Student Visa & Optional Practical Training – OPT
Generally, a student who wants to study in the United States can do so by obtaining an F-1 visa. An F-1 visa is applicable to foreign students who wish to pursue their education in the United States. This allows foreign students from around the world to have an opportunity to come to the United States and pursue their educational goals.
Traditionally, an F-1 student could only work while in the United States if it was an on-campus job not exceeding 20 hours a week or if previously authorized by USCIS. However, the USCIS gives these students the option of working in the United States by engaging in practical training during or after their program ends. Practical training can provide valuable work experience by sharpening and adding to the skills learned while in school. There are two types of practical training available for F-1 students: curricular practical training (CPT) and optional practical training (OPT). Students can work for a total of 12 months toward practical training and it can be distributed between CPT and OPT.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is a temporary employment authorization for F-1 visa students while they are enrolled in a college-level program. To be eligible for CPT, a student must have stayed in the United States for at least 9 months and not have completed their program. CPT must relate to your major and the experience must be part of your program of study. A student can work on CPT either full-time or part-time. An F-1 student with 12 months or more of full-time CPT, is ineligible for OPT, but part-time CPT is fine and will not stop an F-1 student from doing OPT.
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a temporary employment authorization for F-1 students directly related to their major area of study. Under the prior rules, an F-1 student could be authorized to receive up to a total of 12 months of practical training either before (pre-) and/or after (post-) completion of studies. Both pre-completion and post-completion OPT must be directly related to the student’s major area of study. An F-1 student may be authorized to participate in pre-completion OPT after he or she has been enrolled for one full academic year. Students authorized to participate in pre-completion OPT must work part-time while school is in session. They may work full time when school is not in session. An F-1 student may be authorized to participate in post-completion OPT upon completion of studies. Any work completed during the Pre-completion will be deducted from the 12-month limit and carries over to the Post-completion.
However, an interim final rule was passed in April 2008 that allows qualified F-1 students to extend their period of OPT from 12 months to 29 months. This 17 month OPT extension is available for F-1 students who have received a Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) degree in one of the approved majors listed on the USCIS website (http://www.ice.gov/sevis/stemlist.htm). This extension of the OPT period for STEM degree holders gives U.S. employers two chances to recruit these highly desirable graduates through the H-1B process, as the extension is long enough to allow for H-1B petitions to be filed in two successive fiscal years. This provides a permanent solution to the H-1B “cap-gap,” when an F-1 student’s status and work authorization expire during the current fiscal year before the student can start approved H-1B employment during the next fiscal year beginning on October 1. Previous cap-gap provisions extended only the stay but not the employment authorization.
If you are a foreign student interested in continuing your education in the United States, or if you are currently studying in the United States but would like to pursue work authorization, contact Buda Law Group today for a consultation. Understanding the intricacies of the F-1 visa can be difficult, but our experienced team can help you every step of the way.John B. Buda, Esq. www.budalawgroup.net office: 310-452-1872 [email protected] 3301 Ocean Park Blvd. Suite 205 Santa Monica, CA 90405