Employment After Graduation: What to Know When Applying for OPT


Madia Bestman | Jun 29, 2021 Visas

Although it may seem as though the new school year has just begun, it is important to begin preparing for your life after graduation. You may have worked on-campus or perhaps off-campus already during your studies, but if you intend to stay in the United States post-graduation and start working in your field of study, then you must apply for employment authorization.

To get employment authorization, you must apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT) first. This is how the United States government allows you to legally stay in the United States and work after college. The application process for an OPT can take up to three months and may take longer due to COVID-19 complications so it is important to begin early. Since you can apply up to 90 days prior to graduation, it is time to start thinking about your OPT application NOW (especially if you are graduating prior after the Fall semester).

To start the process, talk to your Designated School Official (DSO) to get an understanding of your individual situation, organize a timeline for the application process, and familiarize yourself with the details associated with your field of study. Your DSO will be able to provide all the resources you need during this process.

As you get started on this application journey, we at ISO want to make sure that you are as prepared as possible when planning for your post-graduate life.

What is OPT?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is the period where international students can work legally in the United States after their graduation. After applying and being verified, a student can be granted up to 12 months of employment authorization (24 months available for those in STEM programs). You will remain under your F-1 visa during your OPT period.

What are the Types of OPT?

Pre-completion-Authorized to work before your graduation end date if Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is not an option. A student can work 20 hours or less part-time while school is in session and full-time when school is not in session. Pre-completion OPT is very rare, as most students use their CPT to work before they graduate.

Post-completion– Authorized to work for 12 months after graduation. This is the most used type of OPT. Also, the term OPT listed in this article refers to post-completion OPT.

Am I eligible to apply for OPT?

You are eligible for OPT if:

  • You have an active F-1 status in the U.S at your time of application.
  • You are enrolled in a full-time degree-seeking or qualifying certificate program for at least one academic year. In addition, your college, university, conservatory, or seminary must be Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified.
  • You have not used all 12 months of your OPT at the same degree level.

What is STEM OPT?

All F1 students have the option to apply for employment authorization for post-graduation. STEM refers to the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. If your degree is for one of these fields, then you are eligible to apply for an additional 24-month extension prior to the end of your initial 12-month post-completion OPT employment authorization.

Eligibility for a STEM OPT Extension requires:

  1. Receiving a STEM degree included on the STEM Designated Degree Program List.
  2. Your employer to utilize the E-Verify government system; and
  3. Receiving an initial authorization of post-completion OPT based on a STEM degree.

Know the Process: Applying for OPT

The first step in applying for OPT is requesting that your DSO recommends the OPT. The recommendation comes in the form of a few things, all of which involve the paperwork required to obtain your OPT. Your DSO will:

After you have started the conversation of applying for OPT with your DSO and they have entered the recommendation into SEVIS records, you will then need to file Form I-765, the Application for Employment Authorization, with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and submit all necessary documents and fees that accompany it.

You will be able to find all information you need at your school’s international student office or at the US Department of Homeland Security web page. Normally, it takes about 3 months to process your OPT application and receive your EAD card, if approved. If you do not want to miss out on your dream job, start your OPT process early and apply now!

Be mindful of deadlines!

You can apply for OPT beginning from 90 days before your academic program ends, and until 60 days after your academic program ends.

Sounds complicated?

Don't know where to start? Many schools will assemble and/or review the application package for you. So don't strees yourself out! Read here for more information.

One last thing you need to do: Get Insurance

Usually, schools don’t provide health insurance to students after they graduate, While you are working on OPT, it is important to continue to have medical coverage during your time in the United States. Even though you may not have to fulfill a school requirement, health insurance is a must in the United States, especially to help protect yourself from unexpected medical costs. ISO Student Health Insurance provides affordable and flexible OPT insurance plans while you work in the U.S. Our plans provide nationwide coverage, you are able to purchase a plan for just 3 months as you wait for employment!

F-1 OPT students with a valid I-20 can purchase either an OPTima Basic or an OPTima Enhanced plan. No need to wait for your EAD card, as long as you have applied for OPT you are eligible to purchase our plans. You can view the benefits and eligibility for these plans directly at the links above, as well as compare the benefits and decide which is the right fit for you.

If you need help understanding or deciding between the available plans, feel free to give us a call at 212-262-8922, our customer care representatives are happy to help you.

For more information, as well as where to find the exact forms, instructions, and further details regarding the OPT application process, visit www.uscis.gov/opt.

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About ISO Student Health Insurance

Founded in 1958, ISO prides itself on being the leader in providing international students with affordable insurance plans. Administered by former and current international students, we are able to assist our member with multilingual customer service in Chinese, Hindi, Spanish, and more. ISO serves over 3,200 schools/colleges and more than 150,000 insured students every year.

For more information, please visit www.isoa.org and connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, WeChat, WhatsApp, and LinkedIn.

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