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F1 Visa OPT (Occupational Practical Training) Information

Many students come to the US to study via the F1 visa for undergraduate, graduate or pHD level degrees. The US is generally recognized as having the best colleges and universities in the world although maybe not the cheapest. Then from that many students use the F1 student visa as stepping stone to work full time in the US on a visa like the H1B visa.

There are many pros and cons of studying in the US but certainly one of the biggest benefits of the F1 visa apart from the generally excellent education you will receive is that it allows you to work in the US temporarily on the Occupational Practical Training, or more commonly known as OPT.

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.

Additionally from the foreigners perspective they also get to trial an employer and generally the 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.

Now there are many myths about what the F1 visa OPT program is an isn’t so we will try and clear all the main ones here so you are well prepared in your US Immigration journey.

In short F-1 visa students are permitted 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. This permission is granted via the International Students Office or similar body of the academic institution and like post graduation OPT must be in line with the field of study undertaken.
(NB: M-1 visa students are also eligible for OPT up to a maximum of 6 months which is earned by one month of work time allowed for every 4 months of study)

What is the Process & Filing Costs for OPT?

  • A foreign student can begin the procedure by requesting the Designated School Official (DSO) at their university to recommend the OPT. The DSO can approve or deny this request but will generally approve if it is a legitimate job offer and employer and related to the student’s field of study
  • The DSO will note this on the student’s I-20 form and update the SEVIS records.
  • The foreign student then files form I-765 with the USCIS. This filing costs $340 and is paid for by the student.
  • This is the Application for Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and this EAD will be issued if the USCIS approve the work.
  • Work may only begin after the EAD has been issued.

You should note that is you spent 6 months working prior to graduation this will then be deducted from the 12 month maximum alotted for OPT.

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 graduatedĀ  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

It should be noted that for approval that your OPT approval must be based on one of these types of degrees. That means if you have an undergraduate degree in one of these areasa and master’s degreeĀ  in something else but your OPT program is approved based on your Master’s degree say in education, then you are not eligible for the STEM extension.

It is also mandatory that your employer be enrolled in the free US Government E-Verify program and that you apply for this extension prior to the expiry of your current OPT period.

What is the Process for the STEM OPT 17 month Extension & Costs?

  • Again the foreign student must file Form I-765 with USCIS which again costs $340. Additionally you must include with filing your Form I-20 endorsed by the DSO at your school and then a copy of your degree in one of the designated STEM fields of study. This is effectively an amendment to your original form I-765 filing as well as for inclusion of your Employers E-Verify information.
  • If there is a delay in the 17 month extension processing of the application by the USCIS and the student filed the STEM extension ahead of time, there is an up to 180 extension of employment authorization.

You should also note that every 6 months you need to report to your DSO information regarding your employer and your status in terms of addresses, contacts and names to confirm information. Additionally if any of this information ever changes it needs to be reported within 10 days.

Additionally if your 17 month extension period ends prior to October 1 and your H1B visa petition has been approved then you get an automatic stand and work authorization extension up until this date and your H1B status takes over. If this is the case then the DSO reporting requirements above still apply.

Finally if your are on the regular OPT program you may not accrue in aggregate any more than 90 days on unemployment or with the 17 month STEM extension, 120 days on unemployment as otherwise your OPT status becomes void.

CJ

(USCIS F1 OPT Q&A)

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US Visa Types List

Temporary Work Visas and Employment-Based Green Cards

An individual may obtain a temporary visa to work or study in the United States, or he or she may obtain lawful permanent residency (green card) through one of five employment-based preference categories. Immigration attorneys can assist you with either your temporary work visa or your employment-based green card application.

Temporary Visas for Working

The H Visa Temporary Worker

There are several types of H visas for temporary workers. Each type of visa allows the individual to perform a specific job:

  • H1B visa is for professionals who are coming to work in the U.S. in a specialty occupation (Professional visa and Fashion Models);
  • H1C is for nurses who will work in particular positions;
  • H2A is for agricultural workers;
  • H2B visa is for non-agricultural workers (Unskilled Foreign Workers);
  • H3 is for trainees; and
  • H4 visa is the accompanying visa granted to the spouse and children under 21 years of age of the worker.
  • TN Status: allows certain qualifying Canadian and Mexican citizens to temporarily work for an employer in the U.S. under NAFTA.

Learn more about the H Visa and other Temporary Worker visas through the U.S. State Department’s website

The E Visa

Only citizens and nationals of certain countries are eligible for this type of visa. A requirement for this visa is a treaty between the United States and the foreign country for trade or commerce. There are two types of E visas for working:

  • E1 visa is for an individual who is doing substantial trade with the United States; and
  • E2 visa is for an investor who is directing an investment
  • E3 visa for Australia citizens only to work in the US (E3D visa is the partner visa)

Learn more about Treaty Traders and Treaty Investors Visas through the U.S. State Department’s website

The L Visa Temporary Worker

The L visa is for temporary worker who is coming to work at a subsidiary of a foreign company. There are several types of L visas:

  • L1A visa is for a manager or an executive;
  • L1B visa is for someone with specialized knowledge;
  • L2 visa is the accompanying visa that spouses and children under 21 years of age receive with the worker.

Temporary Visas for Studying – Student Visas

Look for important News Releases from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement about SEVIS

The F-1 Visa

This F1 visa allows the student to study full-time at an academic institution such as a university, private school, or language institute.

Learn more about Academic Student Visas through the U.S. State Department’s website.

The J Visa for Exchange Trainees and Workers

The J visa is for temporary workers on J1 work and travel or J1 trainees who are coming to work or train with an organization that has been approved for an exchange program under the J visa regulations.

Learn more about Exchange Visitor Visa (J Visa) through the U.S. State Department’s website.

Read about the Waiver of the Two-Year Foreign Residency Requirement for J Visa through the U.S. State Department’s website.

The M Visa

This type of visa allows an individual to attend an approved course of study leading to a specific educational or vocational objective and engage in full-course of study.

Learn more about the Nonacademic Student Visa (M Visa) through the U.S. State Department’s website.

Temporary Visas for Particular Occupations – O, P, Q, and R Visas

The O Visa

The O-1: Extraordinary Ability Artists/Entertainers, Business People, Scientists, Educators, and Athletes

The O-1 visa is available to foreign nationals of extraordinary or high achievement in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics as demonstrated by sustained national or international acclaim, or with regard to motion picture and television productions, a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement, and whose achievements have been recognized in the field through extensive documentation.

The O-2: Support Staff of Artists and Athletes

The O-2 visa is for an alien entering:

(1) for a specific event or events;
(2) who is an integral part of such actual performance;
(3a) has critical skills and experience with principal alien, which are not of a general nature or which cannot be performed by other individual; or
(3b) in the case of a motion picture or television production, has skills and experience with the O-1 alien that are not of a general nature and which are critical and the alien is essential to the successful completion of the production; and
(4) has a foreign residence that the alien has no intention of abandoning.

The P Visa for Athletes and Artists

This visa applies to an internationally recognized athlete performing at a major athletic event as an individual athlete or as part of a group or team and for an artist or member of internationally recognized entertainment group. There are several types of P visas:

  • P-1 is for an athlete and athletic teams and entertainment groups;
  • P-2 is for artists and entertainer reciprocal exchange;
  • P-3 is for artists and entertainers integral to performance.

The Q-1 Visa

This visa applies to a foreign national entering the U.S. for the purpose of obtaining practical training, employment, and the sharing of history, culture, philosophy, and traditions of the alien’s home country.

The R-1 Visa

R-1 visa is for a foreign national with a religious profession, occupation, or vocation, for example, minister, professional holding degree or foreign equivalent degree, cantor, monk, evangelist, or nun.

Employment Based and Investor Immigrant Preferences

Employment-based immigration for lawful permanent residence falls under five preference cateogories:

Different criteria apply to each of these categories and substantial document preparation is required to successfully obtain residency based upon one of the employment-based immigraton categories.

Check the current Visa Bulletin priority dates for each of the employment-based categories, since not all categories have a current priority date.

Guest Author

Ruchi Thaker

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