Studying in the US is a wonderful thing. The country boasts some of the top universities in the world, which has attracted many students. In 2016, over one million international students were studying in the US, which is 40% higher than it was a decade prior.
These students come from all over the world, with the highest concentration of them coming from India and China. These students are entering various majors, ranging from STEM majors to business majors. For the next four or so years, the United States of America will be their new home.
After graduating, however, international students only have 60 days before they must return back to their home country. The only way they can stay is if they obtain a skilled worker visa from a sponsor or they can apply to Optional Practical Training (OPT), a 12-month working period granted to F-1 students who have been studying in the US for nine or more months.
OPT provides great experiences and sometimes it can be a gateway to obtaining an H1B working visa and eventually a green card, though the chances are slim. Students can complete OPT either before graduation or after, but they only have a total of 12 authorized months that they can complete. Students can apply for OPT up to 90 days prior to graduating for a post-graduation OPT.
Those in STEM fields have are in an approved OPT program based on their designated STEM degree can apply for a STEM extension. This will provide an additional 17 month OPT period. It is recommended that you apply for the STEM extension 90 days before your OPT program ends.
So, how do you apply for OPT? There are several steps in applying to OPT and a lot of paperwork to fill out. First, you need to fill out an OPT application and submit it to your university’s International Student Services office. Your school will provide you with a new I-20 and materials/checklist of what you will need to send to the USCIS. You have 30 days from the date the OPT-endorsed I-20 was issued to send your application, or else you will be denied.
There are only two USCIS locations that accept OPT applications: Phoenix and Dallas. The state you reside in will determine which location you will send your paperwork to. It can take the USCIS several months to process the OPT application, so it is recommended that you start the process early.
A great way to save time is to expedite the shipping. UEMS, a free university/student shipping solution, can help you save time and money when submitting your OPT application. The USCIS addresses are already loaded into the system, just select the one you need to send your OPT to. By using the UEMS solution, you can compare carrier shipping costs and ship at discounted rates.
There is only a 150-day time frame in which you have to complete the OPT process if you are graduating, so there is no time to waste.
By: Ashleigh Cue