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An In-depth Analysis of OPT & Its Crucial Guidelines

January 2, 2022
Techfetch OPT Team
Est. Reading Time : 6 minutes
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Are you a student who has come to the US to pursue your higher education in the country's prestigious academic institutions? If you are, you are not alone. Higher education in the USA is a common dream shared by millions of students around the globe. Every academic year, colleges and universities across the United States churn out millions of graduates in various academic fields. For such graduates, the US government gives the option of choosing OPT.

What Is OPT & Its Application Eligibility Criteria?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a period for foreign graduates like yourself to gain valuable hands-on experience, hone their skills, and begin contributing to the US. The core component of OPT, however, is that it is optional or recommended rather than a mandatory requirement imposed by educational institutions.

OPT is explicitly open for the vast majority of international students enrolled under the F1 visa program. During this OPT period, students who have completed or are still pursuing their degrees for more than nine months can get training related to their area of study.

So, if you are a college graduate in the US, what does it take to make you eligible to apply for OPT? Under OPT's eligibility criteria, you are expected to:

  • Be present in the US with a valid F-1 visa status at the time of application.
  • Enrolled in a full educational course for one academic year or completed one academic year within the date of OPT approval.
  • Be unauthorized for 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training or CPT.
  • Not have previously completed OPT at the same degree level.

If you fulfill the above-mentioned criteria, you are eligible for:

  • 12 months of full-time OPT per academic level when changing to a higher educational level.
  • Applying for OPT authorization during or after your academic program, or a combination of both.

Moreover, if you are a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) graduate with a valid F-1 visa, you are eligible for a 17-month extension for post-graduate completion of OPT employment.

When you know about OPT, it is also important to know about the various job options you are entitled to.

Employment Under OPT: What Is Allowed & What Is Not?

Generally, OPT is split into two types:

  • Pre-completion OPT for students still pursuing their education.
  • Post-completion OPT for students who have graduated.

Paid employment criteria

Whether you belong to either category, your first option would be to look out for paid employment instead of unpaid employment. So, what are the OPT criteria for paid employment?

Pre-completion OPT does allow you to have a paid job. However, the main use of OPT is the right to work for 12 months AFTER you graduate. Therefore, as a student, you can apply for OPT as you near your graduation. Applying for OPT allows you to work for any employer in the US (subject to OPT rules).

And that's not all. You can also apply for a fresh OPT for every new academic degree you complete. If you are successful in acquiring a job while on OPT, you must adhere to the following rules:

  • You must work for at least 20 hours per week in one or multiple jobs.
  • Your job must be related to our field of study.

Do not forget that your OPT period commences on the start date printed on your Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

Unpaid employment criteria

While on OPT, you may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern if there is no violation of any labor laws. Volunteering and unpaid internships will qualify as OPT employment for reporting purposes, as long as they meet all the necessary criteria.

Now come the most important details you ought to know about OPT- the application process and your responsibilities. Here goes!

OPT Application Process & Duties While In OPT

OPT application is a two-step process. Firstly, you must obtain a recommendation from the Office of International Affairs (OIA), Form I-20 showing that you requested OPT.

Secondly, you must send your OPT application to the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS). However, you have some tasks to complete before commencing the application process. As per the rules, you are required to do the following before you apply:

  • Attend an OPT workshop in person.
  • Review an OPT Workshop PowerPoint in case you cannot attend.

Failing to do either and failing to view the web page's information could lead to application errors. In turn, this could result in delays in processing your request. Above all, it will negatively impact your application to the USCIS.

If you are looking to apply for Pre-Completion OPT, you must:

  • Submit your application within 90 days before your requested work start date
  • Ensure the end date is on or before the end date of your I-20.

You can also apply before you complete your first year of study. However, you cannot start working until after completing three-quarters of full-time enrollment.

If Post-Completion OPT is your choice, you must do the following:

  • Apply for OPT from 90 days before your end date to 60 days after your end date.
  • Ensure USCIS receipts (not receives) your application before 60 days after your I-20 end date.
  • Allow a period of 10-14 days for USCIS to assign a receipt number.
  • Choose an OPT start date between the day after your end date and 60 days after your end date.

You will lose your OPT eligibility if you:

  • Are not present in the US.
  • Leave the US after your program end date.
  • Have not applied for OPT.

Once you have successfully obtained OPT, you must remember to fulfill the following responsibilities:

  • Inform the Student Affairs Office whenever you change your address or employer during the OPT period.
  • Engage in any employment that fits the OPT requirements during the approved OPT period indicated on your EAD card.
  • Avoid undertaking paid jobs until you have received the EAD card. Working before receiving your EAD card is a serious violation of your F-1 status. You may lose many of the benefits you are entitled to receive.
  • Understand that the actual date of employment on your EAD card may differ from the dates you requested due to processing delays.
  • Remain legally in the US and actively pursue appropriate OPT job opportunities within the country if you have applied for or have been approved for OPT. You cannot remain unemployed for more than three months.
  • Take up an unpaid job for at least 20 hours per week as long as it is related to your academic field and does not violate any labor laws.
  • Apply for or renew your driver's license once you have received your EAD for OPT.
  • Travel outside of the US only with a valid visa and a letter from your employer stating that you are employed and will continue working when you return.

Here are some important points to keep in mind during the approved OPT period:

  • You can apply for your F-1 visa renewal if you are abroad as long as you have a valid passport, proof of employment, a current I-20 form, and an EAD card.
  • If you have completed your academic program, you will be considered to be in F-1 status during the approved OPT period. You are entitled to 60 days of "Voluntary departure" starting with the last day of your OPT period.
  • If you are a STEM student, you are eligible to apply for a 17-month STEM extension to OPT with an e-verified employer.

What Is CPT & How Does It Differ From OPT?

CPT stands for Curricular Practical Training. Having a CPT status allows international students with an F-1 visa to gain work experience. You can choose to do jobs, paid internship programs, or training related to your academic field. You can also choose between unpaid internships and cooperative education, an established curriculum.

As per the rules, you must complete CPT before graduating. While doing CPT, you can choose to do it part-time (20 or fewer hours per week) or full-time (20 or more hours per week).

So, how does CPT differ from OPT?

OPT and CPT differ mainly in the period of eligibility for these programs and the type of work you are allowed to do.

  • CPT must be completed before graduation, while OPT can be completed before or after graduation.
  • You will lose your eligibility for OPT if you work full-time in CPT for 12 months.
  • CPT allows you to work in paid or unpaid internships or co-op education programs. Course credit must be awarded if CPT is not required by your major.
  • On the contrary, OPT is not employer-specific and allows you to work rather than take up internships or co-ops. Besides, you do not need to earn academic credit.

Wrapping Up

Graduating from top universities and working for leading employers are two aspects that bring hoards of students to the US. However, immigration can be a big challenge with the complex rules and regulations for foreigners. But do not fret! TechFetch OPT is armed with years of experience and expertise to make your OPT process smooth and hassle-free.

Get in touch with us today, and let's sort out the details.

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