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Everything You Need to Know About Optional Practical Training

To get an added 24 months of STEM OPT, a student must have a job offer and the employer must participate in the US government's E-Verify program
BY BrainGain Magazine Staff Writer |   28-12-2019

Optional Practical Training program
International students with F-1 status who have completed at least one academic year of full-time studies
can participate in the Optional Practical Training program

Thanks to the US federal Optional Practical Training program, known as OPT, international students can temporarily work in a US-based job related to their field of study.

The OPT program currently allows international students to work for 12 months after graduation and 24 additional months in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. 

Optional Practical Training was first promulgated during the George HW Bush administration. It was expanded for graduates with a STEM degree by the George W Bush administration. It was again promulgated by the Barack Obama administration. It has been supported by every US administration, as a sensible, merits-based immigration program.

Here’s how it works

International students holding F-1 visa status and pursuing degree programs in the US are typically granted one year of Optional Practical Training in order to gain work experience related to their major fields of study.

There are two types of OPT for students on an F-1 visa: pre-completion and post-completion. Pre-completion OPT allows international students to hold a job during their studies, permitting them to work part time while classes are in session and full-time during breaks. However, experts say post-completion OPT, which allows students to work part time or full time after graduation, is the much more popular option.

“Students commonly complete their studies before starting on the OPT program so they can seek employment for a continuous year after graduation,” Andrew Greenfield, managing partner of the Fragomen law firm told Forbes. He has two decades of experience in employment-based immigration law.

“For students whose degree is in a qualifying STEM field, they may apply for an additional 24 months, or a total of 36 months, of OPT work authorization, known as STEM OPT,” he added.

Students may apply for OPT and receive an employment authorization document (EAD) without first securing a job offer from a US employer.

However, international students trying to avail of the additional 24 months that come with a STEM OPThave to secure a job offer.

“To obtain an additional 24 months of STEM OPT, the international student must have a job offer and the prospective employer must participate in the US government’s E-Verify program,” said Greenfield.

“In addition, the STEM OPT employer must assist the student in completing a training plan that explains how the employer will provide the student with work-based learning opportunities related to the student’s curriculum, evaluate his or her performance, and provide oversight and supervision,” he added.

The training plan must then be reviewed by the student’s school before USCIS will issue a new employment authorization document to cover the additional 24-month STEM OPT period.

Legal to work on at third-party sites

Is it actually against the law or current regulations for students in STEM OPT status to work at third-party sites?

There is simply nothing in the STEM OPT regulation, and nothing on the subject from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), that precludes a university from recommending STEM OPT for students who will be trained by their sponsors at third-party sites. 

“If they are offered job opportunities that will have them working primarily at third-party sites, they may wish to confirm with their prospective employers that their assignments will be structured in a way that fulfills the mandate that training and evaluation is provided by the STEM OPT sponsor,” said Greenfield.

International students with F-1 status who have completed at least one academic year of full-time studies can participate in Optional Practical Training.



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