If you’re already searching for an H1B job, you should be introduced to the OPT by now. If not, read up on the basics and then return to this article. Once you’re up to speed, read this post to learn about how to use the OPT to advance your career in America.
First off, to clear away one often told myth, the OPT is not available to students from non-US universities. All individuals from foreign universities should skip straight to articles on the H1B job search. OPT jobs are only open to current holders of the F1 Visa.
Next, you might want to know, how is searching for an OPT job different than searching for an H1B job? The truth is, the process is similar, except for the forms involved. Also, your search for an OPT job should be closely connected to your search for an H1B job. The company you do your OPT time with will likely be your H1B sponsor, and the same types of companies open to H1B applicants are generally open to OPT applicants as well. That’s why we say, find your future H1B sponsor, then figure out your OPT.
Once you’ve found your sponsor, here’s what you have to do for the OPT:
1. Get the international students office at your school to recommend you for the OPT. Wait for your I-20 to update.
2. Submit Form I-765 to USCIS, along with photos and a fee.
3. Wait for your Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
You should try to apply 3-4 months before starting at your new position. You do not need to have a job offer before applying. If you need your EAD earlier than 3-4 months from the time you apply, you should ask for expedited processing.
You get 12 months of OPT time, so use it wisely (STEM employees, you get 17). If you use some time up prior to completing your degree, you may be left without enough OPT months to bring you through the next H1B application season (starts in April, applicants can begin working in October). If this happens, you will fall into the H1B cap gap, and have to return home prior to starting your H1B Visa. It’s best to avoid this scenario.
The OPT, like your H1B job, must also be related to your field of study. This is why we’ll end by going back to a theme at the beginning of this article: find the skill set that’s going to get you an H1B employer, then figure out your OPT. OPT is inherently short-term, and is designed to get you from your F1 to your H1B, so use it for exactly that purpose.
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