OPT to Green Card Path for 2023

Written by: Victor Pan
Last Updated by Sabrina Giampaolo: June 2, 2023
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The OPT green card (Optional Practical Training) Visa is a type of work authorization that allows international students who have graduated from a U.S. college or university to stay and work in the U.S. for up to 12 months. This visa is designed to provide international students with the opportunity to gain practical experience in their field of study, which can be beneficial for their future careers.

To be eligible for an OPT green card visa, international students must have completed a degree program at a U.S. college or university and must have a job offer in their field of study. Students who are in their final semester of a degree program may also be eligible to apply for an OPT visa.

Contents

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OPT Green Card Visa Application Requirements

The OPT visa application process can take several months and requires the following steps:

1) Obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card: The first step in applying for an OPT visa is to obtain an EAD card. This can be done by submitting Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Along with the form, you will need to submit several documents, including proof of your student status, passport-style photographs, and a fee.

2) Get a job offer: In order to be eligible for an OPT visa, you must have a job offer from an employer. The job must be related to your field of study and you will need to provide proof of the offer, such as a letter from the employer, as part of your application.

3) Apply for the OPT: Once you have an EAD card and a job offer, you can apply for the OPT visa by submitting Form I-765 to the USCIS. Along with the form, you will need to submit all of the documents that were required for the EAD card, as well as proof of your job offer.

4) Attend a pre-completion OPT I-20 or post-completion OPT I-20 appointment: Once the OPT application is submitted, you need to attend an appointment with the International Student Advisor of your school to verify the information on your I-20.

5) Wait for approval: After you have submitted your application, you will need to wait for the approval. The USCIS will review your application and make a decision. You will be notified of the decision by mail.

Once you receive your EAD card, you will be able to start working in the United States.

OPT Visa: Period Allowed to Work

Once an OPT visa is approved, international students are allowed to work for up to 12 months. During this time, they can gain valuable experience in their field of study and develop professional connections that can help them find a job after their OPT visa expires.

How to apply for a Green Card after the OPT Visa expiration

One of the main advantages of an OPT visa is that it allows international students to work in the U.S. and gain experience in their field of study, which can be beneficial for their future careers. Additionally, the OPT visa can serve as a stepping stone to a green card, which allows a person to live and work in the U.S. permanently.

There are several ways to apply for a green card after an OPT visa expires:

  • Apply for an H-1B visa, which is a type of work visa for highly skilled workers.
  • Apply for a green card through a family member who is a U.S. citizen.
  • Apply for a green card through an employer who is willing to sponsor you.
  • Apply for a green card through the Diversity Visa Lottery.

Each of these options has its own set of requirements and qualifications, so it is important to carefully research and understand them before applying.

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H-1B Visa

The H-1B visa is a type of work visa for highly skilled workers. To be eligible for this visa, an applicant must have a job offer from a U.S. employer and must have a bachelor’s degree or higher in their field of study. The H-1B visa application process can be complex, but it can be a good option for international students who want to continue working in the U.S. after their OPT visa expires.

Green Card through Family

Applying for a green card through a family member who is a U.S. citizen is another option. This process can take several years, but it is a way for international students to live and work in the U.S. permanently.

Green Card through an Employer

Applying for a green card through an employer who is willing to sponsor you can be a good option for international students who have a job offer from a U.S. employer. The employer must be willing to sponsor the international student for a green card, and the process can take several years.

Green Card through the Diversity Visa Lottery

Finally, applying for a green card through the Diversity Visa Lottery is an option for international students who come from a country that has a low rate of immigration to the U.S. The Diversity Visa Lottery is a random selection process, and winners are chosen through a lottery system.

OPT Green Card - Things to Keep in Mind

When applying for an OPT visa, there are a few important things to keep in mind regarding the current policy:

Timing

The timing of your application is crucial. You can only apply for an OPT visa within 90 days before your program end date or 60 days after the program end date. Additionally, you should apply well in advance of when you plan to start working, as the application process can take several months.

STEM extension

If you have graduated with a degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) field, you may be eligible for a 24-month extension of your OPT. This extension allows you to work for an additional two years in the United States.

Cap-Gap

If you are on an F-1 visa and your OPT ends between April 1 and October 1 and you are in the process of obtaining an H1-B visa, you are eligible for a Cap-Gap extension, which allows you to stay in the United States and work until October 1 of the same year.

Traveling outside the United States

If you are approved for an OPT visa, you should be careful about traveling outside the United States. If you leave the country while your OPT is valid, you may not be able to re-enter.

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Social Security Number

You must have a valid Social Security Number (SSN) to be able to work on OPT. You can apply for an SSN once you have received your EAD card.

Job requirement

Your job must be related to your field of study and you will need to provide proof of the offer, such as a letter from the employer, as part of your application.

Regular reporting

During your OPT, you are required to report any changes in your name, address, employment, and any other information to your International Student Advisor and to the SEVP, if you have a STEM extension.

STEM OPT Extension

The STEM extension is an extension of the Optional Practical Training (OPT) visa that is available to international students who have graduated with a degree in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) field. The STEM extension allows these students to work in the United States for an additional 24 months beyond the standard 12-month OPT period.

To be eligible for the STEM extension, students must have graduated with a degree in a field that is on the STEM Designated Degree Program List, which is maintained by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The list includes a wide range of STEM fields, including computer science, engineering, mathematics, and many others.

To apply for the STEM extension, students must first have an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card and a job offer from an employer that is related to their field of study. They must then submit Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, along with the required documentation, including proof of their STEM degree, proof of their job offer, and the appropriate fee.

STEM Extension: For how long is it valid on who is available to get it?

The STEM extension is valid for 24 months, and students can start working as soon as their EAD card is issued. During the STEM extension, they must continue to meet certain requirements, including working in a job that is related to their field of study and reporting any changes in their employment or contact information to the school and the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).

It’s important to note that the STEM extension is only available to students who are currently on an active F-1 visa status and who have not exceeded their 12-month OPT period. Also, students who have applied for H-1B Visa but haven’t received the result can apply for the STEM extension, and if they received the H-1B Visa, the STEM extension will be automatically terminated.

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Overall, the STEM extension is a great opportunity for international students who have graduated with a STEM degree to continue working in the United States and gain valuable experience in their field of study.

EB2 NIW: National Interest Waiver Visa

After obtaining the OPT status, prospective immigrants could have multiple paths to permanent residency in the U.S. A popular yet great option is EB-2 National Interest Waiver (NIW) visa. 

The EB-2 National Interest Waiver (NIW) visa is an option for professionals who have an advanced degree or exceptional ability in the sciences, arts, or business and whose work would benefit the national interest of the United States. This visa allows the applicant to file their own petition without having to have a job offer or permanent labor certification (PERM) from the Department of Labor. The NIW can be an attractive alternative for international students who are in the OPT (Optional Practical Training) program and want to obtain permanent residence in the United States.

EB2 NIW Requirements

To qualify for the NIW, the applicant must demonstrate that they meet the following requirements:

  • You have an advanced degree (master’s or doctorate) or its foreign equivalent, or exceptional ability in your field of specialization.
  • Your work has a substantial and positive impact on the national interest of the United States, such as the economy, health, education, security or the environment.
  • Your job is so important and beneficial that it justifies waiving the requirement to have a job offer and permanent labor certification.
  • Your work is of such a nature that it is expected that you continue to contribute to the national interest in the future.

To demonstrate that it meets these requirements, the applicant must present documentary evidence, such as:

  • Official academic record showing you have an advanced degree or its foreign equivalent, or letters from current or previous employers documenting at least 10 years of full-time experience in your occupation.
  • License to practice your profession or certification for your profession or occupation.
  • Evidence that you have received a salary or other remuneration for your services that demonstrates your exceptional ability.
  • Membership in a professional association.
  • Recognition for your achievements and significant contributions to your industry or field from your peers, government entities, and professional or business organizations.
  • Other comparable evidence of eligibility that is acceptable.

EB2 NIW Processing

The process to apply for NIW involves filing Form I-140 (Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker) with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), along with supporting evidence and paying the $700 fee. Once Form I-140 is approved, the applicant will need to check the State Department’s Visa Bulletin to see if a visa is available. If a visa is available, the applicant will be able to start the green card application process. In case you are living in the United States, you will need to file Form I-485 (Application for Adjustment of Status). If you are living outside of the United States, you will need to apply through consular processing.

The NIW may be a viable option for international students who are in the OPT program and want to stay in the United States as permanent residents. However, the NIW has its challenges and limitations. For example, the applicant must demonstrate that their work is in the national interest and that it exceeds the normal requirement of having a job offer and permanent labor certification. Additionally, processing time may vary based on location and visa availability. Therefore, it is recommended to consult with an immigration attorney before starting the process.

Conclusion

The Optional Practical Training (OPT) visa is a valuable opportunity for international students who have graduated from a U.S. college or university to gain practical work experience in their field of study. The OPT visa allows students to work in the United States for up to 12 months, and students in certain STEM fields may be eligible for a 24-month extension.

The application process for an OPT visa can be complex and time-consuming, so it is important to plan ahead and apply well in advance of when you plan to start working.

Additionally, students must meet certain requirements during their OPT period, such as working in a job that is related to their field of study and reporting any changes in their employment or contact information.

The EB-2 National Interest Waiver (NIW) visa requires applicants to meet specific requirements, including an advanced degree or exceptional ability, substantial positive impact on national interest, justifying a waiver of a job offer and labor certification, and expected future contributions. You need documentary evidence. The process involves Form I-140, Visa Bulletin, and either Form I-485 or consular processing.