Work Visa Options for Graduating F-1 and M-1 International Students
With graduation season just around the corner, it’s time to look at visa options for graduating international students. If you are in the United States on an F-1 or M-1 visa from a SEVIS school, you should be eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT allows F-1 or M-1 graduates to work in the United States with an open work permit for up to 12 months. Students in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, math) may be eligible for an additional 17 months of OPT if the extension is applied prior to the expiration of the initial OPT. To qualify, the student must seek work directly related to his/her field of study. For example, a graduate with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design should seek employment in the graphic design field while on OPT. Graduating students may apply for OPT as early as 90 days before graduation, and up to 60 days afterwards. Cap Gap Those who are currently on OPT, and whose employers have filed an H-1B petition on their behalf, can bridge the gap between the end of OPT and the start of H-1B under the 'cap gap.' For example, if Annie's OPT expires on July 15th but her employer filed an H-1B petition on her behalf of April 1st and it was approved, her OPT will automatically extend until October 1st, at which point her status automatically changes from OPT to H-1B. This is a good way for those on OPT to ensure that there is no interruption in their employment if the employer is sponsoring them for an H-1B. With the H-1B cap being reached quickly over the past two years, those who are on OPT in STEM subjects should apply for the STEM extension in order to ensure two bites at the H-1B apple in the event that they are not selected the first year that their employer files a petition.