By Estefania Magdalena | Staff Writer
Most students look forward to graduation in order to amplify their job possibilities and future horizons. In the case of being an international student, it is possible during the time at KapCC to work a maximum of 20 hours on campus, but upon graduation, they have the possibility of applying to an Optional Practical Training (OPT).
Damian Zukeran, school official and academic support at Honda International Center, said during the workshop held on Sept. 15 via Zoom that international students can submit an application to USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) in order to obtain a one-year work permit by submitting an OPT application at Honda International Center. USCIS will start accepting applications 90 days before the student’s program end date until 60 days after the student’s program end date.
“It’s a great program. KCC has had so many success stories from OPT students,” Zukeran said. “Many have gone on to get great jobs in their home countries. A lucky few have done so well on OPT that their companies chose to sponsor visas for them to work here in the U.S.”
This work permit is given by the government with the objective that international students can experience working in the United States and insert themselves in the labor market, while applying the knowledge acquired during the time they studied at KapCC. At each higher education level acquired, there are 12 months available for OPT that every international student is allowed to apply.
Zukeran said he thinks KapCC provides all of their students with a very good education that can open doors and help them academically and professionally. Some students choose to directly transfer into the workforce after graduation, bur for international students that isn’t really an option. While in this country, Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a fantastic program that allows international students the opportunity to gain some professional experience in their field of study.
The process at the USCIS can take up to 120 days, so it is recommendable to send the application months in advance. The eligibility requirements to apply are mandatory and the following: have been in lawful student status for at least one full academic year at a Student and Exchange Visitor Program certified school and are graduating with an associate’s degree or certificate of achievement, and the job must be directly related to the student’s major and according to the educational level they have.
Zukeran said that the main idea behind OPT is that international students will be able to apply the knowledge and skills acquired while studying in the U.S. in a professional setting to gain some work experience. It is valuable that when international students eventually return to their home country, they won’t be taking back only a degree, they will also have a year of work experience in their field.
“The opportunity OPT affords international students is extremely valuable in my opinion. When you go back to your home country, taking back a degree is great… But taking back a degree and a year of work experience in the U.S. is better,” Zukeran said. “Being able to show that you have applied your knowledge and skills professionally in an international setting will be a good addition to anyone’s resume.”
While working in the United States as an OPT international student the participants will still be on F-1 visa using their KapCC I-20 form. The petition that needs to be send to USCIS costs $410 USD and it is not-refundable, so in case that the request is rejected due to an error in the information or for whatever reason, the same cost must be paid again with the re-application.
It is important to remind that the work start and end dates that each student chooses have to coincide with the graduation date on the I-20 form. Students must check that the forms have the correct information and that they do not forget to sign any forms that are mandatory to sign. In case a student forgets to sign any of the forms requested, USCIS will automatically deny the petition.
Once the start and end dates are chosen they cannot be changed if the application has already been submitted. When submitting the OPT application package to Honda International Center, students must wait for the recommendation on behalf of KapCC to submit the application to USCIS. Once the HIC recommendation is received, international students have a maximum period of 30 days to send the application to USCIS with no exceptions.
After sending the application package to OPT Immigration, if approved, USCIS sends an EAD Card or Employment Authorization Document. With this document it is possible to work anywhere in the United States. It is also recommended but not required that students have job offers before applying since that will facilitate the process.
Volunteer work is possible during OPT and students are allowed to work full-time (a minimum of 20 hours or more per week). In turn, it is also possible that students obtain more than one job and different sources of income. All jobs in which they perform must be related to their major and must be reported in the SEVP Portal.
It is essential not to forget to report the jobs in which they are hired on the SEVP Portal. USCIS grants a period of 90 days of unemployment. If students forget to register their employments on the portal, the 90 days of unemployment will start to run and USCIS can finalize the student’s I-20 form.
When the OPT ends, students have a 60-day grace period to either leave the United States, transfer to another school, or change their visa status.