OPT

The Optional Practical Training (OPT), as defined by the  United States Citizenship & Immigration Services, is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 visa (a visa for international students) and the student’s major area of study. Eligible nonimmigrant alien students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization before completing their academic studies (pre-completion) and/or after completing their academic studies (post-completion). If the nonimmigrant alien student has earned a degree in certain science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, a 24-month extension is available., is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 visa (a visa for international students) and the student’s major area of study. Eligible nonimmigrant alien students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization before completing their academic studies (pre-completion) and/or after completing their academic studies (post-completion). If the nonimmigrant alien student has earned a degree in certain science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, a 24-month extension is available.

From its inception, OPT was a one-year work authorization program granted to nonimmigrant alien students upon graduating from U.S. universities. The altruistic intent was to provide nonimmmigrant alien students with internship experience before they returned to their respective home countries. Instead, the program has become a direct pipeline to the H-1B visa program. When students seek these “internships,” what they ultimately are hoping for are H-1B visa sponsorships, and ultimately resident alien status (Green Cards).

OPT was never approved by Congress – it was created through federal regulation. Microsoft founder Bill Gates, growing frustrated with Congress’ failure to approve an increase in the cap for H-1B visas, met with then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. He persuaded Chertoff to concoct a scheme that would extend the OPT program past the one-year authorization period, allowing companies, like Microsoft, to find a new venue to source cheap indentured workers.

Because of these STEM OPT extensions, nonimmigrant alien student enrollment in U.S. universities, especially from China and India, skyrocketed.

There is no wage floor for OPT permit nonimmigrant alien workers and no requirements for employers to provide jobs to American graduates first. Employers reduce costs by hiring international students, as the majority of visa holders are exempt from Social Security (FICA) and Medicare tax withholdings if they classify as “nonresident aliens.”

OPT Stats

  • For the 2019/2020 academic year,  223,259 foreign students  worked via OPT.
  • Chinese and Indian nationals   are the largest beneficiaries of the OPT program.
  • Amazon was the largest employer of OPT workers 2017-2018.
  • 20,000 H-1B visas are set aside for OPT permit recipients each year.