How does F-1 and opt work?

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The F-1 student visa classification is for full-time study in the U.S. In order to apply for the F-1 visa, the prospective student must receive a Certificate of Eligibility for Non immigrant (F-1) Student Status — for Academic and Language Students, Form I-20 A-B. This form must be issued by a school or university which has been authorized by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to sponsor international students. The majority of colleges and universities, and some public school systems and private institutions have this authorization.

Once a prospective student has satisfied the admission requirements for the college or university of their choice, they must also prove that they will have adequate financial resources to cover their tuition and living expenses in the U.S. Employment opportunities are limited for international students. Proof of sufficient financial support may be submitted on Form I-134 Affidavit of Financial Support by a close family relative or any other person who is willing to provide it. In some cases, graduate students may be offered research or teaching assistant ships or fellowships, but these may only cover part of the school expenses.

It is very important for international students to do everything they can to maintain their F-1 status throughout their stay in the university. This includes enrolling full time, which is at least 12 credit hours per semester for undergraduate students at a college or university. Graduate students must also be enrolled full time, which may vary among different institution, but is generally at least 9 credit hours per semester. Failure to be enrolled for a full course of study is considered a violation of the F-1 student status and places the student in a deportable situation.

OPT (Optional Practical Training)

Students studying with an F1 visa are eligible to work in the USA under the OPT visa program, which affords the student the opportunity to apply theoretical knowledge obtained in an academic program to a practical work experience. Any employment opportunity that the student pursues must be directly related to his or her major field of study in order to qualify as OPT. OPT may be full or part time, depending on the circumstances and may take place anywhere in the country. Any work under OPT must be endorsed by the institution’s Office of International Students and Scholars and must be authorized by the BCIS (formerly the INS) before the student can start working. In order to be eligible for OPT, the student must be enrolled in a full course of study for at least one full academic year. Authorization for OPT can take up to 90 days so applications for OPT should be submitted with this time lapse in mind. Once the duration of OPT has been consumed, the student is no longer eligible to stay in the United States without a change of status. A common course for students at this point is to change their status to an H1B upon finding a sponsoring employer.

How long does OPT last and how many hours per week can I work?

Standard OPT is available for a cumulative maximum of 12 months per educational level. A one-time extension of 17 months (for a total of 29 months) is available to certain STEM degree recipients. Also please check at USCICS website for any new rules and regulations as they will change periodically. There is an ongoing discussion about increasing the OPT period to 36 months.

Pre-completion OPT is limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session and the student still has coursework to complete. Full-time employment can be requested for pre-completion OPT done during official school breaks. For post-completion OPT, a student must be employed for at least 20 hours per week. Students requesting post-completion OPT may work 40 + hours per week.

Can I work anywhere?

        The job must be directly related to and commensurate with the level of the student’s course of study. Please see your academic advisor/professors for questions about which jobs will apply. It is very important that you can document that the job you accept is directly related to your field of study.

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