F-1 OPT Visa

International Student Work Authorization (F-1 OPT Visa)

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.

Top Ten Questions About F-1 OPT Visa​

1) What is OPT (or you probably 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:  

  • Pre-Completion OPT: this is your work authorization while you’re still in school.
  • Post-Completion OPT: this is your work authorization after your graduation. 

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.

2) Who qualifies for OPT? and who will help me with the OPT filing process (OPT application)?

To be eligible for OPT employment,

  • You must maintain lawful F-1 status (attending a U.S. college or university).
  • Your employment must be “directly related” to your major e.g. engineering jobs or industries for engineering students. Please identify career path options with your academic advisors.
  • Students have not engaged in 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT).

 

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.

3) Is my OPT STEM or non-STEM?

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.

opt-visa

First of all, please feel confident that you can get a job with an OPT! Whether you are a STEM or non-STEM international student, you have a chance to land a great job.

Through my experience coaching international students in the U.S., there are companies out there that want to hire international students on OPT. 

The ICAway Talent Platform has helped many F-1 international students land jobs at companies across industries in the U.S. when they’re on OPT.

There’s a talent shortage in the U.S. As long as you have the right strategy to get to know people inside the companies and be able to build your professional brand beyond a resume, you have a high chance to land the job that you love on your OPT. 

These are some of the results our ICAway students have received:

  1. 95.3% of our students get interviews or job offers within 3 weeks of finishing the program.
  2. Their average salaries are twice the average national salary for college graduates.
  3. ICAway alumni have reported success in getting a promotion or getting recruited by top tech companies within 6-8 months after landing their first job in the U.S.

If you’re interested in learning more about our program, please stay on our waitlist and be the first to know when we’re open for enrollment and receive a special discount when you join the waitlist!

Click Here to Join Our Waitlist 

4) When should I apply for the OPT (F-1 OPT Visa)? How long will it take for a student to receive the EAD card?

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):

  • Let’s say a student graduates on May 1st, 2022. 
  • The student can choose to request an OPT visa start date as late as July 1st, 2022 (two months after graduation) and have an OPT end date as late as July 1st, 2023 (one year after). 
  • If the student decides to submit the application on June 30th (after Graduation) and USCIS takes 90 days to process the paperwork, the student’s OPT will get approved around September or October 2022. 
  • However, the latest possible end date is still July 1st, 2023. The student will get around 10 months of OPT instead of 12. Never delay your OPT filing, please! 

 

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, you may request your advisor to forward the job offer with a cover letter containing the your student information to the the USCIS.

However, this is not full-proof since there is no official expedite process for the 765.

5) What should be the start date on my EAD?

Your Employment Authorization Document or EAD start date means the first day that you’re eligible to work off-campus after your graduation.

You have the options to choose the date right after the completion of your studies date. You can confirm the date with your academic advisor.

If you are not confident that you will get a job soon, you may put the start date 60 days after your completion date.

  • Don’t choose the date that’s a public holiday or during the week of public holidays. Companies are close or your hiring manager may not want you to start working on that week and you will waste your OPT visa days out of nothing!
  • Do choose Mondays. Human Resources (HR) of the company prefers Monday as a start date as it is more convenient for payroll.

Please find an advisor to consult with in terms of your EAD start date.

 

6) What is the 90-day unemployment allowance and how are the 90 days of unemployment counted?

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:

  • Post-completion OPT: 90 days.
  • STEM OPT: 150 days, which includes any days accrued while on post-completion OPT visa.

 

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.

7) How can I stop the 90-day OPT unemployment clock?

 You need to be employed in order to stop the 90-day OPT unemployment. The term “employed” is not always a paid job. 

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.

8) I’m not sure if I can get a job within that 90-day allowance timeline, what should I do?

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.

9)What are the common errors that lead to OPT delays? What should I watch out for?

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:

  • Date Format – remember that the date format in the U.S. is MM/DD/YYYY
  • Your name on the application  – make sure that you write it clearly if it’s handwriting
  • Picture – make sure that you use the most recent picture (Two color passport photos, white background, entire face in full frontal view) taken within 30 days of the date application is filed) 

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.

10) Can I travel while I'm on OPT (on my OPT visa)?

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. 

After OPT, What's Next? H-1B and Visa Options Beyond F-1 OPT Visa

Play Video about OPT-Visa-H1B

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.

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