The hunt for post-graduate employment is an incredibly time-sensitive endeavor for F-1 students. As such, we have created the following crash course to guide you through the process.
Students can work in the U.S. for up to three years (depending on their field of study) by seeking employment authorization from USCIS under the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program. While enrolled in OPT, the student's employer or another prospective employer may petition for the student (beneficiary) to obtain H-1B status. This nonimmigrant classification allows foreign nationals to be employed in the U.S. for up to six years.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
The Optional Practical Training (OPT) program allows F-1 students who have studied in the U.S. to seek U.S. employment in their respective fields of study.
Students may access OPT while studying (pre-completion) or after graduation (post-completion).
In total, eligible students can receive up to twelve months of OPT employment authorization.
Students with STEM degrees (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) can apply for a 24-month extension of OPT.
How to apply for OPT (Post-completion)
1. The student must submit a request to their Designated School Official (DSO) to be recommended for OPT.
The DSO will make the recommendation by endorsing the student's Form I‑20, Certification of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, and making the appropriate notation in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
2. The student must file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization with USCIS, accompanied by the requisite fee and supporting documents.
Applicants need to submit their I-765s to USCIS within thirty days of the DSO recommendation. Furthermore, they may file their I-765s up to ninety days before completing their degrees but no later than sixty days after completing their degree.
Applicants can commence employment once their I-765s are approved, and they have received their employment authorization documents (EADs).
N.B. Applicants do not need to have an offer of employment to apply for OPT. However, having a job offer may be favorable as students are only allowed a total of ninety (90) days of unemployment once their EADs have been issued.
On average, the processing time for an OPT EAD is two to five months.
OPT to H-1B
OPT employers/ prospective employers may petition for an OPT recipient to obtain H-1B status.
The employer (or its legal representative) must register the prospective beneficiary for the annual H-1B lottery. If the prospective beneficiary is selected, the petitioner will apply for the beneficiary to change status to H-1B by filing Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker.
For the entire H-1B process: Top Twenty Employment Sponsors For H-1B Visas.
The H-1B lottery takes place every March. Employers of beneficiaries selected in the lottery must file their I-129 petitions within ninety days of being notified that they are eligible to do so.
Most non-STEM OPT recipients will only have the opportunity to participate in a single H-1B lottery, as their OPT spans twelve months.
However, STEM OPT recipients may have the opportunity to participate in three H-1B lotteries.
For FY 2022, approximately 28% of registrations were selected in the H-1B lottery. Consequently, it is prudent for a STEM OPT recipient to apply for the 24-month extension just prior to the end of his/her first year of post-completion OPT (i.e. three months before the OPT EAD expires).
A cap-gap is a period of stay/ work authorized by USCIS for an F-1 student whose student status, OPT, or grace period, expires after an H-1B petition is filed but before October 1 (the earliest start date for H-1B employment).
This allowance protects F-1 students from falling out of status.
Once the H-1B petition is filed during the designated filing period, so long as the student's authorized F-1 duration of status (D/S) admission is in effect, the automatic cap-gap extension would commence.
When beneficiaries do not qualify for cap-gap extensions, they must return to their respective home countries and apply for H-1B visas through consular processing once the I-129 petition is approved.
If you would like to petition for a foreign worker or discuss any other immigration matter, please contact us here.
We assist countless foreign nationals and we will be happy to personally assist you with your application as well. Send us an E-mail or call us at (888)354-6257. For reasons on why you should consult an immigration attorney whenever you have an immigration issue, see our page titled: Reasons Why it is Vital to Use an Immigration Lawyer.