F-1 Visa, OPT, and Extensions:
What’s the difference?
The common F-1 visa allows foreign nationals to study in the US in an approved education program. In order to qualify for an F-1 visa, applicants need to satisfy several strict criteria:
Must have a foreign residence and must intend to return there upon completion of studies;
Can only study at the academic institution through which the visa was granted;
Must have sufficient financial support;
Must have strong ties to home country (e.g. job offer letter upon completion of studies, assets, bank accounts, and family).
It may be possible to convert this visa to a temporary work visa upon completion of applicant’s studies. Spouses and minor children obtain F-2 visa status and are not authorized to work in the U.S.
A F-1 visa holder can obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) via an Optical Practical Training (OPT) category if the student has:
Been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year;
Currently be maintaining a full-time program of study and valid F-1 status; and
Work in a job directly related to your major field of study
An F-1 OPT holder is normally eligible to work for a maximum of 12 months. However, there are primarily two ways in order to extend the work authorization:
Begin a new academic program at a higher level (e.g., master’s after bachelor’s degree, PHD after master’s), then the OPT can be extended for another 12 months, or
If the student has their latest degree in the Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (DHS Stem Designated Program list), AND the employer is enrolled in E-Verify, then the OPT can be extended for an additional 17 months.
A person with an OPT work eligibility has the advantage of being able to work with multiple employers as long as they are all enrolled in E-verify. However, the student must be in a paid-working position at least 20 hours per work and must report to the Designated School Official (DSO) every 6 months regarding their work. A OPT holder has the advantage of being able to work for 180 days while their extension application is pending. Likewise, an OPT holder can remain in the country for 120 days while unemployed.
F-1 visa holders can bring spouses and children (under the age of 21) to the US for the duration that the F-1 visa holder maintains his or her status.
Spouses and children are typically not work eligible.
An F-1 OPT visa and extension is an excellent option for both employers and employees.