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Is Additional OPT Available for a Second Masters Degree?
Switching careers or fields of study is extremely common even for those with advanced degrees, whether it’s done because an individual loses interest in the field or sees more opportunity elsewhere. Going back to school or changing careers can be extremely difficult for immigrants and visa-holders, though, who often face complications in maintaining legal status.
One such obstacle for visa holders returning to school for a second master’s degree is the difficulty in obtaining the second period of Optional Practical Training (OPT). This article discusses eligibility for OPT, and provides all the answers for individuals wondering, “can I get OPT for a second master’s degree?”
Can I Get OPT for a Second Masters Degree in the U.S.?
Optional Practical Training lets students get training in their field of study during and after their schooling. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) grants F1 visa holders 12 months of OPT for each degree level they obtain.
This poses a difficulty for individuals seeking a second master’s OPT. F1 visa holders are eligible for one 12-month period of OPT for their Bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and Ph.D. If an individual has already used the 12 months of master’s level OPT they were granted for their first master’s, they are not eligible for OPT after their second master’s. Even if your master’s degree is in an entirely different field, you will not be eligible for another 12-month period of OPT.
However, there are options for obtaining a second OPT, discussed in the following section.
Options for a Second OPT
The USCIS places a 12-month limit per degree level on OPT, but there is no stipulation that the whole 12 months must be used at once. This means that if visa holders do not use their entire 12-month period during their first Master’s degree, however many months they have not used can be applied to the second master’s degree.
The exception to the 12-month OPT limit is for individuals with STEM degrees. Students in STEM fields are eligible for a 24-month OPT extension that can be used at either the bachelor’s or master’s level. Crucially, this extension may be obtained even if your second Master’s degree is not in a STEM field, as long your first master’s was. You should discuss STEM extensions with your Designated School Officer (DSO) for more details.
How to Get OPT for Second Masters
Splitting OPT between your first and second master’s is the only option for those outside of STEM fields. However, since switching fields of study is typically unplanned, many use up all of their OPT for their first mater’s, assuming they won’t study again at the same degree level. Not using all of your OPT time for your first master’s, then, can be a smart move and can give you more options in the future. Also, talking to your DSO is important, since they can provide you with tailored advice based on your goals and plans.
Negative Effects of Not Having OPT for your Second Masters
OPT is extremely valuable to new degree-holders because it lets them work legally in the country without obtaining any other work permit or visa status. Without this grace period for getting legal work experience in their field, master’s degree holders may be unable to work legally in the United States upon graduation.
What if I am Denied a Second OPT?
If you are simply obtaining a second master’s degree at an American university and do not wish to get work in the United States after graduating, then you don’t have to worry about a second OPT. However, if you wish to find legal employment in the United States upon graduating, you must have an H1B visa.
The difficulty in obtaining an H1B is that you must have an H1B sponsor/blog/2018/01/find-h1b-visa-sponsor/ in place when you graduate. Lining up a sponsor while you are still in school can be very difficult since H1B sponsors typically look for some type of work experience in the field.
If you are not eligible for a second OPT and are unable to find an H1B sponsor by the time you graduate, you should be prepared to leave the United States after graduation.
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Options are limited for visa holders seeking OPT for their second Master’s degree unless they’re in one of the STEM fields. While you cannot otherwise extend your period of OPT, if you think you may seek a second master’s degree, you can plan from the beginning of your education to save some of your 12 months of Masters OPT for a potential second master’s.
If you have already used all your OPT and are not in a STEM field, your best option is to search for an H1B sponsor and hope you can find one before you graduate.