OPT visa: Eligibility and Application Process
Many students aspire to build their careers in the US, but the process to accomplish their goals doesn’t end with getting an F1 visa.
After procuring an F1 student visa and starting with the choice of their program, the next step is to work on getting oneself enrolled for OPT.
What is OPT?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F1 students is a chance to expand one’s knowledge field. It provides an opportunity to apply the understanding of the course and its implications in real life and explore its effects. This training program allows international students to work in the US for up to a certain period.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) allows certain students to opt for Optional Practical Training (OPT), but only after successful completion of the first academic year in the US. It is also restricted to those colleges or programs or courses, which are duly registered with Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP).
Optional Practical Training (OPT) for international students is classified into three types.
- Pre-completion OPT
- Post-completion OPT
- STEM OPT
For details on the three kinds of OPT, refer to the article ‘All about OPT for F1 visa’. (…‘link’…)
Basic requirements to obtain OPT visa.
The basic requirement to obtain OPTvisa is to get enrolled in an academic program in the US. It is not necessary to have a job offer to apply for OPT. But, there are certain eligibility prerequisites to applying for OPT visa.
Eligibility to obtain OPT for F1 students
- A legitimate F1 visa status.
- A full-time student in a SEVP-affiliated degree course or college for at least one academic year.
- The student should not have completed Curricular Practical Training (CPT) of 12 months or more.
- The desired training pertains to the course of study in which the student is enrolled.
- If a student had earlier opted for CPT, the time would be deducted from the time allotted for OPT.
- The student must apply for OPT, before the completion of the academic degree program.
- Students enrolled in STEM OPT are eligible for a 24-month extension in comparison to non-STEM degree students. Non-STEM degree students are eligible for 12 months of OPT after successful completion of OPT.
- The student must be physically present in the US when USCIS receives the application.
Documents required to apply for OPT for international students
- Two passport-size photographs
- G-1145 form
- Form I-765
- Replica of OPT I-20 request form (issued by USCIS) with the signature of the academic advisor.
- Copy of authentic passport and F1 visa stamp.
- I-94 record (duplicate)
- If applicable, copies of previously attended CPT and OPT.
When to Apply?
The most important point to keep in mind is to apply for OPT as early as possible. It takes more than 3 months for the process and verification to complete. Further, for pre-completion OPT apply before 90 days of the start of the training program. Whereas, in the case of post-completion OPT, apply at least 90 days before the completion of the academic program.
Application Process to receive OPT Visa
Follow the desired college process to submit an OPT visa request with the Designated School Official (DSO).
After confirming eligibility, DSO enters a request in SEVIS and provides a signed copy of form I-20.
The student has to complete form I-765 online from the USCIS website.
Open USCIS e-filling application form and keep all the documents ready for uploading.
Fill out the form and upload a signed copy of all the documents.
After a few days, USCIS sends a mail with a receipt of the I-797C Notice of Action. Keep this receipt handy, for all future verifications.
After verification and completion of the process, Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is assigned to the student. This EAD is proof that the student has been permitted to opt for OPT in the US.
OPT Application Process (In a nutshell)
Put a request for OPT form I-20 with your Designated School Official (DSO).
DSO will provide a signed form after checking eligibility.
Post your application as early as possible to USCIS.
It takes approximately 3-5 months of processing by USCIS before the student receives confirmation. The application can also be submitted using the e-filling option offered by USCIS. For e-filing, create an account with USCIS. Pay the required fee and upload the necessary documents. Ensure that you keep the details safe, all communication would take place through this account only.
- Receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
Once the application has been approved by USCIS, the student will receive EAD.
OPT Tracking (Tracking the Application)
Once the student has applied for OPT visa, the status can be checked on the following website.
This website takes the student to the portal, wherein, the student needs to enter the receipt number (I-797C Notice of Action) allotted to them by USCIS via mail.
Steps for OPT tracking
Request for Evidence (REF)
In case there is an issue with the application submitted with the USCIS for OPT approval, USCIS sends an e-notice. This notice is termed a Request for Evidence (REF). REF, in layman’s terms, means that additional documents are required to move ahead with obtaining EAD.
In case of rejection of the application, USCIS sends I-797C and the original decision of rejection explaining the reason. The remaining application documents along with the fee are returned to the applicant at the designated address.
*Upon rejection, if the students desire, they can re-apply after following the same process again (in case, there is time). This time, they would need to attach the previous rejection letter along.
On approval, the student’s case status would reflect ‘Case was approved’. Approval notice, along with the I-797C Notice of Action letter would be sent to the student’s mailing address. This will act as proof that the student has been granted EAD until the original EAD arrives.