In the middle of all this snow and polar vortex weather, it’s hard to imagine springtime and graduation season is coming soon. We may still be far from warmer weather, but if you are completing your program this semester, the time to think about Optional Practical Training (OPT) is now!

The application process for OPT is not difficult, but it takes time. Right now OPT cases are taking close to 5.5 months to be processed by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Because of this, it’s very important to turn your application in as soon as possible so you don’t miss out on valuable employment time!

Not sure what OPT is?
OPT is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. Eligible students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization after completing their program. Learn more about OPT on the OISS website.

Hundreds of MSU students apply for OPT every semester, and often advisors at OISS hear the same questions or misunderstandings from students over and over again. So, today we are sharing the top misconceptions about OPT and the actual information you need to be successful in your OPT application and employment period.

We are calling this “True/False OPT”:

1. I need a job offer to apply for OPT – FALSE!

The truth is, you can apply for OPT without a job offer. If you’re interested in working in the U.S. after graduation, you should apply for OPT as soon as you are eligible – which is 90 days before you complete your program. Sometimes students wait until they receive a job offer to apply, and then by the time their OPT is processed and approved months later, the company has given the job to someone else who could start at an earlier date.

2. It doesn’t matter when I apply, as long as it’s before the deadline – FALSE!

The truth is, the timing of your application will affect how many months of employment you are eligible to use and may impact how employers see you.

Remember that the processing time for OPT applications is close to 5.5 months right now, and you cannot start working until you have the Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) in your possession. So, if you wait to apply until graduation or after, you may have to wait that whole time before you can begin working. You have 12 months of OPT authorization all together, which has to begin within 60 days of your completion date – and the longer you wait to apply, the more likely you are to cut into those 12 months of time with waiting for your card to arrive. And once again, employers may not want to wait for months, and you could miss out on the position you want because your card doesn’t arrive in time.

3. During OPT, all jobs must be paid – FALSE!

The truth is, 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, working within your field of study. You can be considered “employed” regardless of whether your position is paid or unpaid. Some students will work at a part-time (at least 20 hours) volunteer position while they continue to look for a full-time job, which means they are following the requirements of OPT and getting work experience, too!

4. I can’t travel during OPT – FALSE!

The truth is, you can travel internationally, but there are special requirements depending on if your OPT application is still pending, or if has been approved already.

If your OPT is pending (application received, but not approved) you need the following to re-enter the United States:
-Valid F-1 visa
-I-20 with recent travel signature (every six months while on OPT)
-OPT receipt notice (proof of application)

If your OPT is approved:
-Valid F-1 visa
-I-20 with recent travel signature
-EAD (Employment Authorization Document) card
-Employment offer letter

Now we’ve covered four of the most common questions we receive from students about OPT. Hopefully this list will help you realize some of the important truths about the process and will help you be successful in applying for and utilizing your OPT.

Of course, if you have questions about your specific case, come meet with an OISS advisor!

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