Working Off Campus as an International Student in the USA
Updated: Apr 6
Hi everyone! Welcome back to The Savvy International blog. The past couple of weeks, we talked about understanding the F1 student visa. Recently in particular we focused on working on or off campus. The process to apply for Optical Practical Training, or OPT, can be complicated, so I wanted to dedicate a blog to breaking it down for you. You can read all about this process online here - https://www.uscis.gov/opt, but sometimes students still have questions. I wanted to break it down as simply as possible and give some scenarios of different things that can happen. Remember to read the last blog about working on and off campus in the USA - https://www.thesavvyinternational.com/post/how-to-make-money-as-an-international-student .
There are two types of OPT – pre-completion and post-completion. Pre-completion OPT can be used after a student has been studying abroad for at least one year. Post-completion OPT starts after the student has completed the degree. Students working in STEM fields also have the option to apply for a 24-month extension in addition to the first 12 months. Read more about that here.
Important note – You can only use 12 months combined of either pre or post-completion OPT. For example, if you work for eight months while still in school under pre-completion OPT, then you would only have four months left for post-completion OPT.
First things first though and that's applying for OPT. I put together some FAQ's that you might have while learning about OPT.
Let’s look at some of our Frequently Asked Questions from students:
When should you complete the application?
SEVIS recommends applying for OPT at the beginning of the semester if you intend to start working after that semester finishes. For example, if you want to work over the summer, you should start the process in January when spring semester begins.
Do you apply for OPT or find a job first?
You can apply for a job first. Sometimes students will obtain an employment letter, but after they get approved they have received another job offer. You just need to notify your DSO if you change employers at any point after your OPT has been approved
What materials do you need?
See list below
How much time will the application take?
It can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, which can be frustrating. This is why applying early is always the safest bet!
Can I go home until I find a job and then return to the USA?
No – you are not allowed to travel while your OPT is in the process of being approved.
How much does it cost?
The filing fee is $410 USD (as of June 2019)
You also have to purchase your passport pictures ($7-$15 USD)
These are just a few questions that I’ve had students ask in the past. When I first started working in higher education, I had no clue at all how to navigate the OPT application process. I learned quickly when I started working with international student visas that SEVIS can be an unforgiving system, meaning if your DSO makes a mistake, it can take quite a while to fix. It’s important that you understand the process so you can complete the necessary steps to get your OPT approved and starting earning that cash!
If you decide to do OPT, you should first schedule a time to talk with your DSO or international advisor. After you talk to your DSO, they can sign your I-20 and “recommend” that you do OPT. Then you need to complete the application. Heads up – this application is zero fun. Not that many applications are fun to fill out, but the I-765 is really, really not fun. There is a 27-page PDF on the USCIS website to prove it (link below in resources).
Here are the main things you need to know:
As an F1 student, you are eligible for OPT
Only use black ink
Write your SEVIS number at the top of each page (in case the pages get mixed up!)
Submit the application with the following materials:
Fee – must be a money order or cashier’s check
The fee must be made out to US Department of Homeland Security
A printed copy of your most recent I-94
Two passport pictures
So what happens after you submit the application and materials? A few things could happen. USCIS may request more information. If this is the case, they’ll send a formal request and give you a certain amount of time to submit everything required. They may also request that you appear for an in person interview. Finally, USCIS can either approve or deny your request. If approved, you should receive your EAD (employment authorization document) in the mail. If you are denied, then you do have the options to appeal or motion for review of your decision. See this link for more information.
Okay, so this blog has covered what would likely take hours to navigate on the USCIS website. I hope you guys understand the basics of OPT a bit better and know where to go once you decide to put the application in . Make sure you meet with your DSO early on so they can assist as well.