What is OPT in USA?

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Anand Patinge

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The U.S. is a popular destination for higher education among international students.

Along with studying abroad, students also aspire to work in the country they are studying. However, international students in the USA struggle with unemployment and work visa issues. 

In 2019-2020, approximately 1,075,496 international students enrolled at colleges and universities across the U.S. 

What is OPT in USA

International students studying in the US generally get the F or M visa status. 

F visas are for the majority of college, university, high school, and elementary students and M visas are for students taking vocational programs. 

Furthermore, an F-1 student visa allows international students to stay in the US only until the end of their course. 

This implies that international students are not permitted to work or stay in the US after their course is over. 

If one wishes to continue their stay in the US post their education, it calls for yet another challenging visa trail. 

This is where Optional Practical Training (OPT) comes in as a silver lining.

So, What is OPT in USA?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a temporary employment option that international students opt for if they have an F1 visa. 

International students can apply for an OPT in USA to achieve up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization before or after completing their studies. 

To elaborate further, OPT in USA is of two types.

Two Types of OPT in USA:

Depending on your preference, you can apply for two types of OPT in USA. That is: 

Pre Completion OPT Post-Completion OPT
  • Students can apply to participate in pre-completion OPT after lawfully being enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year at a US college, university, conservatory, or seminar. 
  • Pre-completion OPT time can be split according to the work the student undertakes. 
  • For example, if you use one month in November of the second year and another month in April, this leaves you with 10 months of OPT visa validity. 
  • OPT visa validity is deducted from the available period of your OPT in USA. 
  • You can apply to a post-completion OPT after completing your studies, if you are authorized for an OPT in USA. 
  • Post-completion OPT time can only be used in a continuous block. 
  • Students will not be able to split their OPT visa validity like a pre-completion OPT. 
  • If your post-completion OPT of 12 months begins in September, the OPT visa validity will remain only until August of the following year. 

Who is Eligible for an OPT in USA?

A student is eligible to apply for a US OPT visa if he/she has:

  • Students already enrolled as full-time students for at least one academic year before the start date.
  • A valid F-1 visa.
  • The international student should not have previously used the OPT privileges at the degree level.

Note: International students are restricted from working outside his/her field while on an F-1 OPT visa. 

To apply for an OPT in USA, an OPT visa’s starting and ending depends on the individual. 

However, a few factors like the course start date, application deadlines and USCIS processing time impacts the total time of your application approval. 

While applying, universities and schools mention that the requested employment start date must be within 60 days after the end of the program. 

Also, the employment authorization will begin on the date requested.

Remember: Students tend to confuse their completion of studies with their convocations. However, in this case, the completion of studies is understood as the actual date that one completes all requirements for a program (such as the date of your final exams or submission of your thesis or dissertation). So, it is not considered to be the date of your graduation ceremonies.

Who is Eligible for an OPT in USA

How to Apply for OPT in USA?

Your educational institute initiates your OPT application. Therefore, request your institute to recommend you for an OPT as soon as you receive your acceptance letter. 

  • Request the academic institution’s Designated School Official (DSO) to recommend the OPT. 
  • This can be done by endorsing the I-20 Form, Certification of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status, and making the appropriate notation in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
  • Following the recommendation, it is important to properly fill the I-765 form of the application for Employment Authorization with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). 
  • Submit the I-20 form with the required fee of $410 and other supporting documents as instructed in the form.

On the nearing expiration date of the OPT visa validity, an extension can be applied in the following ways:

  • For pre-completion OPT: As early as 90 days before finishing the full academic year.
  • For post-completion OPT: Up to 90 days before degree completion or up to 60 days after degree completion.

For Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) extension students: Up to 90 days before the initial OPT expires.

Impact of Pre-completion OPT 
If you have already received 1 year of part-time (20 hours per week) pre-completion OPT, the total time of full-time OPT still available would be reduced by 6 months If you have already received 1 year of full-time (40 hours per week) pre-completion OPT, the total time of full-time optional practical training still available would be reduced by 1 year. In this scenario, you would not be entitled to any period of post-completion OPT employment authorization.

STEM OPT Extension: A Summary

Students pursuing science in the USA have an added benefit in the US as they can procure an additional 2 years to work in the US with an OPT. 

Unfortunately, there is no OPT extension for non-STEM students.

STEM OPT visa validity extension offers an additional 24 months of stay, giving STEM students a total of 36 months of stay in the US. 

When Should You Apply for the 24-Month STEM OPT Visa Extension?

Once the student receives the OPT, he/she can apply for the 24-month STEM OPT visa extension:

  • Up to 90 days before the student’s current OPT authorisation ends
  • Up to 60 days after the DSO enters a recommendation into the SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) record

Post OPT Visa Validity Extension

After receiving the OPT visa validity extension and EAD card, the student can:

  • Begin the OPT employment
  • File for the Social Security Number (SSN), if you don’t already have one
  • Explore the H-1B employment visa options with the employer
  • Prepare for a strong financial future in the US by building a strong credit profile

OPT in USA Limitations

The U.S. OPT visa grants work privileges, professional exposure and the possibility of additional time in the United States. 

One’s employability is a unique mix of skills, abilities and personal qualities that one has. They are the attributes that make one stand out from the crowd.

While OPT is a good employment pathway for international students, keep in mind that OPT allows limited unemployment time during the post-completion OPT and STEM OPT. 

This means that if you’re residing in the US with an OPT without working, you are in trouble of losing out on your OPT privileges.  

  • At Post-Completion OPT, students can accrue no more than 90 days of unemployment, which is cumulative. 
  • While on a STEM OPT, students can accrue no more than 150 days of unemployment, which is cumulative and includes the post-completion OPT unemployment time.

As an international student working on an OPT visa validity in the U.S. helps the students, but it also benefits the country with the workforce. 

However, do keep in mind that the cut-throat competition makes finding a suitable job challenging. 

Despite the OPT privileges, a number of students suffer unemployment due to the lack of jobs. 

So, if you want to stay ahead in the game, be proactive, punctual and work hard to get an OPT employment offer. 

OPT in the U.S. is an imperfect bridge offering graduates a golden opportunity to develop their skills and build a relationship with potential employers. Thus, opening future immigration possibilities. 

OPT, however, does not give the students a clear path to permanent residency in the U.S. Still, it definitely buys international students some time to navigate the next step of their careers in the limited opportunities available. 

But most of all, you hone your skills and build global work experience.

Frequently Asked Questions About OPT in USA

Question 1: What is the cost of OPT US?

Ans: The application fee for OPT is $410. Submit a personal check, a Certified Check from your bank or a U.S. Money Order for $410 made payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Question 2: How is the OPT time calculated in the US?

Ans: Any time the student works, it is counted against the 12 months. 

For example, if the student works for 2 months during his/her studies, the OPT visa validity will only be for another 10 months post-graduation.

Question 3: Who is eligible for OPT in USA?

Ans: To be eligible to apply for OPT in USA, you must: (1) have been in full-time student status for at least one academic year by the requested start date of your OPT, (2) be maintaining valid F-1 status at the time of the application, and (3) have not used OPT at the same degree level previously.

Question 4: What happens to the OPT tenure if I want to continue my higher education?

Ans:  OPT can only be used once per higher degree level even if you have multiple degrees per level (e.g. OPT based on a Bachelor’s degree and then OPT based on a Master’s degree or PhD). 

Question 5: Do you need a job offer to apply for OPT?

Ans: No.  OPT is not employer specific.  You don’t need a job offer to apply for an OPT.

Picture of Anand Patinge

Anand Patinge

A master storyteller, Anand has enriched multiple entities with captivating designs, compelling messaging, and impactful media campaigns. Beyond work, you can find him feeding stray dogs, exploring art, and watching insiprational documentaries.

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