A big concern for college/graduate students as they are nearing the end of their studies is finding work for after graduation. Figuring out one's post-graduation employment situation can have its difficulties for any student. For students from other countries who are studying in the U.S. on an F-1 student visa, there is the added challenge of addressing their immigration situation if they desire to work in the United States.
One of the special immigration options available for F-1 visa students who desire to work in the U.S. after graduating is the Optional Practical Training program.
Under this program, a student can receive authorization to stay and work in the U.S. post-graduation. The work has to be in their field of study. Also, the work/immigration authorization granted under this program is only temporary. Typically, the maximum amount of time a student can work in the U.S. under this program is 12 months. However, there is an exception for STEM graduates. Such graduates may be able to work up to 36 months.
There is no cap on how many individuals can participate in the OPT program in a year. However, this doesn't mean there are no difficulties a student could encounter in efforts to participate in this program. There are various complex rules on program eligibility and the application process for this program. Missteps during the application process could have major ramifications for a student. So, when pursuing OPT approval, a student may want an immigration lawyer's help with the process.
Federal data points to the OPT program having grown in popularity in recent years. In fiscal year 2008, 28,497 OPT applications were approved. As a note, that year, a change was made in the rules related to STEM graduates. By fiscal year 2014, the annual total for approved OPT applications had grown to 136,617. The annual total went up every year between those two years.
The program has been particularly popular among STEM graduates, with around half of the OPT applications approved between 2012 and 2015 involving such students.
Some predict the use of this program may increase still more in upcoming years. It will be interesting to see what the future looks like for this program and its participants.
Source: Pew Research Center, "More foreign grads of U.S. colleges are staying in the country to work," Neil G. Ruiz, May 18, 2017