What is Optional Practical Training? Eligibility, How to Apply & Benefits

By Gargi Tomar Updated On - May 07, 2022 06:02 AM

The US allows international students to temporarily work in the US through the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program. Learn what OPT is, the types and eligibility of OPT along with the benefits of OPT and how to apply for OPT here.

Around 1 million international students enrol in US universities every year. Through Optional Practical Training, they can gain valuable experience and start contributing to the country immediately. 

Experience is a very important aspect of today's job market. With a work experience program like OPT, international students can stay and work in the US for up to three years and develop real-world skills, enabling them to stand out in the job market.

Optional Practical Training, also known as OPT, allows international students to gain hands-on experience in the US. Students can take advantage of this opportunity to obtain industry experience, connect with potential employers and build their professional network. If you are thinking of pursuing this program, this article will help you understand what OPT is and how it can benefit you. From eligibility to the advantages of participating in OPT, here’s everything you need to know about OPT. 

Find Out the Kind of Jobs You Can Take on OPT!

What is Optional Practical Training?

Optional Practical Training is a temporary employment program that can be obtained for F-1 visa holders. Students can get up to 12 months of employment authorization before they finish their academic studies under the program known as OPT. This can be done even after they finish their studies if they wish to.

There is also some right to work under the OPT program while still in school. The main use of it is for 12 months after graduating. Near the end of your academic year, if you're already working for a US company, you can apply for the OPT program. This will allow you to work for the company while completing the necessary requirements to be considered for a full-time job.

OPTs allow students to gain hands-on experience that enhances their learning. It provides students with an opportunity to participate in a variety of activities and experiences that enhance their learning. An OPT can be a combination of training or an internship. It can also be a supplement to a student's existing learning experience. This is unlike the CPT which lets F-1 students seek practical experience before graduation only if it is required by their major.

Who is Eligible for OPT?

Students with an F-1 visa who are currently enrolled in a US university and have completed their first year of studies can apply to work in the US for at least a year. There are mainly three types of student visas, however, F-1 is a usual option for most international students.

To be considered for an OPT, a candidate must:

  • Maintain a valid F-1 student status 

  • Be enrolled full-time in the US.

  • Be present in the US when and submit their application.

  • Must intend to volunteer or work in the US while applying for OPT.

Other considerations: 

  • Students do not need a job to apply for OPT. 

  • All work must be related to their field of study, and volunteering is acceptable. 

  • Students with a bachelor's degree in Science, Technology, or Engineering may be eligible for an extension of 12 months to their 12 months OPT.

Types of OPT

Generally, international students studying in the US universities with an F-1 visa can choose from two categories of OPT:

Pre-completion OPT: F-1 students who have not yet graduated from I-20 may apply for pre-completion OPT. This program can be used for students who want to complete their academic program for one year. For this program, they only need to work part-time since their studies are still in session. However, students can still work full-time if their studies are not in session. They need to receive approval from the US Immigration Service before they can start their pre-completion OPT.

Post-completion OPT: An F-1 student can start his or her post-Completion OPT after completing the studies related to his or her field of study. However, this procedure can only be initiated after receiving approval from the US Immigration Service. During this period, students can extend their OPT by up to 60 days. However, they must file their applications before the end of the period.

What is the STEM OPT Extension?

For a student to receive an extension of his STEM OPT visa, he or she must first complete a practical training program at an approved institution. The extension of the visa allows a student to take up a temporary training program in an approved field or area of study for 24 months. 

F-1 students with a bachelor's degree in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math can apply for an extension of their STEM OPT visa. If the student is eligible for an extension of his or her visa, the total duration of their OPT is 36 months. Students can stay in the US for up to 60 days after reaching the end of their work visa.

F-1 students can only get an extension if their employer attests that they have met the requirements for the extension. The employer who signs the training plan of an F-1 student is the same person who provides the student with the necessary training. Students who are pursuing a STEM OPT extension can work for a small business as long as they meet all the requirements.

OPT v/s CPT? Have All Your Doubts Cleared by Experts Today!

How to Apply for an OPT?

The OPT application is a technical process, which means it involves following all the deadlines carefully and asking for help from the university's international student centre. It's easy to make mistakes during this process, which could affect your chances of obtaining a job in the US.

Step 1: Students’ DSO is Required to Submit an OPT Request on SEVIS

Before you get an OPT visa, you must inform your DSO. They will then take your Form I-20 and confirm your eligibility before submitting a request. They will then submit it in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).

Step 2: Submit a Request for OPT EAD

The student must then submit an EAD to USCIS. It should be completed in Form I-765. This form must be filled out and submitted with your other documents. After collecting your EAD, your notice of receipt will be sent to the other side. 

If your EAD is approved, then your OPT status will change to approved. If it is denied, then it will change to denied. Once USCIS approves your EAD, your OPT card will be issued.

How Much Time Does it Take to Process your OPT?

It is best to start applying for OPT before you finish your degree. You can also set the dates for your start and end dates. 

However, since the processing time for the OPT can take a while, it's best to apply early. After submitting an EAD, you will then wait for the USCIS to process it. 

Generally, it takes about 90 days for the agency to process an EAD request. 

How Long Can You Use your OPT?

The maximum amount of time that you can stay on an OPT is 12 months. This applies to both pre and post-completion OPTs. You do not need to renew your US student visa or OPT after 12 months. Even if you finish your pre-or post-completion OPT, it is not valid anymore. 

If you were able to find a sponsor for an H-1B visa, then you might be able to qualify for a cap gap. This means that your visa will start after your OPT ends. You can automatically renew your OPT after your H-1B visa is processed.

Benefits of OPT

Optional Practical Training is becoming an integral part of the US workforce. As more companies recognise the value of taking part in an Optional Practical Training program, more workers are becoming part of the workforce.

This program allows highly skilled foreign workers to work in the US on a temporary basis. A study revealed that the number of foreign workers finding jobs under this program has increased. In 2014, the number of graduates who took part in the program grew to 136,017. Almost half of them were from science, technology, and math degrees.

1. OPTs Can Help International Students Enter the Job Pipeline and Gain Work Experience

It is very difficult for international students to get a Green Card if they plan on living and working in the US permanently. For many, this is because the F-1 visa does not allow dual intent. 

After their F-1 status has expired, many international students may look for an employer to provide them with a Green Card or a temporary work visa. 

Due to the low supply of H-1Bs, many applicants are left with a one in three chance of having their application read. This means that those who want to pursue citizenship may have to wait for years. 

The Optional Practical Training (OPT) can be an imperfect bridge to a permanent residency path. It allows graduates to develop their skills and find opportunities to work while they ponder on their future immigration options. Although it doesn't provide a clear path to a permanent residence, it can give them time to look into the limited options.

2. OPT Allows Students to Live and Work in the US Temporarily

OPT allows international students to stay in the US and work for an American employer after graduation. Students in any field can get an OPT extension for up to 12 months. Those with a bachelor's degree in math or science can also get a two-year extension.

3. OPT also Benefits the Localities

International students contributed $44 billion to the US economy in 2019, according to the US Department of Commerce. As per experts, having a high number of OPT participants can lower the unemployment rate for certain US workers. The Business Roundtable, a group of companies, estimated that curbing the program could cost the US economy around 443,000 jobs over a decade.

With OPT, you could gain international work experience that will stand out in the crowd. Not only will you stand out from the crowd, but you'll also have the opportunity to work with international companies.

Aside from having the opportunity to work for international companies, many of the world's biggest firms have their headquarters in the US. Work experience can also help you develop a stronger professional network in the US.

Working without an endorsed I-20 and a valid EAD card could keep you from remaining in the U.S. and even bar you from re-entry to the US in the future. You must have a valid EAD and I-20 endorsed for OPT by the time you go to work. Additionally, a number of other problems may arise while applying for an OPT. These may include delayed processing, not receiving the I-797c Receipt Notice or EAD, lost or incorrect EAD, among others. In such cases, it is best to take help from experts to smooth out the entire process.

Clear your doubts and questions today regarding international education and admissions by reaching out to us at abroad@collegedekho.com.

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