Most international students on F 1 visas want to secure their visa status for a longer period of time in the United States. They have few options available to broaden their practical experience in the course they are studying by participating in either optional practical training or curricular practical training or both.
However, they have to leave the US once their F 1 visa is expired and they already enrolled for OPT or CPT or both. In such cases, they start looking for additional opportunities to stay in the US. The best viable option for F 1 students is to find a US employer who is ready to sponsor their application for specialty occupation jobs (H 1B visas) so that they can legally stay in the US for more number of years.
The best time to start looking for H 1B jobs is during your OPT or COT to give yourself sufficient time to find a good US employer. This article will explore OPT, CPT and how you can switch to an H 1B visa during such practical pieces of training.
What is Optional practical training (OPT)?
International students when they come to study in a US-based university, they generally have an F 1 non-immigrant visa classification. This classification allows them to participate in an OPT under which they can accept any employment in the area that is directly related to the specialization they are having in their studies.
To apply for an OPT the student must either:
- Have completed their full-time or part-time study course from the US university.
- Or, are pursuing their studies from the US university but have maintained a valid F 1 status consecutively for the last 9 months of their studies.
The educational institution generally approves that a student is eligible for OPT by recognizing any of the above factors. So, You can participate in OPT either before completing your academic program (Pre Completion opt) or after completing your studies in the US (Post-completion opt). The student should apply for an employment authorization document before he commences his employment with the US employer.
OPT Time Period and the need for Switching to H 1B visa
The optional practical training is not permitted for a very long time. Most of the courses that are not directly related to STEM i.e. science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, allow only 12 months of OPT with the US employer.
However, F-1 students pursuing STEM courses are allowed 12 months OPT plus in addition, 24 months of stem opt extension. So, in total, they can work for the US employer for 36 months which is fairly a good time as compared to 12 months for fields not related to STEM.
For international students who want to work for a longer period of time in the US, OPT is not the best option available to them. So, they look to get an H 1B status in the US which allows them to stay in the US for at least 6 years (including extensions of H 1B status) if they have continuous work and sponsorship by the US employer.
Optional practical training to H 1B Visa
If a foreign student is on an OPT and wants to change to H 1B visa, he can do so by the following steps:
#Search for an employer in the United States who is willing to sponsor your H1b visa petition
This step could take a lot of hard and smart work. This is because whilst being on OPT, you have to carry out a search on available vacancies in the market related to your specialized knowledge and check if the employers are willing to hire foreign workers and sponsor their H 1B visa petition.
Once the list is ready, you can start applying for the jobs by sending your CV and cover letter and wait for their response. Alternatively, the easier way is to ask the employer who has given you the OPT option to file your H 1B visa petition. Most of the F 1 international students decide in advance with their employers for H 1b sponsor before start working on OPT.
#Get your H 1B visa sponsored by the US employer
After an employer is ready to sponsor your H 1B petition, the next important step is to actually make the H 1B application with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Admission to the US even after making the H 1B registration is not guaranteed because of the cap limit in the H 1B petition and the chance of getting selected in the lottery system is pure luck.
Therefore, it is ideal that your H 1B employer files an H 1b registration on time before the application process closes by the USCIS. Once, your H 1B registration gets selected in the lottery, the US employer can file an H 1B petition with the USCIS which is ideally within 90 days from April 1 of the USCIS fiscal year.
What if my F 1 Visa Expires Before Getting Approval from the USCIS related to my H 1b Visa Application?
The current United States regulations favour the F 1 students when their H 1b visa petition is pending with the USCIS. This means that they can stay in the f 1 status even after the expiry of the visa if their application is pending approval from the USCIS. It is known as cap-gap extensions. This means that the students will have a legal status between the expiry of F 1 status and the beginning of the H 1b status (cap-gap extension period).
What is Curricular Practical Training?
Curricular practical training is an integral part of the academic curriculum of an F-1 student. It can be either mandatory which a student has to do as part of their academic program or it can be optional which a student can choose if they want CPT or not.
However, the CPT should be strongly related to the academic studies which an F-1 student is studying. For eg, if an F 1 student is studying Computer science engineering. It would not sound right if he gets a CPT in any mechanical engineering related field. The CPT should be there to broaden students’ understanding of their academic studies.
Regulation8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(10)(i) defines CPT as
Curricular practical training is defined to be alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education, or any other type of required internship or practicum that is offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school.
The designated school official (DSO) allows the international students to take part in the CPT as part of their curriculum.
What are the criteria for CPT?
The foremost requirement to be eligible for CPT is to maintain your F 1 status in the United States. The CPT is part of the academic program and if the student loses their status for eg, because of infringement of f-1 visa conditions may find it very difficult to participate in CPT.
The second condition is that a student should be enrolled as a full-time student in an approved college, university or other educational institution for a minimum of 1 year before beginning the CPT. However, if required by the academic program, the graduate students may qualify for CPT prior to completion of 1 year of their academic course.
Will I be eligible for OPT if I enroll in CPT?
The students who are enrolled in CPT part-time (maximum of 20 hours per week) will not affect their eligibility for OPT. However, if you already worked for 12 months as a full-time trainee in CPT, you will eventually lose your options to enroll for OPT.
You have to ultimately assess your best options. The better way is to talk to your educational professional or an immigration attorney who can guide you better if you want to have a long legal status in the US. Talk to one of the best in the city, an immigration attorney from Herman Legal Group and resolve all immigration-related queries.
How to change from CPT to H 1B?
The process of changing status from CPT to H 1B temporary employment is almost the same as from OPT To h 1b visa.
#Find a US employer who can sponsor your H 1B visa
The important task is to have a US employer who is willing to sponsor your H 1b visa. You can do your research online or can consult an immigration attorney like Herman Legal Group who specializes in H 1b visas and give you correct guidance on how you can conduct your proper H 1b search.
#Getting your H 1b visa application
Once a sponsor is ready to hire you, he has to make a H 1b registration application with the USCIS. Once you get selected in the lottery system, the employer can make an h 1b application on your behalf.
#Getting your h 1b petition approved by the USCIS
The USCIS will then scrutinize your visa application and check if you fulfil all the essential conditions of the H 1b visa such as whether your employer has approved the Labor Condition Application from the Department of Labor, your job is specialty occupations job, and whether you have required educational qualification in the field of your job. Once USCIS is satisfied with the requirements it will approve your h 1b visa and you can enjoy your stay in the US.
How can Herman Legal Group help you?
The process of changing to h 1b visa can be troublesome, complicated and may require expert assistance. Do not worry! You are not alone. Connect and consult with one of Herman Legal Group’s immigration attorneys today to resolve all your immigration queries.
We have been providing immigration services in the US for the last 26 years and are AV-Rated and have been awarded the designation of “Best Law Firm” by US News & World Report. Sit with one of our immigration attorneys or consult with them online to discuss your immigration matter. You can set up a consultation with our experienced immigration attorneys by calling us at 1-800-808-4013 or 1-216-696-6170 or by booking online. Most of their meetings with clients and prospective clients are conducted online, via Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp, Facetime, or Google Meet.