OPT Visa - Explanation and Guide to Apply as an F-1 Student

Vivien Thuri

Have you found the perfect side-gig? Or maybe you’ve been dreaming about getting some hands-on experience in your field of study? If you’re an F-1 student, then you’re in luck.

With the help of an Optional Practical Training (OPT) visa, you’ll be well on your way to landing your dream job in the US. If this sounds good, then continue reading to learn about the ins and outs of the OPT visa.

On a side note, do you have a non-USD bank account? Maybe you want to avoid extra fees everytime you make a transaction. If that’s the case, then Wise could give you a hand, by helping you to save money on conversion fees.

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Table of Contents 📝
  • What is OPT?
  • What are the OPT types?
  • What are the OPT requirements?
  • How to apply for OPT
  • What is STEM OPT extension?
  • OPT processing time and fees
  • What is OPT?

    If you’re an F-1 student who’s completed, or are currently completing, a degree in the US, then you may be interested in Optional Practical Training (OPT). “But what is OPT?” you might ask.

    F1 OPT is a temporary type of employment that normally lasts for 12 months, which is linked to your major area of study. OPT for international students is a great way for you to continue living and working in the US, while increasing your experience in your field of study.

    You can apply for the OPT program during your studies, which is known as pre-completion OPT, or after them, which is known as post-completion OPT.¹

    Let’s take a closer look at what’s involved.

    What are the OPT types?

    If you’re on an F1 Student Visa, you can apply for two different types of OPT programs:

    • Pre-completion OPT

    If you’ve been enrolled full-time for at least one academic year at a college, university, conservatory, or seminary, then you can apply for pre-completion OPT. If your pre-completion OPT application is authorized, you can then work part time (20 hours or less per week) during school semesters, and full time during the holidays.¹

    • Post-completion OPT

    If you’ve already finished your studies, then you’re eligible to apply for post-completion OPT. If successful, you’ll be able to work either part or full time for 12 months. One thing to note is that if you’ve already participated in pre-completion OPT, then that time will be deducted from your 12 months of post-completion OPT.¹

    📚 What is an F-1 Visa?
    If you’re looking to study full time in the US, you’ll need either an F or M visa. An F-1 visa is for international students whose study results in a degree, diploma or certificate from an academic institution or language school. An M-1 visa, on the other hand, is for international students that are studying vocational, non-academic subjects.
    To be eligible for an F-1 or M-1 visa, you’ll need to:
    • Be proficient in English, or at least enrolled in courses that will result in English proficiency
    • Be enrolled as a full-time student at your given institution
    • Be enrolled in an academic program, language program, or vocational program
    • Ensure your given institution is approved by the Student and Exchange Visitors Program, Immigration & Customs Enforcement
    • Maintain a residence abroad with no intention of giving it up²

    What are the OPT requirements?

    Luckily, there aren’t too many OPT requirements. To be eligible for an OPT visa, all you’ll need is to:

    • Be an F-1 student
    • Not be studying English as a Second Language
    • Not have been authorized for 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
    • Not have used up all available OPT at your current study level
    • Have completed at least one full academic year to begin OPT, and be a maximum of 90 days away from completion to apply for OPT
    • Gain employment in a job directly related to your major area of study (once you receive your OPT visa)¹ ³

    And that’s it!

    If you meet these requirements then you’re eligible for an OPT visa. Let’s now take a look at how to apply for OPT.

    How to apply for OPT

    Applying for OPT is a fairly simple process. Here are the steps involved:

    1. Request a recommendation for OPT from your designated school official (DSO)
    2. Your DSO will enter the OPT request on the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)
    3. Your DSO prints and signs Form I-20
    4. You sign Form I-20
    5. You file Form I-765, also known as the “Application for Employment Authorization”, within 30 days of your DSO’s recommendation
    6. The USCIS will confirm your application and issue you an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) - you can then begin OPT at the authorized date³

    In terms of timing, when to apply for OPT depends on whether you're applying for pre-completion or post-completion OPT.

    If your applying for pre-completion OPT, you’ll need to:

    • Apply after your DSO enters their recommendation on your SEVIS record, and as early as 90 days before you finish a whole academic year (granted that you don’t begin OPT until after the first year has finished)¹

    If your applying for post-completion OPT, you’ll need to:

    • Apply within 30 days of your DSO’s recommendation on your SEVIS record, and up to 90 days before you finish your degree, but a maximum of 60 days after completion of your degree¹

    What is STEM OPT Extension?

    If you graduated with a major in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) subject, then you’re in luck!

    The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) allows for an extension of your post-completion OPT of up to 24 months. In order to be eligible for this, you’ll need to:

    • Be an F-1 student who has earned a degree in a STEM field listed here
    • Have an employer who is enrolled in and using E-Verify
    • Have already received the first authorization of post-completion OPT¹

    To apply for a STEM OPT extension, all you need to do is:

    1. File Form I-765
    2. File Form I-20, with the signature of your DSO
    3. Submit a copy of your STEM degree¹

    So if you’ve landed yourself your dream STEM job, then fear not - you can extend this dream for at least another 24 months!

    OPT processing time and fees

    The fees and processing times involved in the OPT application process can vary.

    To file Form I-765, you’ll need to pay the filing fee of $410. You may also need to pay a biometric services fee, depending on your circumstances. Once you’ve done that, it can take anywhere between 1.5 to 13 months for Form I-765 to be processed.⁴

    If you’re applying to be an F-1 student, you’ll have to pay the I-109 SEVIS fee of $350. But there are some exceptions to this rule in which you won’t have to pay.⁵

    Apart from this, you won’t normally have to pay any other fees.

    Need to pay for your OPT fees from abroad? Meet Wise

    As you can see, there are some fees involved in the OPT application process. If you have a non-USD bank account, then you may end up paying extra in conversion fees. This is where Wise can help you.

    With Wise, you’ll have your money exchanged at the mid-market exchange rate, with no hidden fees. You can also take advantage of Wise’s multi currency account, and create a USD account online to save you time.

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    1. USCIS - OPT
    2. USCIS - Students and employment
    3. Study in the States - F-1 OPT
    4. USCIS - Processing times
    5. Ice.gov - I-901

    All sources checked 17 June 2021

    This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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