International Students (2) – How to get an OPT for summer internships!

As I mentioned in my previous post I'm an international student who is currently a junior majoring in economics, and working two internships in finance during this semester. However, like many of my peers, I've had to prepare for the dreaded OPT (Optional Practical Training) certificate in order to get a summer internship.

In this post I intend to discuss limitations on a regular F-1 Visa, and how to obtain what is call an OPT, and which types of OPT's that exist.

The Different Types of OPT's

So to start of lets discuss what kind of different OPT's there are, more specifically the two different kinds.

Pre-Completion OPT:
This is the kind of OPT that most of you international students will be applying for. This particular certificate are for people who are currently pursuing a degree and would like to acquire work authorization to do work in the field related to their study. This work may be part-time during the academic quarters and full-time during vacations.

Post-Completion OPT:
I won't focus on this type of OPT, as it does not really concern my target audience. But I will say that this is for people who have completed their degree.

Useful Information about the Pre-Completion OPT
As I've recently found out, in my efforts to landing a summer internship for the summer of 2014, the application process is quite lengthy and it may actually take up to 12 weeks before the process is complete and you're allowed to work. However, you are allowed to apply for this OPT without a job offer.

Now, first and foremost there are three requirements to be eligible for this kind of OPT.

  1. You must be a registered student in F-1 status physically in the United States at the time of application
  2. You must have been enrolled in lawful student status on a full-time basis for at least one full academic year
  3. You must not have used twelve months or more of full-time curricular practical training

Furthermore, please notice that obtaining authorization for OPT is a two-step process. Your first step in obtaining an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is to receive a recommendation for OPT from the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) and then authorization for employment from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The ISSO cannot authorize OPT-only USCIS can do so by issuing you an EAD.

The Actual Application Process

Step 1 – Dealing with your schools international students' office

The first step is to complete and print the I-765 Form which can be found here. This form basically makes you submit general information such as name, address, date of birth, and what kind of Visa you currently hold – it's not hard people, just read carefully.

The second step is to complete page 1 of the OPT Recommendation Request Form which should be available through your international students office's website, and then physically bring the form to said office.

Now, you've gathered up the required forms and it's time to head off to your schools international students office. But wait! There are a few more things you need to bring with you, more specifically:

  1. Your current I-20 and all previously issued I-20's
  2. Passport
  3. I-765 Form
  4. OPT Recommendation Request Form(s)
  5. I-94 card (white card usually stapled in passport or printed from the electronic I-94 web site at http:www.cbp.gov/I94 if your most recent entry was on or after May 1, 2013)

Once your schools international students office has finished reviewing your application, and making sure you are eligible, they will mail you a new I-20 with a OPT recommendation attached.

Step 2 – Mailing your application to the USCIS

You finally have your brand new I-20 with a OPT recommendation, but the pain does not stop here dear sirs. Now it's time to mail the whole thing to the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services). Below I will provide 5 separate steps for successfully going through this process.

  1. Sign and date the new I-20! (section 11) This sounds obvious but many OPT applicants have had their applications returned for an unsigned I-20 and/or an unsigned check.
  2. Photocopy the entire application before you send it so that you have a complete copy for your records.
  3. Send your application to the USCIS by certified mail, return receipt requested or by a courier service such as FedEx so you have proof that your application was timely in the event that the application is lost.
  4. Send your application quickly as it must be received by the USCIS Service Center within 30 days of the date of the OPT recommendation.

The location you mail your application to differs depending on what state you live in, directions can be found here. As I previously mentioned the USCIS can take from 6 to 12 weeks, or more, to process this application, so submit it as fast as possible!

Closing Notes

I hope this article is useful to some, although the audience is somewhat limited, as I found it very frustrating going through this process.

Please give me feedback on my post, share your thoughts, flame away!

Comments (19)

 
Mar 17, 2014 - 3:05am

Very important point:

If your school allows it, use CPT for summer internships. Look up the difference between CPT and OPT. You can use CPT for anything less than 12 months while in school and still have your entire OPT free to use ONCE you graduate.

Some schools do not allow their students to use CPT though.

 
Mar 17, 2014 - 3:21am

krypton:

Very important point:

If your school allows it, use CPT for summer internships. Look up the difference between CPT and OPT. You can use CPT for anything less than 12 months while in school and still have your entire OPT free to use ONCE you graduate.

Some schools do not allow their students to use CPT though.

Good tip! Thanks for the contribution.

WallStreetOasis Contributing Author - Intern Check out my Blog Check out my Twitter
 
Mar 17, 2014 - 7:39am

I would strongly advice that students look at the option of using CPT first! Its been a while since i did all this, but I believe the whole 12 months thing also applies to CPT. You must not have used more than 12 months of CPT in order to be eligible for OPT.

Chill
 
Mar 17, 2014 - 8:28am

Don't use OPT for internships! Use your CPT first. A good friend of mine went through hell when he got his FT offer because his company would sponsor him for H1-B after the first year, and he used some of his OPT for internships while at school, so he had less than 12 months left which created a huge pain in the ass for both him and the employer.

Also, it's a good idea to nag on the international student office as they've been known to do things at their own (slow) pace. So remind them about your stuff once in a while if you want your paperwork done in timely manner. Although I guess that's a problem with all sorts of administration, but noticed to be more so at the international student office at my school at least.

 
Mar 17, 2014 - 8:26pm

You are too fast, I was planning to make my next blog touching some of these points. From my experience a CPT is strongly preferred to an OPT, particularly as an OPT would hurt you after graduation assuming you will not find some permanent solution to the immigration status.

Basically CPT stands for Curricular Practical Training. This means that as long as your internship is relevant to your degree, you just need to receive a letter of offer from your employer and then register for an internship class in your school. Also, a CPT has a significantly faster and less burdensome process (it can be done within a few days and only requires printing a new I-20, which is done internally at your school).

Finally, to all of those whose school doesn't allow a CPT- I think you should try to barter with your academic adviser. As far as I understand, from his or her point of view the internship just needs to be counted for credit towards your degree. Even if the internship doesn't qualify for credit for a certain student, ask for a one credit class that wouldn't make an impact on your transcript. I don't see a reason why they would refuse (I did this successfully at a big state school).

 
Mar 17, 2014 - 8:45pm

Slugger:

You are too fast, I was planning to make my next blog touching some of these points. From my experience a CPT is strongly preferred to an OPT, particularly as an OPT would hurt you after graduation assuming you will not find some permanent solution to the immigration status.

Basically CPT stands for Curricular Practical Training. This means that as long as your internship is relevant to your degree, you just need to receive a letter of offer from your employer and then register for an internship class in your school. Also, a CPT has a significantly faster and less burdensome process (it can be done within a few days and only requires printing a new I-20, which is done internally at your school).

Finally, to all of those whose school doesn't allow a CPT- I think you should try to barter with your academic adviser. As far as I understand, from his or her point of view the internship just needs to be counted for credit towards your degree. Even if the internship doesn't qualify for credit for a certain student, ask for a one credit class that wouldn't make an impact on your transcript. I don't see a reason why they would refuse (I did this successfully at a big state school).


No doubt about it, a CPT is to be preferred if your school accepts it. However, my school for example, does not provide credit for internships, ever. So we're left with the OPT, unfortunately.
WallStreetOasis Contributing Author - Intern Check out my Blog Check out my Twitter
 
Mar 18, 2014 - 5:05am

Goldf1nger:

Slugger:

You are too fast, I was planning to make my next blog touching some of these points. From my experience a CPT is strongly preferred to an OPT, particularly as an OPT would hurt you after graduation assuming you will not find some permanent solution to the immigration status.

Basically CPT stands for Curricular Practical Training. This means that as long as your internship is relevant to your degree, you just need to receive a letter of offer from your employer and then register for an internship class in your school. Also, a CPT has a significantly faster and less burdensome process (it can be done within a few days and only requires printing a new I-20, which is done internally at your school).

Finally, to all of those whose school doesn't allow a CPT- I think you should try to barter with your academic adviser. As far as I understand, from his or her point of view the internship just needs to be counted for credit towards your degree. Even if the internship doesn't qualify for credit for a certain student, ask for a one credit class that wouldn't make an impact on your transcript. I don't see a reason why they would refuse (I did this successfully at a big state school).

No doubt about it, a CPT is to be preferred if your school accepts it. However, my school for example, does not provide credit for internships, ever. So we're left with the OPT, unfortunately.

I find this to be so unfair. International Student officers KNOW the implication of using up your OPT and yet they still insist that you use it for internships. My sister's school also refused initially. After much pleading and such from her and her professors, they relented. It was a hassle though cuz she had a great internship lined up and would have lost it if she couldn't get to use CPT.

Chill
 
Mar 18, 2014 - 8:39am

My approach (which is similar to a lot of internationals I know) has been to do this: spend the first two summers interning abroad or working at the university. This means that you have 12 months of OPT left before your junior summer and you only need 9 months left after you graduate to keep you in the country for the next round of H1Bs. This is what basically every international at my school does because there's no way we'll be allowed to use CPT.

 
Mar 18, 2014 - 9:25am

encore:

My approach (which is similar to a lot of internationals I know) has been to do this: spend the first two summers interning abroad or working at the university. This means that you have 12 months of OPT left before your junior summer and you only need 9 months left after you graduate to keep you in the country for the next round of H1Bs. This is what basically every international at my school does because there's no way we'll be allowed to use CPT.


Great point! This is actually what I'm doing myself.
WallStreetOasis Contributing Author - Intern Check out my Blog Check out my Twitter
 
Apr 18, 2014 - 2:26am

Nice post!
so i spent 4 years studied in a state university as an international student and i did not apply the CPT (pre completion);
I will start my 1 year only MSF program at another university this summer.

"2. You must have been enrolled in lawful student status on a full-time basis for at least one full academic year"

My question is that whether i can get a CPT during this fall? (of course assume i'll get an internship offer first)

The rule#2 has to be in the same university OR my previous 4 year education count toward the "one full academic year"

Thanks in advance!

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