Hey everyone! If you’re an international student, chances are you’re already familiar with OPT (Optional Practical Training.) For those who aren’t, OPT is:

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a period during which undergraduate and graduate students with F-1 status who have completed or have been pursuing their degrees for more than nine months are permitted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to work for at most one year on a student visa towards getting practical training to complement their field of studies. F-1 students are usually permitted a total of 12 months of practical training. (Read full article here.)

In other words, OPT is a work permit that will be good for one year as long as you are working (or interning) in a position directly related to your field of study. You can do it while you’re studying, provided you have completed at least nine months of your program, but chances are you’ll want to do it after graduation. In that case, the OPT will be good for one year, even if the F1 visa expires before that. For those who are thinking about applying, I am going to breakdown the process with a simple checklist:

Check List

1) When and where to apply?

An F1 student can apply for OPT as early as 9 months after the start of the program and as late as 60 days after the graduation date. In my own opinion, it generally makes more sense to wait until closer to graduation. That way you can use all the skills you gain at school as an already graduate in a real job. In order to apply, you need to see your school advisor, who will issue the application provided you bring the necessary documents. Once they give you the application, you just need to send the package with the documents to the USCIS address.

At Berkeley College, for post-completion (meaning that the OPT will start after graduation) you can apply up to 90 days prior to the end of the last quarter or 50 days after graduation.

2) How to apply?

These are the required documents that you need to bring in order to apply for OPT:

  • Form I-765 http://www.uscis.gov/files/form/i-765.pdf
  • Check or money order for $380, made to “Dept. of Homeland Security”
  • 2 US-style passport photographs (must be 2” by 2”)
  • Copy of passport (with expiration date)
  • Copy of visa
  • Copy of I-94 (front and back)
  • Copies of all previous I-20’s (first pages and third pages)
  • Copies of previous Employment Authorization Documents EAD (front and back) (only if you received employment authorization in the past)
  • Copy of Approval Notice (only if you changed your status in the US)

You will also need to tell your advisor which start date you would like (that is maximum 60 days after graduation date) so that they can print a new I20 with the OPT information.

Once you bring these documents, you will get a new I20. Then you’re ready to mail everything to the USCIS address you will be given. After that, the only thing you need to do is wait for the mail man.

3) How long will it take?

You can expect the process to be about 2 and a half or 3 months from the moment you mail your application until you receive your card. That is why I recommend doing it at the very beginning of the final quarter or even at the end of the previous. Because it goes on a case by case basis, it is difficult to tell what the exact wait time is going to be. It is definitely better to file as early as possible.

4) What to do once it’s approved?

Once you get your Employment Authorization Document (EAD Card,) you are elegible to apply for a Social Security Number, which you should do as soon as possible because it will make things easier to find a job.

You can only be unemployed for a maximum period of 90 days during your OPT year, and once you find a job, you need to submit your employer information to SEVIS and the job must be related to your field of study.

Once your EAD reaches the expiration date, you MUST stop working, but have a 60 day grace period to leave the country. It is good to know that your F1 visa gets automatically extended for as long as you are on OPT, even if the visa itself has expired.

crop380w_newspaper_with_job

I hope this checklist clarifies things for F1 students. If you need more information, you should be checking the official government page on this matter at uscis.gov. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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About José Navarro

I grew up in Barcelona, Spain. I moved to New York City to get my BBA in International Business at Berkeley College after studying Advertising and Public Relations in my country and in Tallinn, Estonia. I love traveling; it's my biggest passion. I like learning about new cultures and traditions. I consider myself to be a very positive and active person.

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