Tuesday, October 18, 2011

F-1 Off-Campus Employment

Optional Practical Training F-1 Off-Campus Employment

OPT is employment authorization granted by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to students in F-1 status.  The purpose of OPT is to allow F-1 students to gain experience in their major field of study prior to or shortly after completion of program requirements.  F-1 students are eligible for 12 months of OPT for each higher education level completed.
Students authorized for OPT remain in F-1 status, and are required to report any changes in address, interruptions in employment or the stoppage of OPT before the expiration of the authorization.  It is the responsibility of each student on OPT to inform OIS of these changes.

Applying for OPT

  1. Sign up for (via iStart) and attend an OPT information session, or submit the online OPT information session e-form via iStart to view an onlne OPT information session.
  2. After attending an in-person information session or viewing the online information session, submit the OPT Information and Academic Advisor Verification e-form via iStart.
  3. When ready to submit the application for OPT, call OIS at 855-9086 to schedule an “OPT Intake” appointment with an international student advisor.
  4. Take the completed application with supporting materials to your appointment at OIS (Franklin Hall 306).
  5. During your OPT Intake appointment at OIS, an international student advisor will review your application and answer any remaining questions you may have about OPT.  OIS will assist you with your application.

Employment While On OPT

  • While on OPT, F-1 students may only work in their major field of study.
  • Employment is only permitted upon receiving the OPT card (Employment Authorization Document—EAD), and only during the dates listed on the card (with one exception, discussed below).
  • Upon completion of a program of study, on-campus employment is not permitted.  More information here.
  • OPT allows students to work in more than one job, provided that all jobs are in the major field of study.
  • There are no maximum limits on the number of hours per week that a student can work while on OPT, but students must work at least 21 hours per week while on OPT.
  • Immigration regulations require that you report any interruptions in your employment to the Office of International Services.  To report interruptions in employment, please log into iStart and submit the “Report No Longer on OPT or Currently Unemployed” e-form.
  • While on the job search, you may find that employers have questions about hiring you.  To assist in explaining what OPT is and the benefit to employers in hiring you, please feel free to share this document with your potential employer.

OPT Timing

  • Applications for OPT can be submitted up to 90 days before the student’s expected program completion date.
  • Applications for OPT must be received by USCIS no later than 60 days after the completion of the academic program requirements.  F-1 students should keep in mind that filing later will not give additional OPT time.
  • Expect that USCIS will need 3–4 months to process an OPT application.  F-1 students are eligible for 12 months of OPT, and those 12 months must be taken within the 14 months following the completion of program requirements.  If it will take 3–4 months for USCIS to process a request for OPT authorization and if the application is filed one month after completing the program of study, the OPT authorization will likely not be processed for three months from the date that USCIS receives it, which will result in the loss of approximately two months of OPT.  For that reason, OIS recommends that OPT applications be submitted as close to completion of studies as possible.
  • The application must be received by USCIS no later than 30 days after the OPT I-20 is printed during the “OPT Intake” appointment.
  • Processing times for OPT applications can be found on the USCIS website.  In general, expect that the OPT application will take three months to be approved.
  • At the end of the OPT authorization, an F-1 student has a 60-day “grace period” to remain in the US and prepare for departure, to begin a new program of study or to submit an application for a change of status.  (See “EXCEPTION” below.)
  • EXCEPTION—CAP-GAP PREVENTION:
If the employer of an F-1 student on OPT files a timely H-1B petition (requesting a change of status within the US), and requests an employment start date of October 1 of the following fiscal year, that student is permitted to continue working and may remain legally in the US in F-1 status until the H-1B petition is rejected, denied or revoked.  If the H-1B petition is approved, the immigration status change will occur on October 1.
    • The cap-gap work authorization continuation only applies in cases where the H-1B petition is filed before the EAD expires.  If the EAD expires before the H-1B petition can be filed, but the student is still within the 60-day grace period, that student may remain in the US in F-1 status until a decision on the H-1B petition is reached, but may not be employed.
  • F-2 dependents (spouses and minor children) are eligible to remain in F-2 status during this time as well.
  • Students and employers should note that this permission to remain in the US in F-1 status and continue working under OPT in this particular situation is automatic, pursuant to the new regulation from ICE.  There is no new application for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).  Note: This permission applies to all F-1s on OPT whose employers filed a timely H-1B petition for the following fiscal year, regardless of the student’s field of study.
    • If your employer’s attorney, your local DMV, or similar requests that you provide an updated I-20 that reflects your cap-gap OPT information, please fax a copy of your H-1B petition and a short note requesting the updated cap-gap I-20 to 812-855-4418.  Please be sure to provide your current email address in the fax that you send.  You should provide this information approximately 30 days before your OPT EAD expires.  At that time, we will be able to request an updated I-20 from the SEVIS Help Desk.
    • Cap-gap extensions do not provide F-1 students with a new OPT card.  DHS advises that students with an expired OPT card are not eligible to re-enter the US.
    • If the H-1B petition is rejected, denied or revoked, the OPT cap-gap authorization will end 10 days later, and the student has a 60-day grace period to depart the US, change status or begin a new program (at the same school or by transferring to a new school).

Traveling during Cap Gap Extension

SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) strongly recommends that students not, if possible, travel during their cap gap extension.  USCIS may consider your application to change from F-1 to H-1 as abandoned and deny the change.

Cap Gap and STEM extensions

If you are in a STEM eligible field (click here for more information about STEM extensions), and you would like to apply for a STEM extension during your Cap Gap extension, please contact an advisor at the OIS immediately.

Reporting Requirements While On OPT

There are reporting requirements for students who are pursuing Optional Practical Training in the US.

All students on OPT must report to the Office of International Services within 10 days of any change in the following:

  • Any change in name or address 
  • Any change in immigration status (email to your career department ) 
  • Any interruption of employment (via the e-form “Reporting No Longer on OPT or Currently Unemployed” ) including a return to studies
Students who plan to begin a new academic program at Indiana University will need to fill out the e-form for “New Degree Program”.
Students who wish to transfer to another college or university in the US must fill out a “SEVIS Transfer Out” e-form request .  These requests must be submitted before beginning a new program, and the OIS approval for these requests must be granted no later than the end of the 60-day grace period following completion of OPT.
Note: OPT will automatically terminate when a new I-20 is created for a new program of study (at IU or at another institution).

Employment Tracking and Reporting

It is the responsibility of each F-1 student on OPT to keep track of employment-related information for the duration of the OPT authorization.  ICE regulations require that students pursuing OPT report interruptions in employment to the OIS within 10 business days to avoid situations where a DHS official may determine the student is out of status.
You will need to keep very careful track of your employment—dates, employer names, addresses, supervisor’s contact information.
It will be very important for you to track your days of unemployment, and also to retain supporting documentation of the periods of time when you are employed (including offer letters, pay stubs, etc.).
For your convenience in maintaining accurate records, we have provided a downloadable Excel spreadsheet for your use.  Filling out the information in the spreadsheet will help you keep track of the names of your employers and the dates when you worked for them, as well as the dates of unemployment that you may be accruing.  The Excel form is for your own record keeping purposes and should not be submitted to OIS.
To report changes in employment to OIS, you must fill out the e-form for “Reporting OPT Employment” .  These requests must be submitted within 10 days of any changes in your employment or your address while on OPT.  We will then use the information you provide to update your SEVIS record accordingly.

Unemployment Issues

  • As of April 8, 2008, students granted post-completion OPT can accrue up to 90 days of unemployment.
  • Any period of unemployment will count toward the 90 total days of unemployment.  This means that any days for which you are not employed or remaining on payroll count toward the 90-day total.
  • Students whose employers filed a timely H-1B petition and were granted cap-gap coverage are permitted a total of 90 days of unemployment for the entire period of OPT.
  • Days spent outside of the US while unemployed count towards the 90 days of unemployment permitted.
  • If a student on OPT nears the 90th day of unemployment, it would be best to make plans to depart the US, apply for a change of status to a different status or make preparations to begin a new degree program.  Action would need to be taken early enough so that by the end of the 90th day of unemployment, the student would have another option already in progress.  DHS has stated that an F-1 student who is unemployed for more than 90 days will be considered to be out of status.
  • The OIS will not take any adverse action on a student’s SEVIS record regarding unemployment.  OIS’s responsibility is to report interruptions in employment that the F-1 student reports to OIS.  Failure to report that information, or accruing more than 90 days of unemployment may result in DHS not approving future benefits or requests.

Traveling while Employed

  • Dates of travel outside of the US while employed do not count as days of unemployment.  If a student on OPT is traveling outside of the US for a vacation or for business while continuing to be employed in the major field of study, those dates outside of the US do not need to be tracked or reported as days of unemployment.
  • While traveling on OPT, students are advised to carry the following:
    • I-20, signed for travel (remember that each travel signature is valid for only six months during the period of OPT)
    • Valid F-1 visa stamp
    • Passport valid for at least six months into the future from the date of re-entry to the US
    • Valid OPT card
    • Job offer or confirmation letter
      • If traveling for business or on a vacation from the job, ensure that the letter clarifies this.

If you are:

·         Traveling outside of the US while waiting for your OPT to be approved and before you complete your degree, take the following items with you:

    • passport (valid for six months from the date of your re-entry);
    • signed I-20 (remember that each travel signature is valid for only 6 months during the period of OPT);
    • valid F-1 visa stamp.
  • Traveling outside of the US while waiting for your OPT to be approved and after your degree completion, be advised that this option is somewhat riskier.  You will need to take the following items with you:
    • passport (valid for six months from the date of your re-entry);
    • signed I-20 (remember that each travel signature is valid for only 6 months during the period of OPT);
    • valid F-1 visa stamp;
    • It is also recommended that you bring your I-797C (receipt notice from USCIS).
OIS recommends particular caution in this situation.  Your US immigration status is determined by the I-94 card that is placed in your passport and because the I-94 is taken each time you depart from the US, establishing your F-1 status while outside the US will be difficult if USCIS has questions about your application.  If USCIS sends a request for additional information about an aspect of your application and if it is not resolved in a timely fashion, your application will be denied.
According to DHS, traveling back to the US while your OPT is pending is permitted in order to search for employment (more information under 2.O. and 2.P. on the SEVP FAQ page).
  • Traveling outside of the US after your OPT has been approved and after the completion date on your I-20 (check item 5 on your I-20), you must have the following documents to re-enter the United States:
    • passport (valid for six months from the date of your re-entry);
    • valid F-1 visa stamp;
    • OPT I-20 with a valid travel signature (given within the last six months);
    • valid OPT card;
    • job offer or employment confirmation letter (Immigration regulations state that you can re-enter the US to resume employment while on OPT)
      • If traveling for business or on a vacation from the job, ensure that the letter clarifies this.
It can be very difficult to apply for an F-1 visa stamp while you are on OPT.  If your visa stamp is expired, or will soon expire, keep this in mind.  Please remember that anytime you leave the US there is never a guarantee that the immigration official at the port of entry will allow you to reenter.  Please speak with an advisor at OIS if you have questions.
(For more information about traveling during periods of cap-gap OPT authorization, please click here.)

How do I report an interruption in employment to the Office of International Services?

submit the e-form “Report No Longer on OPT or Currently Employed.”  These requests must be submitted within 10 days of any changes in your employment or your address while on OPT.  You must submit these request each time there is a change in your employment.  We will then use the information you provide to update your SEVIS record accordingly.

One strategy for maintaining your status while on OPT: Unpaid Employment

Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this does not violate any labor laws.  This unpaid work must also be in the student’s major field of study.  Students on post completion OPT must be able to provide evidence from the employer that the student worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.
Students engaged in OPT should be careful not to “volunteer” without pay in positions that US citizens would be paid for.  This is designed to protect you, the employer and other workers.  Click here for more information on the US Department of Labor’s Fair Labor Standards Act.
Click here for information about the new extension for DHS-designated STEM field majors
Click here for Frequently Asked Questions about OPT

Glossary of terms:

DHS
Department of Homeland Security (http://www.dhs.gov)
EAD
Employment Authorization Document
H-1B
This classification is an employment status for individuals who will perform services in a “specialty occupation” or position that requires at least a bachelor’s degree as a minimum entry-level requirement.  OIS cannot advise or assist H1-B applicants who have not been offered employment through IU.  Please refer to your employer.
ICE
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (http://www.ice.gov)
OIS
Office of International Services at IU (http://www.indiana.edu/~intlserv)
OPT
Optional Practical Training.  Employment authorization available for students in F-1 status upon the completion of each higher degree for work in a field related to their major.
SEVP
Student and Exchange Visitor Program (http://www.ice.gov/sevis)
SEVIS
Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (http://www.ice.gov/sevis/students/index.htm)
STEM
Related to the new 17-month OPT rule, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.  Students in these fields have the option of applying for an extension of the initial 12-month OPT period.
USCIS
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (http://www.uscis.gov)

Do share your future career plans with us so that we may assist you in achieving them at earliest  
Please do let  share if you have any issues and concerns ,


Please refer F1 students/ Prospective OPT Candidates who don’t have any real time work experience in Java/Dot Net programming still can be consider under “ Train and Hire” program


Vijay Paul
ALTUS TECHNOLOGIES INC
Phone : 703.310.7053 Ext 1011 | Direct Line : 703.434.3256 | Fax : 703.738.7745


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