Question: Do I qualify for Optional Practical Training (OPT)?
Answer: In general, foreign students qualify for Optional Practical Training (OPT) if they entered the United States as bona fide students and are pursuing a full course of study (most commonly in F-1 Visa Status). Students meeting these criteria are usually eligible for up to 12 months of OPT per educational level.
Some students may be eligible for an extension of the 12-month time limit, and you should contact an immigration attorney if you think you may qualify for an extension. Students who have participated in other work-study or curricular employment programs, however, may be ineligible for OPT.
OPT may be granted for any legitimate purpose other than to prepare the foreign national for permanent residence in the United States. Although OPT cannot be used to train a foreign national for a permanent U.S. position, it can be used to train a graduate for an employment position in an office abroad. It can also be used as a trial period to assess an alien’s skills.
Students interested in OPT should consult with their university or an immigration attorney to determine whether they are eligible for pre- or post-graduation OPT. Please keep in mind, however, that all OPT must generally be completed within 14 months of graduation.
Question: When should I apply for a student visa?
Answer: The most common type of student visa is a nonimmigrant F visa. Students who plan on attending a college or university, high school, private elementary school or other academic institution will generally apply for this visa type. If you are looking for information regarding M- and J-type visas, please contact our immigration attorney.
Prospective students may apply for an F-type student visa at any time, but the visa may not be issued more than 120 days before the student will begin his or her studies. Further, prospective students cannot enter the United States more than 30 days before the academic program’s start date.
New students are encouraged to apply for their visa as soon as possible to avoid delays and to allow for scheduling of their Consular interview. Interview waiting periods vary in length depending on the location of the U.S. Embassy or Consulate and may be checked at the following website: http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/wait/wait_4638.html.
Prospective students who wish to enter the United States more than 30 days prior to beginning their studies may apply for a B-type visitor visa. Students may hold an F visa and a B visa at the same time but will need to adjust their status before starting their studies if they initially arrived on a visitor visa. In some instances, an adjustment of status application may not be approved, and the student will need to leave the country and return using their student visa within 30 days of their academic program’s start date.
These rules only apply to new students. Continuing students may be issued a student visa at any time and may return to their academic institutions at any time.
Emil Dixon is the founder of the Davis Legal Center, a private law office located in Davis, California.