Do you want to work while studying in the United States? Would you like to extend your F1 visa (having OPT) to a Green card after your studies? Then this article is for you.
Most international students studying in the US use an F1 visa (academic visa) to get OPT opportunities which helps them get jobs within their field of study for up to 12 months. For STEM graduates they can extend theirs to about 24 months.
This article will explain what OPT is, what a Green card is, how to apply for a Green card during OPT, and what to do when OPT ends.
OPT to Green Card
What is OPT?
OPT stands for Optional Practical Training. It is designed to help students that have F1 visas to work or get employed in jobs in line with their field of study.
It is not a permanent employment such that the student can work during the study period for about 12 months.
In the context of a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) field, it could last up to 24 months on one condition.
The condition in STEM is that an E-Verify employer must employ the student. The work process of OPT can be paid or unpaid since it is for experience in your field of study.
What is an F1 Visa?
An F1 visa is an academic or study visa for students to study in the United States for the entire years of educational activities. It is a form of nonimmigrant visa issued by the embassy that does not allow you to stay after your years of study in the US.
Even before the government issues you this visa, you have to assure that you will return to your home country once you are done with your studies; else, the F1 visa will be denied.
However, in working while studying, the student tends to be overwhelmed and wouldn’t like to go back to the host country; in this context, an OPT to Green card application comes into play.
Types of OPT (OPT to Green card)
The types of OPT is based on whether you can continue the job after graduation or not. Here are the two major types of OPT:
The Pre-completion OPT is for international students who seek to work and study while in school.
To participate in the Pre-completion OPT, you have to be lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year.
The job opportunities here are within their field of study for 20 hours or less while school activities are in session. The duration of the pre-completion OPT is about 12 months.
The duration for application while on a full-time basis within a full academic year is 90 days. However, the student can work until they are through with the first full academic year.
How to apply for a Pre-completion OPT:
According to Novacredit, a pre-completion OPT application requires a designated school official (DSO) recommendation from their school.
The job of the DSO is to enter the recommendation for pre-completion OPT in the student’s SEVIS record and endorse their Form I-20.
Once the recommendation has been made, the student will need to submit Form I-765 and the filing fee of $410 to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
If the student’s application for temporary employment authorization is approved, the USCIS will send the employment authorization documents that allow them to begin working in pre-completion OPT employment.
The Post-completion OPT, just like the name implies, is for students that have completed their academic work for some time and are interested in working within their field of study after graduation.
The same process applies in Post-completion OPT, just like in the Pre-completion OPT. It involves getting a recommendation letter from the DSO at their school.
Once their SEVIS records have been updated and their I-20 forms endorsed, they will then need to submit Form I-765 to the USCIS and the filing fee.
They cannot begin working in their post-completion OPT employment until they receive their employment authorization documents.
What is Green Card? (OPT to Green card)
Green is a colour that symbolises rebirth and renewal. It also means safety and protection.
Thus Green card, as relates to the United States government, is a permanent resident card to allow international students to stay permanently after completing their studies in a registered college or university.
With a Permanent Resident Card from the US government, you enjoy all the basic rights of a citizen, coupled with the freedom to work.
How to apply for Green card during OPT:
In line with Novacredit, if you want to apply for a green card while you are in F-1 OPT visa status, you will need to apply early. Depending on your home country, there might be a lengthy wait.
While the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act in July 2019, the Senate has not acted on this bill.
If given, it would remove the cap on the number of green cards and H-1B visas issued each year to applicants from countries such as China or India.
However, the bill has not been passed by the Senate or signed into law. If your home country is a country that has a cap, it might mean that you will face a long backlog.
This might mean that the process could take much longer than your OPT status might last.
On the other hand, the success of the transition from OPT to Green card depends on the applicant’s country of origin.
Countries like India and China have more applicants annually than the space made for the students, thus making the process of OPT to green card quite challenging to acquire.
What to Do when OPT Ends?
Most times, OPT to Green card migration tends to take time and, in some conditions, becomes unsuccessful. Thus, you can go for H1B work visa to continue your stay in the United States.
An F1 student seeking a work visa has to find an employer to help sponsor the H1B visa processing system.
However, the number of work visas processed annually is limited due to specific laws with the immigration system, so only the lucky ones tend to get work visas after the proper application.
Types of Permanent Residence in the US:
There are two major types of permanent residence in the US, they include:
Conditional Permanent Residence:
This permanent residence is valid for two years alone. It comes from getting married to a citizen of the US for some time (about two years). It is not renewable.
To update to a regular visa, you have to file a petition within 90 days before your conditional Green Card expires. However, the processing time can take 12-18 months.
Regular Permanent Residence:
The regular permanent residence exceeds two years and is valid for ten years, although it’s renewable. This type of permanent residence can be terminated if you go against your visa status.
How to apply for an OPT to Green card:
According to Stilt, before applying for an OPT to Green card, the student must be eligible and be sponsored by an employer for the Green card application.
The process begins with the sponsor applying for a labour certification from the Department of Labor and then submitting a Form I-140 (Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker) and potentially a Form I-485 (Adjustment of Status) to allow a transition from F-1 OPT status.
The applicant is given a visa number and a priority date. As long as this priority date is within the OPT period, then the applicant can wait out the process in the hopes of getting a card and can transition legally from OPT to green card status.
The OPT to Green card migration can be complicated at times, although it is worth the stress. Here are some other ways to transition from OPT to green card; Family sponsorship, Green card lottery etc.
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