OPT is the Optional practical training given to international students in the major area of study. This is the work permit that allows international students to work in the USA in their field of expertise for 12 months. There are two types of OPT International students should know about before applying for an OPT to gain needed practical exposure. The rules and regulations are a little confusing, which at times leads to the loss of amazing opportunities for international students. So this blog is about the most talked-about question-if international students can apply for OPT without a job offer or not!
OPT Application and A Job Offer:
So for a start as an international student, you need to know the types of OPT.
For students with F1 visas, Optional Practical Training is a temporary authorisation to work. Pre-completion OPT and Post-completion OPT are two different types of possibilities that are tied to the student’s major field of study in the USA. A student with an F1 visa can easily look for possibilities in his or her field alone as an intern, associate, or fellow, which not only increases their financial stability but also their experience. They will benefit if they already have experience, have improved their skills, and know how the system works. The student must be enrolled full-time in an academic programme before the authorization can be extended for up to 12 months. Let’s discuss the types of OPT in detail:
- Pre-Completion OPT: Pre-completion OPT allows international students to work in their field of studies while they are still pursuing their degrees. But for being eligible for pre-completion OPT, you need to complete at least one year of a full-time course in a designated university, college, or institute, which is certified by the U.S. This allows you to work only part-time for 20 hours a week during the session and full-time for 40 hours a week during a session break
- Post-Completion OPT: Post-completion OPT allows international students to work in their field of studies after completion of their degree. So as an international student, you can work for full-time, which is 40 hours a week, directly in the major area of your studies with post-completion OPT work for multiple employers.
- STEM OPT extension: If you belong to any of the STEM fields, then you are eligible for STEM OPT extension. STEM OPT extension allows international students to stay and work in the USA for the next 24 months after completing their degree and post-completion OPT. It is a 24 month of extended period post completion of OPT related to temporary training to F1 student’s area of expertise.
Now that you know the types of OPT, it will be easier for you to know the eligibility criteria. As an international student, you will need to apply for OPT in order to be eligible to work in the USA in your major area of study. International students often find it confusing to figure out when to apply for OPT and what all they will need to apply. Even though this is decades old, many employers still have no idea about OPT or do not hire OPT candidates for various reasons. So you might face issues while searching for OPT jobs, but as you have less amount of time, you should fill the application for OPT.
Pre-Completion and Post-completion OPT:
Yes, you read that right. As an international student in the USA, you should know that you do not need a job to apply for OPT. Whether it is pre-completion OPT or post-completion OPT. OPT permission is not employer-specific, so your application won’t be rejected if you don’t have an employer. Also, you do not need to mention anything about the employer or the organization in your OPT application.
But there are certain rules to that. In case of post-completion OPT, you need to apply up to 90 days before and up to 60 days after the program end date listed on your I-20. You will no longer be eligible for post-completion OPT if you leave the country after completion of the degree. And for pre-completion OPT, you can apply up to 90 days before your requested employment start date.
Remember that these conditions are for Pre-completion and Post-completion OPT. For the STEM OPT extension, there are different rules you need to follow.
STEM OPT Extension:
STEM OPT Extension is employer-specific, and so you need a job offer letter for STEM OPT Extension application. When it comes to applying for STEM OPT extension, you do need a paid job offer letter to meet the eligibility criteria. While applying for STEM OPT extension, you should be working on a 12-month Post-completion OPT.
Your employer must be E-verified, and the job offer must be at least for 20 hours a week. The job offer must provide formal training and learning objectives directly related to international student’s qualifying STEM degree.
So basically, you must work at least 20 hours per week for an employer that participates in the E-Verify program and agrees to follow all the employer requirements in the 24-month STEM rule. Unlike for pre-completion or post-completion OPT volunteer, unpaid or self-employment work is not allowed in STEM OPT extension.
So before you start your journey as an international student in the USA, it is always advisable to know all the differences between OPT and STEM OPT extension.
Can I apply for OPT without a job?
There is NO need for you to have a job offer before applying for OPT. As said earlier, OPT is not employer-specific. Note that while in the period of 12-month OPT, the maximum days of unemployment does not exceed 90 days.
Can I apply for the OPT extension without a job? Or
Do I need a job offer to apply for a OPT or STEM OPT extension?
Yes, you need to provide a job offer while applying for a OPT or STEM OPT extension.
The job offer needs to meet the following criteria:
- The job must be directly related with your major area of study
- It must have at least 20 hours of weekly work (i.e. full time working)
- The employer providing you the job offer must be listed on E-verify.
- The job position offered must, in no case, be volunteering positions, unpaid positions, or self-employment.
Can I Apply For OPT or OPT Extension With(Out) A Job?
If your OPT application is rejected, you may be able to re-establish or reinstate your F1 status, change to a dependant status like F2 or H4, or apply for an immigration status based on employment (EB1, O1, etc.). The seriousness of an OPT denial judgement should prompt you to see an experienced immigration attorney. When you reapply, processing periods vary widely, but you should plan on USCIS approving your STEM OPT Extension application taking between 90 and 120 days. At each higher degree level, the majority of students are qualified to apply for a total of 12 months of OPT. Even if you have numerous degrees at each level, OPT can only be used once per higher degree level (for example, OPT based on a Bachelor’s degree and then OPT based on a Master’s degree or PhD).
So if you are applying for OPT, you do not need a job offer letter. USCIS permits international students on valid F1 visa to stay unemployed and search for OPT jobs even after receiving OPT. Please note the unemployment should not exceed 90days from the start date of OPT. But when it comes to OPT or STEM OPT Extension, you do need a job offer letter from an E-verified employer that follows all the OPT employer rules. Also, OPT jobs can either be paid or unpaid, but STEM OPT has to be a paid job.
So international candidates should remember that while you start looking for a job, you can apply only for E-verified employers that hire OPT candidates and employs OPT or STEM OPT extension candidates. Hope now all your job-related OPT confusion is cleared.