Applying for an OPT

Applying for an OPT

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by Indira Pranabudi

Year after year, international students from all around the world flock to the United States in pursuit of one of the best educations offered in the world. For many of these students, they plan to utilize their degrees back home, while for many others, the goal in mind is to work in the United States after graduation—whether it be for the rest of their lives, or for a certain period of time.

If you’re part of the second group of people, then you’re in luck! I hope you find this post helpful.

What is an OPT?

OPT simply stands for Optional Practical Training. Every international student in the United States is entitled to 12 months of practical training (i.e. work) in the U.S. under OPT. Typically, if you’re not a citizen of a particular country, then you are not allowed to work in that country without the proper documents. Similarly, as an international student in the U.S., you are not allowed to work in the U.S. without proper documents—OPT is one that allows you to do so.

It is also important to note that students studying in the STEM fields get a 17-month extension in addition to the 12 months.

What if I want to work in the USA for longer than that?

OPT however, only gives international students 12 months of employment. In the long run, foreigners would seek an H1-B visa in order to work in the U.S. for the long-term. Similar to applying for universities, there are requirements to apply for an H1-B visa. You will firstly need to find a company that would like to sponsor you for your H1-B visa. This means that you have to apply for jobs, and on top of that, you have to make sure that if you accept a job offer, that that company will want to pay the additional fee to sponsor you.

Why not go straight for an H1-B after graduation?

As stated previously, a company is required to sponsor you in order for you to be eligible for an H1-B visa. If you [break the law], then the company sponsoring you will in one way or another also be responsible. Some companies might view sponsoring an international student as a liability, and thus may not want to go the extra mile. If the goal really is to work in the U.S. in the long run, then the OPT gives you a period of time to prove yourself to the company you’d like to work for.

How do I apply for an OPT?

It is better to consult directly with the International Office at your institution. However, roughly, these are the documents needed:

  • Two (2) passport-style photographs taken within last 30 days
  • Personal check for US$380.00 made payable to "Department of Homeland Security"
  • Original I-765
  • Copy of I-20 with OPT recommendation (obtained from your institution)
  • Copy of all previously issued I-20s
  • Copy of current passport
  • I-94 printout
  • Copy of F-1 visa stamp on passport
  • Copy of any previously issued EAD cards

The process takes quite a long time, about three months, so it’s good to start early.

If you have any further questions, check out the USCIS website for more information. Hope this helps!


(photo credit: Zack V. Apiratitham)
Indira Pranabudi  is an international student alumna of Green River College and a recent graduate of Brown University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in Computer Science. Indira is also a Student Contributor at U.S. News & World Report.