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OPT EAD: The Complete Guide to Work Authorization for OPT
This article was reviewed by Rohit Mittal – co-founder of Stilt, Inc, financial expert, and immigrant. To learn more about Rohit’s credentials, visit his LinkedIn, Substack, and Twitter.
Thousands of students on F1 visas apply for Optional Practical Training in their respective fields of studies. Optional Practical Training helps to supply the practical experience students need to gain traction in their careers. In some cases, they also use this time of Optional Practical Training to get an H1B visa sponsorship.
If you are on any Optional Practical Training program, you will need an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) before you will be allowed to work. How does OPT EAD work and how do you get it? We’ll explain the basics you need to know below.
OPT and EAD
The U.S. has some strict immigration and labor laws in place to guard its economy. Regulations like these have helped the U.S. to grow and establish one of the strongest economies in the world. Needing an EAD while you are on Optional Practical Training and on a student visa is one of these regulations.
Both OPT and EAD are governed by the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services). Let’s take a look at Optional Practical Training (OPT) and Employment Authorization Document (EAD) separately to better understand their roles and functions.
What is OPT?
OPT’s are programs that help F1 visa holder students gain more experience in their fields of expertise. OPT allows you to stay in the U.S. for up to 12 months after you’ve graduated. In some cases you might even be able to stay for 24 months, With an OPT you are allowed to work 20 hours per week while school is in session. You can work full time during school holidays.
There are three types of OPT:
- Post-Completion OPT
- STEM Extension OPT
- Pre-Completion OPT
A Designated School Official on your campus will oversee the OPT process. They need to ensure you keep to the regulations set out in the OPT guidelines. This person will also be able to help you and answer any questions you may have about OPT at your school.
Essentially OPT is an opportunity for you to gain work experience while you are still studying or after you have completed your studies. But, you can not start working until you get employment authorization through an EAD.
What is EAD?
An EAD is a temporary document that grants its holder the right to be employed in the U.S. It is also called a non-immigrant U.S. work permit. Not all visas are like the H1B visas which automatically grants the holder the right to work in the U.S. Many visas require the holder to have an EAD first before they are legally allowed to work here.
Take note, an EAD does not take the place of a visa. You still need a visa to have the right to live in the U.S. In fact, you won’t be eligible for an EAD if you don’t have a valid visa. Not all visa groups are also allowed to apply for an EAD.
To see if your visa qualifies take a look at the general EAD eligibility here.
What is OPT EAD Card?
An EAD card is your physical proof that you have employment authorization in the U.S. Being granted an OPT EAD card specifically gives someone like an F1 visa student (who isn’t an American citizen), the right to hold a job while they are on OPT.
Remember, F1 visas do not grant the holder the right to work in the U.S. in itself. Most international students who are in line for an OPT program, therefore, need an EAD before they can legally hold a job.
Once you get your employment authorization for OPT, you can be issued an OPT EAD card. The validity of your OPT EAD will not stretch beyond the validity of your visa. You’ll have to regularly renew your EAD status to ensure your continued right to be employed in the U.S.
Remember, an OPT EAD will only allow you to work within the specific field of your studies.
Who is Eligible for OPT EAD?
As mentioned before, all visa holders aren’t eligible to apply for an OPT EAD. OPT programs mainly pertain to students. The two groups of student visa holders who are eligible to apply for an OPT EAD are F1 and M1 visa holders.
There are other groups of visa holders who are also allowed to apply for just a normal EAD. You can read more about these here.
What Information is On Your OPT EAD Card?
When you apply for an EAD you need to file an application. All that information in conjunction with some other details of yourself are displayed on your EAD card.
Here is a short list of the information you will find on OPT EAD Card:
- Your names and surname
- USCIS number (your number in the USCIS system)
- EAD category and type
- Your EAD card number
- Date of birth
- Country of birth
- Terms and conditions
- Validity period
- Annotations (like the card is not valid to permit re-entry to the U.S.)
- Passport style photo of yourself
- U.S. Hologram (to prevent unlawful copies and fakes)
How to Apply for OPT EAD
Applying for an OPT EAD is quite straightforward. All you need is the right documents and to follow the right procedure. If you are concerned about the processing fees required to get an OPT EAD don’t worry, you can even apply for an OPT student loan to help cover the cost.
Here are some of the most basic steps you can follow to apply for OPT EAD.
Contact Your School
You can only apply for OPT after you’ve been enrolled in your school for 9 months. Before you can apply for EAD you’ll need to be accepted into an OPT program. Contact the international student office at your school and apply for a program with their assistance.
File Form I-765
Once you’ve been accepted, you need to file an Application for Employment Authorization (Form I-765). The form is on the USCIS website. Get the latest copy of the form, complete it, and attach the necessary documents for your category.
F1 visa students need to supply:
- Form I-20 – your Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status (not older than 30 days)
- All other documentation requested in the filing instructions.
Your Form I-20 needs to be endorsed by your Designated School Official.
The processing of your EAD application may take more than 90 days to reach a decision. Be patient and wait for the result.
Once you’ve received your EAD you are allowed to start working. The USCIS will mail you the result of your application to the address you’ve listed on your Form I-765. Remember your OPT EAD will only allow you to work with the employer set out in your OPT program.
U.S. schools and universities offer some of the best programs in the world. Studying in the U.S. on a visa has some great benefits too. You can apply for an OPT program to gain valuable practical experience in your specific field. But remember you’ll need an OPT EAD to grant you the right to hold employment whilst you are on an F1 or M1 visa. Get accepted into an OPT program and apply for your OPT EAD today. It will open up a brighter future for you tomorrow.