Understanding OPT: Your Path to Gaining Practical Experience in the USA
If you are an international student in the United States, you may have heard about OPT, or Optional Practical Training. OPT is a program that allows international students on F-1 visas to work in their field of study for a specified period, providing them with valuable practical experience. In this article, we will explore the world of OPT, including its purpose, types, eligibility criteria, application process, and the impact it has on international students.
The Purpose and Benefits of OPT
OPT serves as a bridge between your academic journey and your professional career. Its primary purpose is to provide you with an opportunity to gain real-world experience related to your field of study. The benefits of OPT and OPT JOBS are numerous:
- Practical Experience: OPT allows you to apply the knowledge you’ve gained in your academic program to a real work environment.
- Resume Enhancement: The experience you gain during OPT can significantly enhance your resume, making you a more attractive candidate to potential employers.
- Networking: During OPT, you have the chance to network with professionals in your industry, potentially leading to job opportunities.
- Earning Potential: You can earn a competitive salary during your OPT, which can help you cover living expenses and student loans OPT student can work fulltime as well as contract jobs many time opt students are very strong in programming skills and earn 10X more than other working professionals for any other Contract jobs in USA.
Types of OPT
There are two main types of OPT:
- Pre-Completion OPT: This allows you to work part-time (up to 20 hours per week) while your degree program is in session. During school breaks, you can work full-time.
- Post-Completion OPT: This type of OPT begins after you complete your degree program and can be used for full-time employment.
Eligibility Criteria for OPT
To be eligible for OPT, you must meet the following criteria:
- You must be an F-1 student who has been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for at least one full academic year.
- You must not have used more than 12 months of full-time CPT (Curricular Practical Training).
- You must be in a program that is directly related to your field of study.
- You must apply for OPT before completing your degree program.
Differences between CPT (Curricular Practical Training) and OPT (Optional Practical Training) for international students in the USA:
|1. Eligibility||Available during your degree program.||Available both during and after your degree program.|
|2. Timing||Can be used part-time or full-time during the academic year.||Typically used after completing your academic program.|
|3. Duration||Generally, there is no set time limit for CPT, but it is subject to approval.||OPT has a maximum duration of 12 months (with possible STEM extension).|
|4. Work Authorization||Requires a job offer related to your field of study.||Requires job offer for post-completion OPT but not for pre-completion OPT.|
|5. Full-time employment||Possible during school breaks and full-time (up to 40 hours/week) during vacation periods for any US Job.||Allowed during the post-completion OPT period.|
|6. Part-time employment||Possible during the academic year (up to 20 hours/week).||Allowed during pre-completion OPT.|
|7. Internship type||Typically used for internships and co-op programs.||Used for any job related to your field of study.|
|8. Academic Requirements||Must be part of your degree program’s curriculum.||Must be directly related to your major or course of study.|
|9. Application Process||Apply through your Designated School Official (DSO).||Apply to USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).|
|10. Use after graduation||Generally not available after you complete your degree program.||Available for post-completion OPT after completing your degree.|
These differences highlight the distinctions between CPT and OPT, allowing international students to choose the right option based on their academic and career goals.
Application Process for OPT
The process of applying for OPT involves several steps:
- Consult your Designated School Official (DSO) to ensure your eligibility and discuss your plans.
- Prepare and submit the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, to USCIS.
- Pay the required fee and provide the necessary supporting documents.
- Wait for the approval of your OPT application.
Duration of OPT
The duration of your OPT period can be for a maximum of 12 months. However, there are provisions for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) students to extend their OPT for an additional 24 months, making it a total of 36 months.
Employment and OPT
During your OPT period, you can work for multiple employers, work part-time or full-time, and even have periods of unemployment within the limits set by USCIS. It’s crucial to report any changes in your employment status to your DSO to maintain your legal status.
Maintaining Status During OPT
To maintain your status during OPT, you should:
- Work only in your field of study.
- Notify your DSO of any changes in your personal information.
- Report any changes in employment within 10 days.
Challenges and Concerns
While OPT offers numerous advantages, international students may face challenges, such as finding suitable employment, dealing with the uncertainty of the H-1B visa lottery, and adjusting to work culture in the USA. It’s essential to be prepared for these challenges and explore alternative options if necessary.
Alternatives to OPT
If you are unable to secure an OPT opportunity or want to explore other avenues, consider alternatives like applying for a work visa or pursuing further education.
The Impact of OPT on International Students
OPT can have a profound impact on international students, providing them with the practical skills and experience needed to kickstart their careers. It also allows them to contribute to the U.S. workforce and, in some cases, pursue long-term employment opportunities in the country.
OPT is a valuable program for international students seeking practical experience in the United States. It bridges the gap between education and professional life, offering a chance to gain experience, network, and earn a competitive salary. While it comes with its challenges, the benefits of OPT are significant and can significantly enhance an international student’s career prospects.
- Is OPT available to all international students in the USA?
- OPT is available to F-1 visa holders who meet the eligibility criteria.
- Can I apply for OPT more than once?
- You can apply for OPT once per degree level (e.g., once for your bachelor’s degree and once for your master’s degree).
- Do I need a job offer to apply for OPT?
- A job offer is not required to apply for OPT, but you will need one to begin working on OPT.
- Can I travel outside the USA during my OPT period?
- You can travel outside the USA during your OPT period, but it’s essential to have the required documentation and maintain your status.
- What is the STEM OPT extension, and who is eligible for it?
- The STEM OPT extension allows eligible STEM students to extend their OPT period for an additional 24 months. To qualify, your degree program must be in a STEM field, and your employer must be E-Verify compliant.
Now that you have a comprehensive understanding of OPT, you can make an informed decision about how it fits into your academic and career plans. Don’t hesitate to explore this opportunity to gain valuable experience in the USA.
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