OPT Expansion for F-1 Visa Foreign Students Working in US

On of the benefits of coming to study at a US higher education university under the F1 visa for undergraduate, graduate or pHD level degrees is the OPT (Occupational Training Program). This OPT program is often one of the major ways that foreign students eventually get full sponsorship via a visa like the H1B visa as it allows them to seek employment without the employer needing to sponsor them or pay additional costs. Thus they get to trial the foreign worker before committing to sponsoring that person under the H-1B visa.

Because of the limit of 85,000 H-1B visas issued each year and in 2012 was exhausted on June 11, 2012, the OPT program becomes invaluable source of talent for many institutions seeking talent particularly in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) where US students enroll in low numbers and don’t meet employment demand.

The F-1 Visa OPT allows a total of 12 months towards practical training, on being certified by the advisor of the usefulness of the work towards goals of the degree, which can be distributed between Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and OPT. CPT is just working while still study as opposed to following graduation. The permission is granted via the International Students Office (ISO) or similar body of the academic institution and like post graduation OPT must be in line with the field of study undertaken.

From the foreign student’s vantage point, they also get to trial an employer as well as the overall US work lifestyle out. So it also helps them decide firstly if their current employer is a great fit or indeed if that is not the case, then allows them to have some US work experience on their resume. That experience combined with time to network within the US work and professional group scene is invaluable to finding other work opportunities that may suit you better.

17 Month OPT Extension

On April 8, 2008, an interim order came from the Department of Homeland Security allowing certain students to apply for up to a 17 month extension of their OPT period bringing up to a maximum of 29 months being allowed to work under this status. This temporary interim ruling was designed to provide a permanent solution to what is known as the H-1B visa “cap-gap”. This is basically when a foreign’s student’s F1 visa status and EAD period has expired during a US Immigration fiscal year (Oct 1 – Sep 30) but prior to them being eligible work under an approved H1B visa which only starts on October 1st. In the past other interim solutions tried to address this issue but only related to someone remaining in the country but not for their work authorization.

The foreign students that are eligible for this are those that have graduated  in areas designated as important to the US economy with lots of open position but a constant shortfall among US citizen graduates. This includes Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, (STEM). The eligible degree fields of study must be within the following;

o Computer Science Applications
o Biological and Biomedical Sciences
o Actuarial Science
o Mathematics and Statistics
o Engineering
o Military Technologies
o Engineering Technologies
o Physical Sciences
o Science Technologies
o Medical Scientist

Computerworld recently released the table below showing the US universities that have been approved for the greatest number of OPT extensions under this expansion of the program. There are over 35,000 extensions that have been approved since 2008 and only 613 denials with a further 5,000 current applications being processed this Summer. So all in all this program has been extremely valuable for US employers seeking much needed talent.

School  APPROVED
Stratford University 1,345
University of Bridgeport 1,076
New Jersey Institute of Technology 650
Illinois Institute of Technology 643
University of Southern California 591
San Jose State University 565
Northwestern Polytechnic University 546
Polytechnic Institute of New York University 484
The University of Texas at Arlington 471
Silicon Valley University 449
Stevens Institute of Technology 440
Texas A&M University-Kingsville 402

Now President Obama’s Administration has quietly instructed a further expansion of this program that has brought the ire of consistent anti foreign immigrant Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa. The White House has included broad multi-disciplinary category like Information Systems as well as non tech fields like Archaeology, Behavioral Sciences, Urban Forestry and Sustainability. With the increased demand back for the H-1B visa this year, this helps ease the load with an effective 2.5 year buffer for these foreign students to be able to transferred successfully from the F-1 visa to the H-1B visa. This gives a total of about 400 fields that are now eligible under this program.

While this is a positive interim step, let us hope the whole visa and foreign worker legal immigration system is overhauled so it is more logical, efficient and fairer for all so it ultimately benefits the whole US economy at large.

CJ

(USCIS F1 OPT Q&A)

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