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  • When is the right time to Graduate ( August or December or May )?
  • When Shall I apply for OPT?

Do you want to know answers for the above questions? Continue reading.

When to apply for OPT?

I have advised so many students and above question still remains. So, to help them understand, I’m putting together this small write up. Again to let you know, this is my opinion, it may not be applicable to all circumstances. Read this, understand the concepts and see how your situation applies and decide based on that. To get started, let me explain about OPT ( Optional Practical Training)

OPT (Optional Practical Training)

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is employment authorization which allows F-1 students to apply knowledge gained in the classroom to a practical work experience. You may be entitled to up to 12 months of optional practical training per educational level. If a student begins a new academic program at a higher level, the student is eligible for another 12 months of OPT Visa.

Universities will have set guidelines on How to Apply for Optional Practical Training. I strongly recommend students to find out the what is the process in your school and having that knowledge in advance, atleast 1 semester before you graduate will help you prepare accordingly.

OPT and H1B Visa Dates

Next query is, when to apply for OPT, whats the deal with H1B visa quota and how does graduation date affect my chances of getting H1B Visa? This is going to bit difficult to explain, but I will try my best to make it clear.

H1B Visa

H1B visa application can be filed from April 1st of each each for the H1B Visa quota starting from Oct 1st. i.e. companies sponsoring students can file H1B Visa from April 1st 2008 and that will enable students to work for that company from October 1st 2008, if H1B visa is approved.

As many of you will be aware, last year H1B visa in general category was filled on 1st day of application. More than 100,000 application was submitted on April 1st for available 65,000 visas. That resulted in lottery system. Students with Master’s degree will have additional 20,000 Visa’s. If general category is filled, then you will be considered under Master’s Degree quota. Many are believing it will be same scenario this year too.

Scenario: Graduation Dates

Lest assume you are planning to graduate in Summer ( August ) 2008. Students question will be, when shall I apply for OPT. Lets analyze the above situation.

Lets assume

Graduation Date : 15 – Aug – 2008

OPT Start: 15-Aug-2008, which means, you will receive new I-20 along with OPT Card, that gives students status and authorization to work.

OPT End Date : 14-Aug-2009 ( if you applied for 12 months )

In the above case, if students will have to find a job with a company who will sponsor H1b Visa before April 1st 2009. So, the company can file the H1B visa on April 1st. They also can file H1B visa later, if no more than 65,000 visa application is submitted on April 1st in general category and no more than 20,000 applications were submitted in Master’s Degree category. Lets assume, you found a job and company applied for your H1B Visa and your application was submitted on April 1st and got H1B Visa approval to work from October 1st 2009.

But, the problem with OPT start date of Aug 15 2008 is, student will have the H1B approval only from Oct 1st 2009, but the work authorization is expiring on Aug 14th 2008. So, from 15 Aug 2009 to 30 Sep 2009, student don’t have work authorization. Which means, they cannot work in U.S. Some companies give them vacation, so they will go to India, or native country and work from local Office in India, some students stay in U.S. but cannot work for that time period.

To avoid that scenario, if student can apply for OPT start date of Sep 30 2008, then they will not have the above problem. Because, they can work in OPT till Sep 30 and H1B will start from Oct 1st. But, check with your school, if you can apply for delayed OPT start date, to make sure you will not be out of status. Usually OPT start date should be within 60 days of last day of the exam. If you graduate in the Spring of 2008, the last exam day is May 6. You can select a start date between May 6, 2008 to July 5, 2008.

Also, OPT must be applied before you graduate. Processing time for OPT card will take from 15 days to 3 months. I got my OPT card in 3 weeks time, some of my friends it took 3 months. It depends on the Application processing center.

Graduation Date : December

With graduation date of December, students will have less time to search for the job. You will have to find a job in from December to March, while students graduating in Summer will have Aug to March to find a job. You can do the Math for Spring graduation.

Again, it depends on the specific student situation and if you are worried on how to search for a job, visit my blog frequently, I will write about few techniques that will help you to get the job much faster.

If you have any questions, comments or need details for your specific scenarios, write a comment, I will try to help you. Again, this is general guidelines, every students situation vary. Decide wisely, when to graduate, so you can apply for H1B visa on time.