PART 2: The OPT Mythbusting Project (Optional Practical Training Myths)

Welcome to Part 2 of the OPT Mythbusting Project!

In case you missed the first post, be sure to check it out.  Reading the first post will help you better understand this post, so take a few minutes to get those first two myths busted here: Part 1

Let’s take a look at two more myths!

OPT Myth #3

It’s better to apply for OPT later so that I can have more time to find a job.

Truth: Students who apply too late for OPT might get less than 12 months of OPT!

Sometimes students think that it is better to wait until very close to graduation or even after graduation to apply for OPT, either because they want to be sure of their plans before they apply, or because they are worried about the 90-day unemployment limit (which is the subject of OPT Myth #4 below).

Here is some background info: Students are allowed to have 12 months of OPT work authorization and are allowed to apply for OPT work authorization anywhere from 90 days before graduation until 60 days after graduation. Students are also free to choose an OPT start date anywhere from 1-60 days after graduation. This means that someone who graduates on May 4th 2012 can choose to request an OPT start date as late as July 3rd 2012 and have an OPT end date as late as July 2nd 2013. The application can be received by USCIS as late as July 3rd 2012.

So what is the problem with waiting? Remember that it typically takes between 60-90 days for USCIS to finish an OPT application. Let’s say a student graduates on May 4th 2012, goes to Chicago for a week to celebrate, then comes back to MSU and applies for OPT on Monday May 14th. After taking a few days to gather the necessary paperwork and the student’s application finally reaches USCIS on Monday May 21st.

If it takes USCIS the full 90 days to process the paperwork (which often happens during the summer), the student’s OPT will get approved around August 19th 2012. However, the latest possible end date is still July 2nd 2013. The student will get 10.5 months of OPT instead of 12. Think about how much money you could make in 1.5 months. Is it really worth it to wait?

Also, delaying your application means you may miss out on valuable job opportunities to other students who are ready to work immediately while you are stuck waiting and waiting for your OPT approval.

Now on to a closely related myth…

OPT Myth #4

If I don’t have a full-time salaried job within three months of graduation, I will get kicked out of the US.

Truth: It’s harder to violate the 90-day unemployment limit than you think.

First of all, the 90-day limit applies to the whole 12 months of OPT, not just to the first 90 days. It’s a cumulative limit. You cannot exceed 90 total days of unemployment over the whole 12 months of OPT. It works like this (click to enlarge):

Second, the definition of “employment” during OPT includes more than you think! You do not have to have a full-time salaried job in order to be considered employed during OPT.

Employment is defined as 20 hours per week of work in your field of study. It does not have to be full-time. Anything 20 hours per week or more will work. It does not have to be paid. You can be considered “employed” during OPT regardless of whether your position is paid or unpaid.

A number of students who experience difficulty finding the kind of job they want go out and find a 20-hour per week volunteer job to keep their F-1 OPT status in good standing while they continue looking for a full-time paid position.

So, see? The 90-day limit isn’t as scary as you thought. Because it’s not very strict, it’s not worth delaying your OPT application to avoid the 90-day limit, especially since you can miss out on weeks or even months of employment authorization (or even lose a job offer!) by waiting too long to apply.

Stay tuned – I’ll bust two more myths next week!

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.

The OPT Mythbusting Project (Optional Practical Training Myths)

12 thoughts on “PART 2: The OPT Mythbusting Project (Optional Practical Training Myths)

  1. Thank you! This helps.

    regarding myth #3: is it true though, “It’s better to apply for OPT later so that I can have more time to find a job”? I am less concerned about the 1.5 months of money I would lose. Using your example, what would be the student’s status between May 4th (graduation) – Aug 19 (OPT gets approval). Is he/she allowed to remain in the US during this time?

    I am eagerly waiting you to bust #8 which is exactly what I thought

    • Dear Z.,

      From the time the student submits their application, to the time that it is approved, the student can remain legally in the U.S. while the application is pending. The student cannot work until they have their EAD card and their start date has arrived.

  2. Pingback: PART 3: The OPT Mythbusting Project (Optional Practical Training Myths) « OISS Live

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  5. Hello Oisslive, Thanks a lot for these informative posts. There is one question that has continued to nag me. No amount of googling has given me the answer. Here it is – You request that your OPT start date be a particular date within 60 days of graduation. However, your EAD card gets delayed and when you finally receive it, the start date in your EAD card (The “Valid From” date field) is much later than what you originally requested. Now from what day does my 90 day unemployment counter begin? Will it begin from MY requested date or from the start date printed on the EAD card? I request you to please clarify this. Will help tons of people like me.

  6. gonisz? Kongreuentna usługi dźwigowe. – spytał.
    Wagner burknął szczyptę niezrozumiale, grzebiąc (
    we wnętrzu zrolowanego śpiwora. Frodo
    przymknął oczy. Pewnego dnia próbował kierować Wagnerowi uwagę na korzyści płynące z
    pokoju natomiast niebezpieczeństwa wynikające ze składowaniaamunicji na kupie,
    wymieszanej z żywnością, książkami, pakietami opatrunkowhmi
    oraz diabli wiedzą czym
    w dalszym ciągu. Wagner zbywał go, tw.

  7. Hi,

    I have an emergency case and I hope you could help me with some of these questions. Because of some misunderstanding between me and the school officials, I did not know that I can apply for the EAD even before I get a job offer. Yes! It is a deadly mistake but it’s not worth explaining “why”s anymore. I just applied for EAD last week when I am offered an internship. It was 3 days before the 60 days deadline after graduation. Now, I am totally freaked out because I don’t think my employers would be willing to wait 90 days (even 60 days) for me to start an internship that will last 4 months. My biggest concern is about the 90-day timeline, does it start counting from my graduation day or the day I have the OPT F-1 signed by the school’s official (I just got it signed a day before sending it out)? Because if it is counted from graduation day, I will have only 30 days left to start working and there is no way the EAD can arrive within a month. My second question is about the expedite petition, I have heard that in some cases, when employers issue letters saying that the offer is only valid for limited time, it somehow helps the applicant to file expedite petition under “personal serious financial loss” category to have the process fastened. Do you have any experience or advice on such case?
    Thank you in advance for your help! I really don’t know what to do in this case.

  8. Hi Khaitu,

    I could answer one of your questions. Your 90 days countdown starts from your OPT start date and NOT your graduation date. On your OPT application, you will have requested a start date for your OPT, right? When your EAD card is issued, that will be the date printed on the EAD. Your 90 day countdown starts from that date.

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