Applying for OPT is a technical process, one in which you will need to be aware of all deadlines, solicit the help of your international student center and otherwise be on top of the requirements. It's easy to mess it up! And if you do, your chances of finding a job in the US will certainly be reduced.
You must have been enrolled in school in the US for at least 9 months before you can apply for any OPT (pre or post-completion). You can apply for post-completion OPT as early as 90 days before graduation, and up to 60 days after graduation. On the application itself, you will indicate a desired start date for your employment. You cannot start to work before you have received your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS, and not until you have been in the US for at least 12 months. Since USCIS can take some time to act on your request and get your EAD to you, you should apply for OPT as early as possible. You do not need to have a job lined up yet to apply.
Typically, your international student advisor or someone within the international student center will help you through the process of applying for OPT. Here are the basic requirements:
This is the main application for employment authorization to be submitted to USCIS, once your school has approved. Download the instructions from the USCIS site as well to double-check all of the information and process tips you receive from your school.
You will need a new fee each time you file for an EAD (like for pre-completion OPT, and then for post-completion OPT). You can use a personal check, cashier's check, or money order made payable to: U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Put your date of birth and SEVIS ID number on the front of the check.
Identical color photographs of you taken within 30 days of filing your application. There are specifics in the I-765, but any place that does “passport photos” should get it right. Write your name and SEVIS ID number on back of each photo.
If you have them, you will need copies of your Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record Card (Both Front and Back), EAD Card, most recent I-20 (pages 1 & 3) and a copy of your current passport ID page.
This list will provide you with some guidance on what will be involved in applying for OPT. However, we cannot stress enough how important it is to begin discussions about how to apply for OPT with your international student advisor or someone in the international student center as early as possible. You will need their help!
Visit the InternationalStudent.com Working in the USA section for more information about how to apply for OPT.
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