One important thing that makes International Students’ job search different from domestic students is work authorization. To be eligible to work after graduation, international students need to apply for their Post-Completion OPT (Optional Practical Training).
Before talking about the job searching strategy on OPT, let’s make sure you don’t miss out on some important rules and avoid some common mistakes that F-1 international students usually make when it comes to OPT or what many students call it an OPT visa.
Optional Practical Training or OPT means F-1 students’ work authorization to work off-campus. Please note that even when many people may call it an OPT visa, OPT is a not a visa category or a separate work visa for international students. It is a benefit of your F-1 visa status.
There are two types of OPT:
If F-1 students use pre-completion OPT while still in school, it reduces available full-time post-completion OPT. Therefore, F-1 students should consider using CPT when possible to avoid losing time on post-completion OPT.
To be eligible for OPT employment,
Non-STEM OPT is permitted for up to 12 months full-time in total. If you are STEM qualified, you will be eligible for an additional 24 months of OPT (total of 36 months) or what we call a STEM OPT extension.
To apply for your OPT, please contact your school’s International Student Office (ISSS or ISSO).
Immigration attorneys or career coaches are not your go-to person for this area of service. Only your Designated School Official (DSO) is eligible to support you in this area.
If you don’t know whether your OPT is STEM or non-STEM, please contact your school (Academic Advisor and/or ISSS) as soon as possible to get a confirmation about this.
On January 21, 2022, 22 new fields of study have been included in the STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) program. The US government added these new fields of study as STEM as these fields are critical to the U.S. economic growth and technological competitiveness.
Please note that you will only be eligible to use your STEM extension with the company that’s enrolled in the E-Verify program and provides that E-Verify information on Form I-765.
Please make sure that you collaborate with both your DSO and your employer to ensure your 24-month extension eligibility.
Students may apply for Post-completion OPT up to 90 days before completion of studies and up to 60 days after.
We don’t recommend that you delay your application. If you’re confident that you will graduate in that semester, do not wait until you’re close to graduation or after your graduation.
If you wait until you’re so close to graduation or even after graduation to apply for OPT, you may have fewer days left on your OPT (or you probably call it an OPT visa).
For Example, a non-STEM degree student with 12 months of OPT work authorization (F-1 OPT Visa):
How long will it take for you to receive the EAD card?
90 days is the normal processing time. After you submit your application, USCIS will mail you back a notice stating they have received your application.
That notice will have a receipt number, which you can use to track your case status on this website. You will probably be obsessively checking this link until it says that your application has been approved and that your EAD card is on its way. During this time, you can also register for a USCIS account here.
My advice would be to keep all your documents and notices, in case you need to use them as a reference in the future.
If you need to expedite the OPT approval, on March 6th, 2023, USCIS are making premium processing available for F1 students applying for OPT and STEM OPT.
Premium Processing is an optional service provided by USCIS that allows F1 visa holders who are applying for OPT or STEM OPT to pay an additional fee for expedited processing times. With Premium Processing, USCIS guarantees that it will make a decision on the application within 30 days.
To start Premium Processing for Optional Practical Training (OPT) or STEM OPT, you must submit Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service, along with your OPT or STEM OPT application (Form I-765) and the fee.
The cost of premium processing for F1 students applying for premium processing is USD1,500. This fee is in addition to the standard filing fee for the Form I-765, which is the application for employment authorization. It is important to note that the Premium Processing fee is non-refundable, even if USCIS ultimately denies your application or if processing times exceed the the Service Level Agreement (SLA) for F1 OPT or STEM OPT applications (30 day). If you file your OPT early, the premium processing would not be necessary.
Your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) start date marks the first day that you are eligible to work off-campus after graduation. You have the option to choose the date immediately following your completion of studies, but it is advisable to consult with your academic advisor to confirm this. If you are uncertain about finding a job right away, you may set the start date 60 days after your completion date.
Avoid choosing a start date during public holidays or holiday weeks, as this may lead to wasted OPT visa days. Instead, consider selecting a Monday as your start date, as it is often more convenient for payroll purposes. It is important to seek guidance from your advisor regarding your EAD start date.
According to Homeland Security, US federal law limits the period that F-1 students on post-completion optional practical training (OPT) or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) OPT can be unemployed.
The limits are:
It counts both weekdays and weekends. If you travel outside the U.S. (visiting home), your time spent outside the U.S. also counts as unemployment.
To stop the 90-day OPT unemployment, this job must be related to your course of study. Paid or unpaid job doesn’t matter. You may find other options, such as temporary jobs or volunteering positions, that will allow you to remain in the country. If you are working on an unpaid internship, please read more about Internship Programs under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Please contact your International Student Services at your school to discuss jobs that can stop the 90-day OPT unemployment.
You may choose the start date 60 days after your school completion date.
However, this may not always be a good idea. When you get a job offer and the employer needs you to start right away, having to wait might change their mind if they have other candidates who are available and equally qualified.
When planning the EAD start date, I normally recommend my students that they start preparing for their search a year in advance to get a full-time job offer before graduation. The best scenario is to start working for your employer a month after your graduation so that you have time for a break or relocation. My students call this period as a “Graduation Holiday” 🙂
Join our ICAway Waitlist to build your game plan to land your dream job before your graduation.
From my first podcast episode with Dr. Michael Elliott, the Director of the International Student and Scholar Services at the University at Albany, State of New York, Dr. Elliott shared with me some common mistakes that students normally make during their CPT and OPT filings that lead to OPT delays such as:
If you have any error in your application, you may get the Request for Evidence (RFE) and this can cause a delay for a couple of months or more.
You can check your case status OPT online.
Generally, you can travel as long as your F-1 visa status is still valid. However, please make sure that you have not exceeded the maximum OPT unemployment or OPT STEM Extension unemployment time. Please bring all the evidence with you (valid I-20 with up to date signature, valid F-1 visa, passport valid for at least 6 more months, EAD card, the Job offer letter, etc.) to ensure that you will not face any problems when re-entering the U.S.
Leaving the US during a pending OPT application (OPT Visa) is essentially considered abandoning the application. Therefore, to play it safe, we recommend remaining in the U.S. until the application is adjudicated and EAD is in hand.
Other things to take into consideration when traveling outside the US are the disruptions that may cause travel bans such as a pandemic or wars.
To help you understand your U.S. immigration options for F-1 students, ICAway hosted a LIVE webinar to discuss H-1B Visa Program Reforms and other visa options for F-1 students with Attorney Art Serratelli, Partner at Serratelli Mijal PLLC, an immigration law team who appreciates that clients are coming to America to build a better future for themselves and their children.
You will also hear real stories from Naisargi Dave, Former International Student from University of Nebraska-Lincoln and ICAway student member how she went through H-1B Lottery rounds I and II in 2021.
DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this website is general and should not be relied on as legal advice that cannot be given without full consideration of all relevant information relating to an individual situation. This information does not constitute or create a consultant-client relationship for any legal matter.
I’m here to help you create a game plan, develop a career brand, and establish a networking strategy to land your first job in the U.S.
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