OPT stands for Optional Practical Training, which is a temporary employment authorization (similar to receiving a work permit), that provides an opportunity to apply knowledge gained in the classroom to a practical work experience off-campus. This option is for international students who are studying in the United States and need to gain some hands-on experience aside from their theoretical lectures in a university setting. This post is dedicated to better understanding some of the shortcomings of OPT, how it could lead to a green card, and how the program currently works based on existing policy.
OPT does not confer an immigrant student with new visa status, and in most case, the student will still be on the same F-1 visa. To be eligible for OPT, an applicant must be enrolled full-time for at least one full academic year and be physically present in the United States.
Does OPT lead to a green card?
OPT might not lead to a green card because of the dual intent rule established by the DHS and by extension immigration services. For a brief refresher on this rule, it means that the student originally applied for an international student visa with the intent of returning to their home country after their studies are completed. This is part of the visa requirement.
However, OPT training could lead to full time employment after a student graduates from a university and is now invested in a new company/organization. A common example is a STEM student who through their university becomes involves with a lab and applies for OPT. Because of a limited period (usually 12 months) of work authorization, the student then decides to apply for an employment visa, through which they can also adjust their status, or file concurrently an I-485 application. This change in status is perfectly legal, although takes careful planning and execution.
What are some common issues with work authorization?
While the OPT, program helps international visa holders to gain valuable experiences, as mentioned it does not lead to a green card, and oftentimes adds significant stress and burden to students because of the inconsistency with time lags and backlogs on the side of the USCIS. Simply put, some employers will simply not risk wanting to hire a foreign-born applicant because of having to coordinate visa issuance and legality while also trying to run a business.
As such, some recommendations that have been made to this process include the following:
- Permitting OPT applicants to send their applications from other countries (consular processing)
- Permitting a 60 extension on a work authorization to secure/change status
- Creating a USCIS priority for timely issuance of visas (employment) for researchers, scientists, and other related professionals
- Expand and clarify the circumstances of dual intent via a change in DHS policy
This last bullet point is particularly important because there is much confusion about the “dual intent” doctrine and students who have working authorization via the OPT. Some organizations, such as the President's Alliance, which is an alliance of American university leaders dedicated to increasing public understanding of immigration, have stated that getting rid of the interim switch to a non-immigrant working visa would create efficiency, and allow employers to file an I-140 as needed.