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FAQs about the OPT visa and getting prepared

As a student studying on an F1 visa, you’ll be aware that you need an employment authorization document (EAD) to start lawfully working on Optional Practical Training (OPT), but how does this work? 

Here, we catch up with Conexus Medstaff’s Cynthia Ellis from our Texas office to gain an in-depth insight into the process and what students need to be aware of. 

How does F1, OPT and EAD fit together? 

F1 visas allow students to attend certain approved educational institutions in the US on a full-time basis. As a student in F1 status, you are eligible for up to 12 months of OPT as long as the work is related to your field of study. 

This is where EAD comes in. OPT may not begin prior to receipt of the physical EAD card approval notice (Form I-765). This approval notice can be used as evidence of work authorization for up to 30 days while you wait to receive the physical EAD card. 

F1 students are authorized up to a total of 12 months of full-time practical training at each educational level; undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate. 

How do I apply for OPT? 

You can apply for OPT through your designated student official (DSO) in the international student office department of your university.

At what point do I need to make the applications?

You can apply for OPT no sooner than 90 days before graduation/completion of your study program, and as late as 60 days following graduation/program completion. Do bear in mind that US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) must receive an OPT application before the end of the 60 days. The International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) strongly discourage students from applying during these 60 days as it takes an average of 120 days for OPT to be approved. As a result, applying late could mean the loss of OPT time, so we always encourage students to plan ahead. Additionally, do not mail your application to USCIS more than 90 days before graduation as they will reject it and your fee will not be refunded. 

What information do I require to make the application?

You need to complete Form I-765 and can choose to enter your own address or the address of the ISSS office. We would recommend using your own address as universities are not responsible for lost documents. After completing Form I-765, you will need to make an appointment with your ISSS advisor and bring your completed and printed form. Then, your advisor will issue you a new I-20 recommending OPT. 

When it comes to mailing your application to USCIS, you need to send the following documentation in this order: 

  • A filing fee of $495. Personal checks or money orders used to cover this cost must be in the exact amount and payable to “United States Department of Homeland Security”. Personal checks are preferable because they can more easily be traced in case of problems. 
  • Two identical, natural color passport photos, taken within the last 30 days. Be aware that passport photos taken in your home country will not be accepted. Lightly print your name and your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) number on the back of each photo. 
  • A copy of your new OPT I-20 that you received after the application session with your ISSS advisor. 
  • A record of any prior Curricular Practical Training (CPT) authorizations. 
  • A copy of your most recent Form I-94. 
  • A copy of your passport photo/information page which clearly shows the passport expiration date and your most recent US visa. 
  • A copy of your previous EAD card if you have ever had one before. 

What happens after I mail my OPT application? 

Approximately 3-4 weeks after you mail your application, you will receive a receipt letter from USCIS that’s called a Notice of Action. Remember to keep this letter somewhere safe as it contains a number beginning with the letters LIN that refers to your specific application. If you don’t receive the Notice of Action after 5 weeks, do notify ISSS. 

The average processing time for OPT is currently 3 months, but it can be shorter or longer in individual cases, further highlighting the importance of applying well in advance. In the unlikely event your application cannot be granted, you will receive an explanation for the denial. 

How can Conexus Medstaff help me with this process?

While we are unable to complete these applications on your behalf, our experienced team are fully clued up on all aspects of the process. It’s this knowledge that enables us to educate both students and international student offices across the US on all of the latest developments regarding F1, OPT and EAD.

Do you have a question regarding an adjustment of status in the US? Contact the Conexus Medstaff team today who are on-hand to offer help and advice.

 

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