Even though there are a few months left in the semester, it is time to start thinking about and finalizing your plans for after graduation. You may have worked on-campus or perhaps off-campus already during your studies, but if you intend to stay in the United States post-graduation, working in your field, then you must apply for the particular employment authorization to do so.
To get employment authorization, you must apply for your OPT. This is how the United States government allows you to legally stay in the United States and work after college. The application process for an OPT visa can take up to about three months to process. Since you can apply up to 90 days prior to graduation, it is time to start thinking about your OPT application NOW. The first thing to do is talk to your Designated School Official, or DSO, to get an understanding of your individual situation, a timeline for the process, as well as other details to know that may be particular to your school or field.
As you get started on this application journey, we at ISO want to make sure you are as informed as possible when preparing for your life post-graduation.
What is OPT?
It stands for Optional Practical Training and is the period of time you can work legally in the United States after your graduation. After applying and being verified, a student can be granted up to 12 months of employment authorization under OPT.
You can apply for OPT regardless if you are a STEM major or a non-STEM major. STEM refers to the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. If your degree is for one of these fields, then you are eligible to apply for an additional 24-month extension to your post-completion OPT employment authorization even before your first year of OPT ends.
Eligibility for a STEM OPT Extension requires:
- Receiving a STEM degree in accordance to the STEM Designated Degree Program List,
- Your employer utilizes the E-Verify government system, and
- You have received an initial authorization of post-completion OPT based on a STEM degree.
Know the Process: Applying for OPT
The first step in applying for OPT is requesting that your DSO recommends the OPT. The recommendation comes in the form of a few things – all involving the paperwork required for obtaining your OPT. Your DSO will:
- Endorse your Form I-20 and the Certification of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, and
- Make the required notation in SEVIS, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.
Once the conversation of applying for OPT is started with your Designated School Official AND they have entered the recommendation for OPT into SEVIS records, you then must file the required forms, along with the supporting documentation, as well as pay the fee to process your application. The main form you are in charge of filing is Form I-765, the Application for Employment Authorization, with the USCIS.
- Be mindful of deadlines. You can apply for OPT beginning from 90 days before your academic program ends, and until 60 days after your academic program ends.
- Sounds complicated? Don’t know where to start? Here is USCIS’s website if you want to learn more. Many schools will assemble and/or review the application package for you. So, don’t stress yourself out!
You will be able to find all information you need at your school’s international student office or at the US Department of Homeland Security web page. Normally, it takes about 3 months to process your OPT application and receive your EAD card, if approved. This is necessary for you to work in the U.S. after graduating. If you don’t want to miss out on your dream job, start your OPT process and apply now!
While you are working on OPT, it is important to continue medical coverage during your time in the United States. Even though you may not have to fill a school requirement, health insurance is a must in the United States, especially to help protect yourself from sickness and injury. ISO Student Health Insurance provides affordable and flexible OPT insurance plans while you continue on to your next stage after college and work in the U.S.
The Right Plan for You
F-1 OPT students with a valid I-20 can purchase either an OPTima Basic or an OPTima Enhanced plan. You are able to view the benefits and eligibilities of these plans directly on our website, as well as compare and decide which is the right fit for you. If you need help understanding or deciding between the available plans, feel free to give us a call, our customer care representatives are happy to help you.
For more information, as well as where to find the exact forms, instructions, and further details regarding the OPT application process, visit www.uscis.gov/opt