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)