The OPT Mythbusting Project (Optional Practical Training Myths)

In just two short months, Michigan State University’s class of 2012 will walk through commencement ceremonies and celebrate the achievement of earning a diploma from MSU. While you still have plenty of time to think about buying your caps & gowns and planning graduation parties, for those of you on F-1 visas, the time to think about Optional Practical Training (OPT) is right now!

OPT gives F-1 students up to 12 months of work authorization in the US after earning a degree. Students apply for OPT approval from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). An advisor at OISS guides each student through the application process, and I am one of those advisors.  Through my experience helping hundreds of OPT applicants over the years, I have noticed that there are a number of very common misconceptions about OPT. I call these misconceptions “OPT Myths”.

Today, I am starting the OPT Mythbusting Project! My goal is to help MSU students make smart, informed decisions about OPT by debunking the myths and rumors that lead to poor decisions.

Here is the list of OPT Myths that I will start busting, one by one:

  1. I must have a job offer to apply for OPT.
  2. If I have a job offer, I can get my OPT faster.
  3. It’s better to apply for OPT later so that I can have more time to find a job.
  4. If I don’t have a full-time salaried job within three months of graduation, I will get kicked out of the US.
  5. OPT will start the day after I graduate.
  6. During OPT, all jobs must be paid.
  7. I can’t travel during OPT.
  8. And a special one for PhD students: I can get CPT until I submit my dissertation to the Graduate School, so I’ll delay my dissertation submission to maximize my CPT and OPT possibilities.

Today’s blog will bust the first two myths.

OPT Myth #1
I must have a job offer to apply for OPT.

Truth: NO!

It is definitely possible to apply for OPT without a job offer. In fact, MOST students apply for OPT without a job offer. A job offer is required for Curricular Practical Training (CPT), but not for OPT.

If you plan to search for jobs in the US, you should apply for OPT as early as possible. Even if you are not 100% sure right now if you will actually stay in the US to work after graduation, I suggest that you apply. If you think the possibility exists that you will stay here, it makes sense to apply for OPT right away. There is no reason to wait. By applying, you keep your options open.

Every year in late April or early May, OISS advisors see a number of new OPT applicants who are graduating in May and have a job offer to start working within the next month. It rarely takes USCIS less than 60 days to approve OPT. Processing times usually range between 60 and 90 days. Many students waited until they had a job offer to apply for OPT because they thought a job offer was required for OPT. The result is that these students need OPT within 30 days, but the process actually takes two to three times longer.

Students with job offers who apply late for OPT must then tell their new employers that they will not be available on the start date requested by the employer. While many students are able to negotiate for a later start date, a few students actually lose their job offer – the employer gives the job to an applicant who is available on the desired start date.

If you apply early, you increase the chances that you will have your OPT approved in time to start work whenever an employer wants you to start working. Therefore, if you will graduate in May and think you might want to use OPT, apply NOW to make sure your OPT is approved in time for you to accept the start date listed on your job offer.

The first myth is closely related to a second myth:

OPT Myth #2
If I have a job offer, I can get my OPT faster.

Truth: It was once true, but is not true now.

This is a myth that’s actually based in fact. Up until a few years ago, it was possible to use a job offer to request expedited (faster) OPT. Applicants with job offers could often get OPT in 30 days or less. However, due to a policy change at USCIS, it has been almost impossible to get expedited OPT for several years.

Students with private sector job offers are never eligible for an expedite. Students with job offers from a non-profit (such as a college/university or charity) qualify only in very limited circumstances, and even those who technically “qualify” are never guaranteed expedited processing or promised any kind of time frame for the results of their OPT application. We help very few students request expedites, and of those, the results are inconsistent – some get it, some don’t. Therefore, no OPT applicant should expect to receive expedited processing. When you are making your post-graduation plans, you should estimate that your OPT will take 60-90 days to process.

Download the OPT application here: http://oiss.isp.msu.edu/documents/students/opt.pdf

I hope you have found this post helpful as you plan your next steps after graduating from MSU. Stay tuned for more OPT mythbusting – new posts soon!

Brooke Stokdyk is the Senior International Student and Scholar Advisor at OISS. She handles F & J visa regulations, documentation (SSN, driver’s license, I-94, etc) and health insurance. Brooke enjoys making people smile, all things from the Hoosier state, and warm hugs from her husband and two small kids.

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