‘full academic year’ requirement. Any other non-immigrant status will work just fine. Upon an authorization to participate in this type of OPT, you can choose your employment type (part time or full time) depending on whether the school is in session or not.
Post-completion OPT allows you to work either part time or full time upon completion of your studies (part time refers to less than 20hours of work per week).
However, if you have already enrolled for pre-completion OPT and participated under it, the period of time of your participation will be deducted from the post-completion OPT time period. Let’s just say that an 8 month participation in pre-completion OPT would leave you with just 4 months to participate in post-completion OPT.
STEM OPT Extension
A student with a degree in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is eligible to apply for a 24-month extension with regards to his post-completion OPT.
The student must however be an employee of an E-verify enrolled organization and must have previously secured post-completion OPT employment on his STEM degree.
Usually, your educational institute’s designated school official must recommend the OPT.
You must also file form I-765 and pay the required fee and provide necessary documentation as per the form’s instructions.
When should you apply for OPT?
The answer to this question changes with your type of OPT.
For STEM degree applications
- A) Pre-completion OPT
The application must be made after your recommendation has been entered into the SEVIS by your DSO. The application may be made 90 days prior to the completion of an academic year but you must not start OPT employment before the academic year is complete.
- B) Initial post-completion OPT
Application must be made inside 30 days from your recommendation’s entry into SEVIS. The application can be made 90 days prior to the completion of your degree but not after 60 days of its completion.
- C) STEM OPT extension
You can apply for 60 days after your recommendation is entered into the SEVIS by your DSO and 90 days prior to the expiry of current opt authorization.
Non-STEM degree applications
- A) Pre-completion OPT
The time frame specification is the same as that for STEM degree pre-completion OPT applications.
- B) Post-completion OPT
Yet again, the rules are similar for the corresponding initial post-completion OPT application.
You can start your OPT after the USCIS approves Form I-765 and when you get your Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
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