If you are currently in the United States on an F-1 visa, you likely do not need a recap of what this student visa program is about and can go ahead and skip to the section below about the Optional Practical Training visa program (OPT).
An F-1 visa allows entry into the United States as a student if they are enrolled full-time at an accredited college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or in a language training program. Regardless of the type of program, it must ultimately result in a degree, diploma, or certificate.
To apply, you would need to complete the Form DS-160 through the online application. As part of this application, you will be asked to submit a photo that must meet certain requirements. Make sure to print out the confirmation page after completing this application. Next, assuming you are between the ages of 14 and 79, you will likely need to schedule an interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country.
Before your interview, you will need to make sure you pay the $160 application fee. Once your interview date is approaching, you will want to prepare by gathering the following documents:
- A passport that is valid for travel to the United States and valid for at least a six-month period beyond your period of stay in the United States (i.e., if you will be there for one year, your passport must be valid for the one year plus six months).
- The confirmation page from submitting the Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160.
- Receipt from paying the application fee.
- Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status – For Academic and Language Students, Form I-20, OR Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (M-1) Student Status for Vocation Student, Form I-20.
- This will be sent by your school and must be signed by you and a school official.
Once a student is in the United States, they are eligible to work under two different types of programs. The first is Curricular Practical Training (CPT), which allows a student to work in an internship or practicum when the work is required as part of the program. The second is Option Practical Training (OPT) allows for non-required work and is discussed in greater detail below.
Curricular Practical Training work must be related to the student’s major area of study, meaning that it cannot be merely related to a minor or general education course. In order to be authorized for CPT, the student must get permission from the student’s designated school official (DSO) through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). This must happen before the program end date and the student must secure the training opportunity before the CPT can be authorized. CPT can be authorized for multiple employers, but each one must be individually authorized.
Note that if a student has one or more year of full-time CPT, they will not be eligible for OPT.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Students on F-1 visas are eligible to work under the Optional Practical Training program. There are two types:
- Pre-completion OPT: This allows you to work while in school if you have been enrolled full-time for a full academic year. You can work part-time during the school year and full-time when school is not in session.
- Post-completion OPT: This allows you to work after graduation for a period of up to twelve (12) months. Keep in mind that any pre-completion OPT time will be deducted from this twelve month maximum. In other words, if you did six months of Pre-completion OPT, you would only have six months left for post-completion OPT.
The twelve month maximum for OPT can be extended if you have earned a degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) field. Additionally, your initial grant of post-completion OPT employment authorization must be based on your STEM degree and you must have a job or job offer from an employer who uses E-Verify.
To apply for OPT to begin with, you must:
- Have your school recommend the OPT by endorsing your Form I-20, Certification of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.
- File Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization
If your I-765 is approved and you receive your Employment Authorization Document, you will be able to start working under your OPT position.
H-1B Cap-Gap Extensions
Many recipients of an F-1 visa are eligible to then apply for an H-1B visa through a potential employer. However, because employers cannot file an H-1B petition for an employee more than six months in advance of the date of need for the employee, there is often a gap between the end of the F-1 visa/OPT employment authorization, and when the H-1B visa and employment authorization would be available. This is where the Cap-Gap Extensions come into play.
Luckily, the cap-gap extension is automatic if the H-1B petition is timely filed by the employer for an eligible F-1 student. In other words, the H-1B application must have been filed during the H-1B period (beginning April 1), while the student’s authorized F-1 duration of status was still in effect. Once the petitioner timely files a request to change status to H-1B on October 1, the extension will begin and run until September 30 of the following year.
Many people come to United States to get an education and look for ways to extend their stay. This often requires seeking extensions and changing statuses. It can be quite a stressful and confusing process but seeking the assistance of an experienced immigration attorney can help you maneuver the process with significantly less stress than going at it alone.
If you need further guidance or have specific questions about your own case, you can schedule an initial consultation with us today, do not hesitate to contact us at (949) 478-4963.