If you’re studying in the United States on an F1 visa and you want to work here after graduation, OPT (or Optional Practical Training) is priceless. OPT is a 12-month work allowance given to F- visa holders allowing them up to 12 months of U.S. work authorization for relevant employment. If you haven’t heard of OPT before, you should sprint to your International Student Services office to get the complete details.
Here are 4 reasons why OPT (Optional Practical Training) is a must have for international student job seekers:
You get experience – U.S. work experience is pretty important to most American companies. With OPT, you can get up to 12 months of it. Pay particular attention to the connections between your work in the U.S. and your prior experience in your home country. This will be valuable for later job interviews in the U.S.
You acquire contacts – When you’re working inside a company, you’ve got access to lots of people who can provide you with information and guidance on your career. This is informational interview gold! Start building connections with people who can appreciate your value.
If your H1B is delayed, you can keep working – After your internship, if you’re able to win a full time job, your OPT can be used to keep you working happily at your new employer until the H1B filings have been completed. For example, in past years, there have been more H1B applications filed than spots open. When this happens, the government randomly selects people from the pool until all the spots are filled. If you’re not lucky enough to get one of the spots, you can use your OPT to stay with the company until the next lottery (if you’ve got enough left).
OPT is easy to get – All you need to do to get OPT set up is to apply for it with the help of your international student services office. Unlike with the H1B, there is no action required on the part of the employer. You just show up and start working.
Lots of American employers use internships as a way to test a candidate’s fit with the company. If all goes well over the course of a summer, the chances of retaining that person as a happy and productive employee over the long term go up significantly. Optional Practical Training can position you to take advantage of this model and turn your OPT into an H1B. Get an internship with OPT, and then spend the summer delivering quality work and showing your employer that they can’t live without you. Watch the H1B materialize!
A parting note: Many international students I’ve encountered try to use OPT to evade questions about their U.S. work authorization status. For example, when asked,”Do you require sponsorship for full-time employment in the United States,” they’ll say “no” because they have Optional Practical Training. This answer is misleading to employers because what they are really trying to determine is whether they can keep you on as a full-time employee just like any other. With OPT you are only eligible for 12 months of U.S. employment, and if you’ve gotten your job by insinuating otherwise, your employer won’t be happy.
In my opinion, part of the problem lies with the American obsession with politically correct questions. I’ve been involved in many discussions about what questions recruiters are “allowed” to use to get work authorization information from candidates. For some reason, companies can’t ask you any question that could be construed as an attempt to uncover your national origin, creed, color, race and a slew of other things that most normal people would be absolutely fine talking about. They can’t ask you directly about citizenship or green card status. Thus, recruiters are forced into verbal gymnastics to get the information they want without ‘offending’ you. If you take advantage of this vague situation to imply that you don’t require full time work authorization, it won’t be appreciated by your employer.
This annoying American aversion to asking direct questions can be confusing for international students. My recommendation is to be very clear about your work status whenever asked. If a company asks about your work status, tell them you require work visa sponsorship for full time permanent employment. Then you can tell them about OPT, and that it will give the company a chance to try you out before making any commitment to sponsorship. Doing so will not only show the company a path to hiring you that they may not have known about, but it will also help you build the credibility you need to get the job you want. And credibility is everything in beginning new professional relationships. So get out there and turn that OPT into an H1b!