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The legal landscape for hiring workers with varying immigration statuses can be difficult to navigate for many employers. This is especially true when an applicant is a recent college graduate. Questions arise surrounding the expiration of student visas, extending student visas, obtaining new visas, and the various applications that an employer may be asked to complete.

A common form of student visa is the F-1 visa. The F-1 visa generally covers an immigrant’s time as a student and “expires” upon graduation. This can be “extended” by the student’s application for a “post-completion optional practical training program” (OPT) to use the F-1 visa to work in the United States.

For example, a student enters the United States on an F-1 visa to study statistics in a four-year program at a local university. As graduation nears, the student completes a post-completion OPT application with the USCIS, is approved, and gains employment with a company as a statistician. That employee is now a part of the OPT program and their F-1 visa status is “extended” for twelve months.

The post-completion OPT application must be filed at least 90 days prior to graduation but no later than 60 days after graduation. The OPT applicant works with his or her academic advisor to complete the application. The application includes visa information, passport photos, payment of a fee, and information relating to the applicant’s course of study. Upon approval, the applicant will receive an Employment Authorization Document (“EAD”) which shows that he or she is eligible for employment in the U.S. Employers should be mindful that the current processing time for OPT applications and EAD cards ranges between three to six months.

For OPT-holders working in certain science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) fields, a 24-month extension of the OPT may be available. This 24-month extension provides the holder of an OPT with a total of three years of total eligibility for employment. An application for the extension of an OPT for STEM occupations must be started no later than 90 days prior to the expiration date of the initial OPT.

For the statistician referenced above, this means that at least 90 days prior to the expiration of his or her “OPT program” admission and EAD card, he or she may be eligible to apply for the 24-month OPT extension. If approved, the statistician would be eligible for a total of three years of employment after graduation.

The process for recent college graduates to obtain eligibility for employment in the United States can be complex. Understanding the applicability of the OPT program to the F-1 visa provides employers with another avenue to hire recent college graduates.

Note: This information should not be considered a comprehensive discussion of the F-1 visa, OPT, or application processes.

Disclaimer: The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice.