Optical Practical Training

Optical Practical Training

Optical Practical Training (OPT) is off-campus work authorization for international students with F-1 visas. International students with F-1 visas are allowed to work with certain restrictions. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services regulates the various types of employment permission.

OPT work authorization is designed to provide international students with F-1 visas opportunities for employment in their fields of study before or after graduation. Students maintain F-1 status while on OPT since it is considered part of the program of study. Students are eligible to work on-campus during school for up to twenty hours per week while school is in session and forty hours per week during holidays without special approval; OPT provides the chance to have an off-campus employment experience related to the field of study.

Eligibility Requirements

To apply for OPT, a student must have maintained F-1 status for at least nine months and the proposed employment must be related to the student’s field of study (major). The employment may occur anywhere in the United States.

Authorization Period

One twelve-month period of OPT is available during a student’s stay in the U.S. for each degree at a different educational level. However, this period can be divided into smaller units of time. For example, if permission is obtained for three months during one summer of a bachelors’ degree, then nine months will remain for employment after completing the bachelor’s.

A job offer at the time of application is not required, and there is no penalty for failure to obtain employment during the authorization period if the student is actively looking for a job. Keep in mind, though, that in most cases, no option exists to cancel or change the dates of OPT once the application has been submitted to USCIS. Therefore, a student seeking pre-graduation OPT approval should plan well ahead and be fairly certain of the employment opportunity so as not to “waste” several months of OPT eligibility.

Changing employers is allowed, with no special permission from USCIS, as long as the new employment is also related to the field of study and the student reports his/her new job to the DSO at Centre.

Processing the Application

Speak with Centre’s DSO about the requirements for applying for OPT. The DSO will then help you to submit your application to the USCIS Texas Service Center for approval.

Once the application has been approved by USCIS, the EAD (employment authorization document) card will be sent to you. Your employer will require this EAD card as proof of your eligibility for employment, and you should also carry this card with your other immigration papers whenever you leave the country. Working off-campus without having obtained the EAD is illegal and will result in falling out of status and losing future visa benefits.

Application Deadline

There is no application deadline for OPT, except that the application must be made before the end of the visa program (usually the graduation date). However, approval can take up to four months, and travel outside of the U.S. after applying for OPT and before receiving the employment authorization card is not advised. Therefore, it is very important to plan ahead and to submit a complete application 90 days before you wish to begin OPT.

Student Responsibilities During OPT

Once you are approved and enter the Optional Practical Training period, you have limited but important obligations to stay in touch with the DSO at Centre so that she can update your online immigration record accordingly. Remember that violation of visa regulations, including failure to report required information during OPT, could result in your inability to obtain future visas for travel to the United States. It is your responsibility to report the following to Centre’s DSO: • change to your name or address • name and mailing address of your employer, as well as your start date with that employer • change to your employment situation.

Although you are not required to have a written job offer before applying for OPT, you may only be unemployed for a total of 90 days during post-completion OPT authorization. Therefore, you should carefully document your dates of employment.

Finally, it is important that when traveling outside of the country during your OPT period, you carry your EAD card and letter of employment or future employment from your employer, and be prepared to present these two documents to immigration officials upon re-entry to the U.S. along with your other immigration papers.

FAQ About OPT

When should I apply? Apply early! Allow three months for processing by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), plus additional time for obtaining your academic adviser’s signature on the OPT Request Form, ISS processing (one week), and mailing to USCIS. You cannot work until you receive OPT approval.

You may submit your application to USCIS as early as 90 days before your program end date and up to 60 days after your program end date. (Your program end date is the last day of your final quarter, including final exams week, according to the academic calendar.) Please note that your OPT application must arrive at the USCIS Service Center within 30 days of the OPT I-20 issue date, or the request will be denied.

We strongly encourage you to apply for OPT three months prior to your program end date. Though USCIS will accept your application up to 60 days after your program end date, you cannot begin work until the application is approved. A delayed application may result in delayed work authorization and/or loss of full OPT eligibility (12 months) due to the three-month processing time by USCIS.

How long does it take to get approved for OPT?
Approximately three months from the date USCIS receives your application, though it can be faster depending on the time of year.

If I change my mind and decide not to work, can I cancel my OPT authorization?
The answer depends on your situation. If you were issued a new I-20 with the OPT recommendation but have not yet mailed your application to USCIS, you must notify your DSO of your change in plans. The DSO can cancel the OPT recommendation.

If you have already mailed your application to USCIS, a request can be submitted to USCIS to halt processing. Your application fee will not be returned and we cannot guarantee that your request will be honored. Contact your DSO for assistance. If you have received your EAD card and wish to cancel authorization, contact your DSO. Cancellation in this situation is highly unlikely. OPT application are not meant to be cancelled.

I didn’t submit my OPT application early enough, and I realize I might not get the OPT start date I requested. How do I know what date USCIS will authorize?
Unfortunately it is difficult to estimate. The authorization depends on when the application arrives and the workload at USCIS. If they process your application after your requested start date, they will defer the start date to their day of processing, up to 60 days after your program end date. However, there is no way to predict which date it will be.

How long does it take to get the Receipt Notice/Notice of Action (NOA)?
Approximately two-to-three weeks after USCIS receives your application. You might verify with your bank whether yourcheck has been cashed. If so, the NOA is likely on the way.

How much is the application fee?
The filing fee for Form I-765 is $380. Students must pay this fee each time they apply for OPT.

I have heard that I can apply for a “temporary” EAD card. Is this true?
In the past, students were able to apply for a temporary EAD card if their application was pending for more than 90 days. Processes have changed, and temporary EADs are no longer issued. If your application is pending for more than 90 days, contact your DSO.

What if I lose my EAD card?
If you lose your card, you must apply and pay for a replacement. Complete a new I-765 Form and resubmit it to USCIS with all supporting documents, including the fee. Contact your DSO for an updated I-20. We recommend you keep your EAD at home (not in your wallet) because of the expense and time in applying for a replacement.

Who qualifies for the STEM extension?
To be eligible for the 17-month OPT extension, a student must have received a degree included in the STEM Designated Degree Program List. These include computer science applications, biological and biomedical sciences, actuarial science, mathematics and statistics, engineering, military technologies, engineering technologies, physical sciences, science technologies, and medical scientist. In addition, the student must currently be in an approved post-completion OPT period based on a designated STEM degree, must apply on time (i.e., before the current post-completion OPT expires), and must be working for an E-verified employer.

Click here for even more answers to questions about OPT.

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