Understanding OPT Eligibility & Requirements
Are you an international student currently pursuing your degree in the United States? Do you still want to remain in the US and apply your theoretically acquired concepts into practical knowledge? If your answer to both questions is yes, then you are the right person to read this. Practical training can provide valuable work experience by adding to the skills of what you were taught in school. OPT, (optional practical training) is an f-1 student benefit that enables international students to remain and work in the US upon completion of their studies. It is applied for 12 months at each education level in certificate, undergraduate and professional levels of study (for STEM programs OPT is 36 months). OPT gives a student the privilege to work in a non-student and off campus jobs. Students are only entitled to find work related to their field of specialization. The following jobs are valid under optional practical training.
- Volunteering or unpaid internships
- Short term jobs
- Single full time or multiple part time jobs
- Employment through an agency.
OPT privileges are not linked to a specific employer and a student is permitted to work anywhere in the US. However, you should not work in a company that is in direct contract with the school for any other business rather than providing student services. Students pursuing programs in English language are not eligible for OPT, and may not begin the training until the indicated date on their Employment Authorization Document.
What are different types of OPT?
OPT exists in 3 different categories. These include:
This type of OPT is applicable to those students who wish to do practical training while still pursuing their studies. Students are authorized to participate in this pre-completion OPT after they have studied for a full academic year. Eligible students may also work part time i.e., at most 20 hours of their approved duration. The student must remain registered for their full course of study. Students can apply for pre-completion OPT 4 months before the date they would wish to commence. The employment must be related to their field of study.
Advantages of pre-completion OPT extensions
- A student is not subject to the 90-days unemployment limit
- I-20 form can be extended if a student needs more time to complete their thesis
- It is possible to obtain a program extension
Disadvantages of pre-completion OPT
- The student may not apply for the 24 months STEM OPT extension
- The time that the student spends in pre- extension is deducted from the time available for post extension OPT
- Student must continue to be registered full time which may not be necessarily required by their department
Post -completion OPT
Post completion OPT is applicable to those students who want to have either paid or unpaid practical training upon completion of their study. In this OPT, students receive full time authorization and employers must also be directly related to their field of specialization. Students can file for this OPT at least 3 months prior to completion of their degree programs and not more than 60 days after completion of their studies. Students who wish to apply for post-completion OPT should do so before departing the US since application made after departure will be disqualified. It may be difficult for a student to answer questions from USCIS concerning their application when he or she is out of the country.
Advantages of post-completion OPT
- A student works full time
- A student is eligible for a cap- gap extension
- The student only submits one application and fee
Disadvantages of post- extension OPT
- It is subject to the 90-day unemployment limit
- The student may not be able to receive program extension
STEM OPT extensions
This type of extension is available to students pursuing, Science, Technology, Engineering and Medical courses. These students are given a 24 months extension on their post completion OPT. In the STEM OPT, employers have to be enrolled in the E-Verify program. The system enables an employee to verify employment status of their new employees. Other requirements for a student to be eligible in this OPT include:
- The student should not have previously received a 24 months extension after earning a STEM degree.
- The student must currently be participating in 12 months OPT period and working for a United States employer in a job directly related to his or her area of study.
- Must have completed their degree, either bachelor masters or doctorate in a field on the DHS STEM authorized program degree list from a certified university.
- Both you and your prospective employer should have completed the training for STEM OPT students.
What requirements should a student have to be qualified for an OPT?
While OPT can be applied to any international student pursuing studies in the US, the following basic requirements MUST be met.
The student must:
- Be in legal F-1 immigration status at the time he or she is making the application
- Have enrolled as a full-time student for not less than one academic year in valid and lawful status
- Not have been previously approved for a 12 months OPT in the same degree level
- Have performed well academically.
- You must have satisfied all the graduation requirements. Graduate student are required to have completed all their required coursework.