F-1 OPT Visa: Your Pathway to Post-Graduation Employment

United States
#studentvisa #workpermit

International students studying in the United States can participate in F-1 Optional Practical Training, or OPT, which will allow them to get experience in their chosen fields after graduation. For those wishing to go from college life to professional employment, it's an essential step. Pre-completion OPT and post-completion OPT are the two subtypes of OPT.

Pre-completion OPT

Pre-completion Students who have been enrolled full-time for at least one academic year at an American university recognised by the Student and Exchange Visitor Programme (SEVP) of ICE are eligible for OPT. Students can work up to 20 hours per week during the school year, and during breaks, they can work full-time. 

It's important to keep in mind that all pre-completion OPT months are deducted from the entire post-completion OPT duration, making it imperative to use this time properly.

Post-completion OPT

After you finish your studies, post-completion OPT begins. You must either work full-time or part-time (20 hours or more each week) to be eligible. Your OPT period, which includes any pre-completion OPT used, lasts a total of 12 months. For those pursuing further education, there is an intriguing twist: if you transfer from a bachelor's to a master's programme, you receive an additional 12 months of OPT.

An applicanat during job interview - F-1 OPT Visa

Eligibility and STEM OPT Extension

To be eligible for OPT, you must have a current F-1 student visa, be enrolled full-time for a year, be physically present in the country at the time of application, and have a job in mind that is linked to your major. 

Additionally, if you meet certain requirements, you have the option of extending OPT for 24 months under the STEM OPT extension. The requirements can include holding a degree from a university accredited by the U.S. Department of Education and working for a company that has signed up for E-Verify.

The Application Process

Obtaining an OPT endorsement from your designated school official (DSO), completing Form I-765 to USCIS, paying the needed fee, and providing supporting documentation are all necessary steps in the application process. It's important to keep in mind that your work authorization period is determined by the start and end dates of your OPT.

Pre-completion OPT applications should be submitted when your DSO has recorded the suggestion in your SEVIS record. Within 30 days of getting your new I-20 with the OPT recommendation, submit an application for post-completion OPT. Planning ahead is essential because USCIS processing periods can vary.

To be eligible for OPT, you do not need to have a job offer; however, you must begin working no later than 90 days after getting your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card. During your OPT period, you must report any changes, such as beginning and ending dates of employment, name or address changes, or changes in your visa status. To work, you'll also want a Social Security Number (SSN), which you can obtain by submitting an OPT application.


Is a job offer needed before I apply for OPT?

No, a work offer is not necessary in order to apply for OPT. However, you have 90 days from the day you receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card to begin working.

Can I be self-employed while on F-1 OPT?

Yes, as long as you can demonstrate that you have the necessary business licences and are actively involved in a business connected to your degree programme, you are permitted to work for yourself under standard OPT. Self-employment under STEM OPT is more complicated, though, and should be explored with an experienced lawyer.

How should I handle being unemployed during my OPT?

Avoid accruing more than 90 days of unpaid time during post-completion OPT (150 days for combined OPT and STEM OPT). Effective unemployment management can be achieved by reporting employment to your DSO and being proactive in your job search. 


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