Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary work authorization given to F-1 students who have completed or have been pursuing degrees for one academic year and the work is directly related to the major area of study. OPT for international students is offered during or after their study completion for a duration of 12 months. OPT can be extended for a further 24 months for STEM OPT Students following certain requirements.
Optional Practical Training is a Program for Undergraduate and Graduate International students granted by the government of the USA. All the international students on an F-1 visa are eligible to appear for this training program except for the Students in English language training, who are not eligible for OPT. It is kind of temporary work authorization provided to international students.
To appear for the OPT work authorization; you need to be an international student pursuing studies in USA which requires F-1 visa. It is a special kind of visa, granted to international students who want to do schooling from foreign universities.
The work authorization of OPT for international students is granted by the USCIS (unites states citizenship and immigration services). Under this training program, the eligible students are permitted to work for the duration of strict 12 months only. There is an extension of 17 months, giving a total of 29 months for those who have taken STEM. Undertaking the graduation of STEM means to choose the major in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. The extension is also given if the Employer who is giving employment under the E-verify program.
While the student in under the OPT training, there is an allowance of 90 days of unemployment. After the time period of 90 days is over they have to immediately leave the United States. While the student is pursuing OPT, he/she has to be careful about the H-1B “cap gap”.
The working of OPT is divided into two parts:
Full time– The student is permitted to work 40 hours or more a week
Part time-The student is permitted to work 20 hours or less a week
To work for OPT you have to be an F-1 student for one full academic year and maintain the F-1 status finding work in the related field of study. Optional Practical Training itself is divided into two parts:
Pre-completion– Student can do work while pursuing their studies. They can work after or before their classes or at the weekends.
Post completion– Students who have completed a degree and requires 20 hours working to be considered as OPT. The main use for OPT is the right to work for 12 months after completion of a degree.
Few choose to carry part-time during the academics and then full time during the vacation span. You have to decide whether you want to work in pre-post or in combination. The advantage of the pre-completion OPT is that the student pursuing it is exactly treated like the normal student eligible for all the academic activities.
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For each new degree level, you can apply for different OPT program but if the programs are different being at the same level then you can divide the OPT work duration time.
Students cannot start the work at their will; they need to wait until the university they are enrolled in recommends them the start and the end date. The students need to provide information about their graduation being completed within the given time span. After I-20 form is received, filled and submitted, students have to submit the I-765 form. There is a long wait before the application can be approved; once it is approved the student receives an EAD (Employment Authorization Document). The entire process consumes about 3-4 months.
The student may continue to work for the 180 days even the though EAD and OPT period have been expired while the petition is pending and under process. Also if the student is currently in a period of post-completion OPT
While the student is applying for the OPT jobs, it is not mandatory to have the job offer or mention the job position in the application. For the benefit, the employer or the company needs to be contacted to save from the unemployment period which cannot more than 90 days.
Constraints to be followed:
➤Start date should be at least one day after and max 60 days before
➤The total duration of 12 months of the OPT can be used by taking the breaks
Criteria for the OPT dates demands the students to be in constant with the employers regarding their start date. It is advisable to choose such a start date by which the EAD is expected to be received. It is necessary to keep in mind about the unemployment duration not being more than 90 days. If someone has the plan to continue further higher studies then it is advisable to not the entire OPT period. Though breaks are allowed, the best practice says to skip the break and work in the community.
Traveling in between the period is strictly prohibited. Students on OPT jobs can work with any employer across the USA long as their OPT jobs are related to their field of study.
After completion of the degree, the students are given the grace period of 60 days whether they have applied for OPT or whether their application can be rejected. Applications to extend OPT need to submit before the completion of OPT. If the Student’s OPT is over and there is no extra OPT period left then even though the student has the grace period, he is not allowed to work.
The student can start working when the student receives EAD they are approved for the OPT employment and also when the start dates have come.
The job undertaken by the OPT has to be related to the study program of the student. The government needs to be presented with the legal documents of the employer but during the time of question, documents should exist.
To be qualified to come under OPT for international students, students have to work for 20 hours a week. If the international students have their own business then the eligibility of their hours increases to 40 hours in a week. OPT gives the benefit of starting own individual business for the self-employment. Also if the student’s job is giving the unsatisfactory results then it is possible to change the job, which fits the OPT criteria. Along with a change in jobs, simultaneously working on more than one job at a time is also permitted. Unpaid internships, profit, and non-profit jobs make OPT.
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Once your work duration ends, there are ways to extend the post completion of OPT by H1B cap gap extension or the STEM Extension. There is also a possibility of cancellation of OPT. When a foreign student’s status and work authorization expires it is mandatory to leave the country.
The specific degrees that qualify for the extension are:
- Actuarial Sciences
- Computer Science Applications
- Engineering Technologies
- Life Sciences
- Military Technologies
- Physical Sciences
Other common fields with specialty occupations include architecture, social sciences, medicine and health, education, business specialties, accounting, law, theology, and the arts. To stay in line with the technical aspects of the OPT is complicated but to be in compliant is the rule of thumb.