The Ultimate Guide to OPT Dos and Don'ts for International Students
Saeed
By Saeed Mirshekari

June 1, 2024

Optimizing OPT: Dos and Don'ts for International Students

Opting for Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a crucial step for many international students studying in the United States. It provides an opportunity to gain practical work experience in their field of study after completing their academic program. However, navigating the OPT process effectively requires careful planning and adherence to certain dos and don'ts. In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore everything international students need to know about maximizing their OPT experience, including essential steps to take and common pitfalls to avoid.

Understanding OPT

What is OPT?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a temporary employment authorization that allows international students with an F-1 visa to work in the United States for up to 12 months in a field directly related to their major area of study. OPT can be used both during and after completing a degree program, providing valuable hands-on experience and exposure to the U.S. job market.

Eligibility Requirements

To qualify for OPT, international students must meet the following criteria:

  • Be in valid F-1 student status.
  • Have completed at least one academic year of full-time study in the United States.
  • Have a job offer or be actively seeking employment in their field of study.
  • Submit Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Dos: Steps to Take for OPT Success

1. Understand Your OPT Timeline

It's essential to understand the OPT timeline and plan accordingly. OPT can be authorized for a maximum of 12 months, which can be used either before or after completing your academic program. Familiarize yourself with the application deadlines and processing times to ensure that your OPT authorization aligns with your career goals and plans.

2. Secure a Job or Internship

Before applying for OPT, it's crucial to have a job offer or internship opportunity lined up in your field of study. Network with professionals in your industry, attend career fairs, and utilize online job boards to explore employment opportunities. Securing a job or internship will strengthen your OPT application and provide valuable practical experience.

3. Prepare a Strong OPT Application

The OPT application process requires submitting Form I-765, along with supporting documentation, to USCIS. Make sure to carefully review the application instructions and gather all required documents, including a valid passport, Form I-20 with OPT recommendation, and proof of financial support. Seek guidance from your designated school official (DSO) to ensure that your OPT application is completed accurately and submitted on time.

4. Stay Informed and Compliant

Once approved, it's essential to stay informed about OPT regulations and requirements to maintain compliance. Attend any required OPT workshops or information sessions offered by your university's international student office. Familiarize yourself with reporting obligations, such as updating your employment status and address with your DSO, and be proactive in seeking guidance if you have any questions or concerns.

5. Network and Build Professional Connections

OPT provides a valuable opportunity to network and build professional connections in your field of study. Attend industry events, seminars, and networking mixers to expand your network and connect with potential employers. Join professional organizations or online forums related to your industry to stay informed about job opportunities and industry trends.

Don'ts: Common Pitfalls to Avoid

1. Delaying the OPT Application Process

Timing is crucial when it comes to OPT, and delaying the application process can jeopardize your eligibility. Begin preparing your OPT application well in advance, ideally several months before your intended start date. Factor in processing times and potential delays to ensure that your OPT authorization is approved in a timely manner.

2. Overlooking OPT Reporting Requirements

Maintaining compliance with OPT reporting requirements is essential to avoid jeopardizing your immigration status. Make sure to update your employment status, address, and contact information with your DSO within 10 days of any changes. Failure to report changes promptly can result in serious consequences, including termination of your OPT authorization.

3. Accepting Unpaid or Unauthorized Employment

While OPT allows for flexibility in employment options, accepting unpaid or unauthorized employment can have legal implications. Make sure that any job or internship you accept is directly related to your field of study and provides compensation in accordance with labor laws. Consult with your DSO or an immigration attorney if you have any doubts or concerns about the legitimacy of a job opportunity.

4. Neglecting Career Development Opportunities

OPT is not only about gaining work experience but also about advancing your career and professional development. Don't limit yourself to just fulfilling the minimum requirements of your OPT authorization. Take advantage of training opportunities, skill-building workshops, and mentorship programs to enhance your skills and marketability in the job market.

5. Failing to Plan for the Future

While OPT provides temporary work authorization, it's essential to plan for your long-term career goals and immigration options. Explore potential pathways for extending your stay in the United States, such as applying for a change of status, pursuing further education, or seeking sponsorship for a work visa. Start planning early to maximize your opportunities for future success.

Conclusion

Opting for Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a valuable opportunity for international students to gain practical work experience and launch their careers in the United States. By following the dos and don'ts outlined in this guide, international students can maximize their OPT experience and set themselves up for success in the competitive job market.

Remember to start early, secure a job or internship in your field of study, and prepare a strong OPT application with the guidance of your designated school official (DSO). Stay informed about OPT regulations and reporting requirements to maintain compliance and avoid potential pitfalls. With careful planning and proactive engagement, OPT can serve as a springboard for future career opportunities and professional growth.

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Saeed

Saeed Mirshekari

Saeed is currently a Director of Data Science in Mastercard and the Founder & Director of OFallon Labs LLC. He is a former research scholar at LIGO team (Physics Nobel Prize of 2017).

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