Optional Practical Training (OPT)
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Many employers express concerns about hiring international students in the United States. Many international students also have concerns with travel issues and OPT. The following are some questions frequently asked by employers and students for guidance.
Can international students work in the U.S.?
Yes, there are four separate employment categories for F-1 student visa holders. The law states in Title 8 of the Code of Federal Register, Part 214, that international students on F-1 visas are eligible for "practical training".
What is practical training?
Practical training allows international students to accept paid work in the U.S. Practical training should allow them to gain experience in their field of study, which they normally could not obtain in their home country.
Who is eligible?
Any international student who is enrolled in a U.S. college or university and who holds an F-1 visa may apply for Optional Practical Training.
When can a student engage in Optional Practical Training?
Students may begin practical training following completion of their degree requirements.
How long does practical training last?
Students with F-1 visa status are eligible for twelve months of full-time practical training following completion of their studies.
How do students obtain practical training?
Applications for practical training are filed by the student. Students must receive a recommendation from the International Students and Scholars office at their college or university and authorization from Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS).
How does the employer know if a student is eligible for employment?
International students (F-1 Visa holders) who have been approved for Optional Practical Training should possess the following documents:
- A valid passport
- A Form I-20 ID (student copy), bearing the recommendation of the Designated School Official (DSO) on page 3.
- An Employment Authorization Document (EAD). The EAD (Form I-766) is a laminated, photograph I.D. card issued by Immigration with the dates of authorized employment.
What does the employer have to do?
Employers should verify that the international student possesses an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Once employment has been offered, international students should complete the usual forms:
- I-9, Employment Verification Form
The student will complete the upper portion of this form using the end date of the EAD card for the expiration date of permission to work.
- W-4, Employees Withholding Allowance Certificate
International students are subject to both Federal and State income tax; therefore, they are subject to withholding tax. If the employee is a non-resident for tax purposes, use the special rules printed on the form when completing the W-4.
Now that I’ve applied for OPT, can I travel outside the U.S. while I wait for the EAD card to come?
The USCIS at this time states you can travel while your OPT is pending in order to return and search for employment. However, this interpretation is a change from the previous operating instructions. ISS recommendation is that you do not travel outside of the U.S. while your OPT application is pending. If you have an emergency and must travel it is uncertain as to your risk.
Can I travel while on OPT with my EAD and continue my job search upon reentry?
USCIS has stated if your OPT has been approved, you have obtained your EAD and you depart the U.S. before obtaining a job, your OPT is terminated and you may not reenter the U.S.
The USCIS have changed the previous operating instructions and have narrowed the interpretation of the regulations 8 CFR.214.2(f)(13)(ii) to state that you must reenter the U.S. to “resume employment”.
ISS strongly recommends that you do not travel unless there is an emergency or you have a letter verifying either employment or an offer of employment. Again, this has been a change in the interpretation so it is unclear how your entry will be interpreted at the port of entry.
What documents do I need to reenter the U.S. with an approved OPT?
You will need your I-20 endorsed on the 3rd page by an ISS staff member, the Employment Authorization Document (EAD), a valid visa, and a letter verifying an offer of employment.
What if I still have some time left on my student program? Can I travel during that time, even though my I-20 shows that I have been recommended for OPT but the OPT application is still pending with CIS?
Yes, but you must be returning as a student to complete academic requirements. For example, a student who has applied for OPT in May, is enrolled during the summer, but who does not graduate until August, may still travel as a student until their graduation date. ISS recommends that you travel with a letter of certification showing that you are a student during the summer.
My visa in my passport has expired, but I need to travel outside the U.S. while on OPT do I have a risk for denial of another F-1 visa?
Yes, there is a risk of denial. The risk is higher than while you are in active student status, since your stay is now working rather than going to school. The F-1 student visa requires that the applicant must intend to return to the home country at the end of the program, and if the visa issuing officer is not convinced of your intention to return home, the visa application could be denied.
You need to take a valid passport, recently endorsed I-20, EAD card, and a letter verifying an offer of employment showing your salary, location, job duties, and beginning date. You should also be prepared to discuss how the job experience will apply to a job in your home country and how you intend to apply it.
What if the employer wants to hire the student for a longer period of time?
Employers can petition for an H1-b Non-Immigrant Temporary Worker visa either immediately after graduation or any time during the practical training period following graduation. This will allow the student to work in the U.S. for up to six years. It is only valid for employment with the petitioning organization. The International Students and Scholars (ISS) office has a list of attorneys who are skilled in assisting with H1-b visa applications.
Who is eligible for an H1-b visa?
People with a graduate degree are usually good candidates to an H visa; however those with a bachelor's degree are also eligible.
How does an employer sponsor a student for permanent residency?
An employer may wish to assist an employee with obtaining permanent residency, also known as a "green card". This process can be time-consuming and may be expensive. The assistance of an attorney is recommended. The ISS office can provide a list of immigration lawyers in the area.
Why should an employer hire an international student graduate?
- Can diversify your workplace.
- Offer a wide range of skills and abilities.
- Are flexible, adaptable and ambitious.
- Are often multilingual.
- Have international experience.
- Are considered to be among the brightest and most highly motivated people from their home countries.
- Have substantive experience gained from employment in their home countries.
- Can be trained in the U.S. and sent on assignments in their home countries.
- Often have technical expertise.
- Can enrich an organization by sharing cultural experience.
- Have an extensive network among them. Thus, employment of a qualified non-citizen may attract other highly qualified candidates.