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Work, part 3: Employment After Graduation (OPT)

In our previous blog post about working, we talked about CPT – off-campus employment for F-1 students during a Rice degree program. But let’s say that now you’ve been at Rice for several years and realize that the end is near – soon you will receive your bachelors, masters, or PhD degree and need to do something practical with all of that newly acquired knowledge.

As an international student, are you allowed to work after graduation? Yes! After you have received OPT (Optional Practical Training) authorization from the U.S. government, you will be able to work for 12 months. But there are some guidelines:

If you were thinking of making some money at The Gap in Rice Village, tutoring high school students in Chinese, or doing a few shifts in the Galleria’s Apple Store, please don’t! All OPT employment must be directly related to your degree program. This is because the U.S. government wants you to get practical experience that specifically complements the academic studies and research for which you were granted an F-1 visa. Therefore, OPT is also not the time to “try out” another field or career: for example, if you receive a degree from Rice in chemical engineering, you cannot legally work as an investment banker at Morgan Stanley… you must work as a chemical engineer!

One of the advantages of OPT is that you do not need a job offer to apply. And while you are on OPT, you can work more than one job at a time (as long as it relates to your degree field) in order to gain a broad experience with different employers.

OPT requires an application to USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) that generally takes 2-3 months to process, so please plan ahead! Working even one day before you receive your EAD card (Employment Authorization Document) is a violation of your immigration status, so please come see us well in advance to start the process.

You may apply for OPT as early as 90 days before you complete your degree at Rice, so if you start the necessary paperwork early you will have a very good chance of receiving your work authorization in a timely manner.

For a detailed explanation of application requirements and procedures, please read OISS’s OPT Information Handout. OISS also holds several OPT information sessions each semester. The dates of these sessions will be posted on our web site and emailed to the oiss-announce listserv. Please plan to attend a session the semester before you graduate or schedule an appointment with an OISS advisor to discuss your situation.

Please also note that it is often difficult to renew your F-1 visa once you graduate and are on OPT. Many students who have expired visas end up staying in the U.S. for the entire year of their OPT. Therefore, consider going home for a visit (and to renew your visa) before you graduate!

We look forward to helping you with the OPT process as you start to plan for life after Rice!

~Written by Matt Stein, International and Sponsored Student Advisor

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