Shanea, our guest ISV blogger shares her experience transitioning from an F1 visa to OPT. She shares some great advice, this is a must read!
Experience I always say is the greatest teacher. After studying in the United States for the past five and a half years I would say that experience has taught me the most. I started my studies in spring of 2009 at Northeast Community College studying an Associate of Applied Science Course in Broadcasting: Radio & Television. Needless to say I didn’t stick with the program so I ended up getting an Associate Degree in General Studies and transferring to New Mexico Highlands University in spring of 2012. I enrolled in their Media Arts Program. The great thing about transferring to Highlands was that they accepted my Associate Degree from Northeast Community College which waived more than 90% of the core classes that I needed to take. I spent two years in the Media Arts Program and in July, I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Media Arts: Video & Audio Production. As International Students after completing our studies in the Bachelors program we have several options for remaining in F1 status. We can continue on to a Masters Program, we can go back home or do what is called Optional Practical Training (OPT) which means working in your career field for a year. I choose to do my OPT.
Filing for the OPT should be a very simple process. Most International Student Centers at the university that you attend should have the information that you need to file. Be prepared to print a I-765 filing form and paying a $380 filing fee, which is sent as a check. With filing you will also need 2 passport photos and a copy of all of your I-20s, once all your documents are ready you will mail them certified mail. The wait period takes about 3 months. I filed on May 22nd and received my card on August 1st. During your wait period USCIS will email you updates on your case. The most difficult part of the process was waiting because during this time period you aren’t allowed to work or leave the country. My advice would be to any student planning on doing the OPT is to save as much as you can doing your final year of study so that you are able to pay rent, bills etc. If you have parents who support you, you will be fine. It is not recommended that you travel outside of the United States while you have a case pending.
Another challenging thing I faced was securing a job. On OPT International Students are only allowed to work in their field of study. I would say that the challenge was that I was applying for jobs while my case was still pending and company’s were looking to hire immediately. After I received my card, it took me about 2 weeks to secure a job, once this is done you will contact your International Student Advisor letting them know your Employer’s name, address, your job title and your address change if you moved, they will then send you a new I-20 and you are good to go! Your EAD (Employment Authorization Document) Card will have ‘Not Valid for Reentry to U.S.’ listed on the card. You are allowed to travel on OPT but be sure to have your I-20 signed within 6 months of travelling and a Job Offer Letter from your employer.
I would say overall my process has been great. My card expires a year from August 1st, my plans after that is to apply for the H-1B Visa (Work Visa). If you are in the STEM field you can apply for a 17 month STEM extension once your year is up or if you would like to stay in the United States you can go on to a Masters Program.
One final advice I would say is once you have your card secure it. You will only need it when you are traveling and for your first day of work when you are filling out your I-9 form. I say this because I misplaced my wallet and my card was in the wallet and if you lose your card you will have to file again and pay the filing fee over. So please keep your card safe and secured.
New Mexico Highlands University Alumni
ISV Guest Blogger