PR and Career opportunities

What is Optional Practical Training (OPT) ?

Aditya Ghatmale
What is Optional Practical Training (OPT) ? Image

OPT, or Optional Practical Training is an employment opportunity for international students based in USA. OPT gives you additional training in your chosen field in form of a paid work which can be part-time or full-time work. Sounds easy, right? But, unfortunately the government in US is not as easy as it is in India. The process gets complicated step by step when you move ahead with it. It is difficult but it eventually happens though. OPT is available to F-1 status international students who have completed minimum one full academic year. This is similar to curricular practical training, or CPT, whereas CPT is designed for internships before you graduate and OPT is always used for work after your course of study is complete.

Let’s begin with taking the first step towards OPT. Timing is everything while applying for an application in US, you shouldn’t be too late nor too early. To obtain an OPT you need to take recommendation from your Designated School Official (DSO). Remember that when you take admissions in any specific university don’t forget to keep good rep with your DSO. Post obtaining your recommendation letter take your Form I-20 and submit it. At that point, you’ll receive a “Notice of Action” from US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) confirming that they’ve received your application while you wait for your updated employment authorization document (EAD). With the basics of OPT in mind, we’ve collected a few more things you should know while seeking out this authorization.

Once you’re approved by your DSO, you must apply for your EAD with USCIS within 30 days. You may file the paperwork for an EAD up to 90 days prior to the end date of your studies but no more than 60 days after the end date.

You must be confused whether one should apply for OPT before or after graduation, right? So you can actually start your OPT prior to your program’s end date. This is what’s known as pre-completion OPT. You will still be required to limit yourself to 20 hours per week while you study (and you cannot legally supplement that with 20 more hours at another on campus job). You will also lose 1 month of your approved post-completion OPT period for every two months of pre-completion OPT you complete. That means if you’re granted 12 months of OPT, and you work 4 months of it part-time before you graduate, you will have 10 months remaining to work full-time after you graduate. Weird, isn’t it?

Now here comes the good news for all STEM disciplinarians. Before I begin STEM let me just lay down its full-form to you. STEM is a full form of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. People belonging to these fields can extended their OPT up to a total of 29 months. Well, it’s a sad news for those in Marketing or Commerce but may the force be with you!

Now that you have a plan for post-graduation employment, here’s a list of the paperwork being laid down to you that you’ll need to apply for OPT:

  • Form I-20 with DSO approval.
  • Valid passport.
  • Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization).
  • A check or money order for US $380.00 made out to U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
  • 2 color photos with white background taken within 30 days of your submission to the USCIS.

Check with your DSO to confirm if you need any additional paperwork. And remember: any employment beyond the maximum of 29 months will require your employer to sponsor you for an H-1B work visa. When in doubt, consult with a campus official or on the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement website. This is worth considering if you have no pressing options for OPT before you graduate. You may want to wait to seek out an ideal work situation that you can focus on after you complete your studies. So, keep the timings right and keep your documents updated.

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