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What is an OPT?

Q. I am starting a technology staffing company. We are small right now, under 10 employees. However, one of my new managers wants to hire a new employee on an OPT. What is an OPT? Can you explain what my obligations are? I have been told it is a special type of visa.


A: You are on the right track! An OPT (Optional Practical Training) is one type of work authorization. An OPT is granted to foreign students upon completion of their degree. I consulted immigration attorney, Roy Watson, Jr. to explain: "This status is typically valid for 12 months but may be extended for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematical) positions. Companies can extend the time of employment for up to 29 months for STEM positions, but only if the company has enrolled in the E-Verify program. E-verify is a free, web-based system which allows employers to verify a new employee's ability to work in the US. This person will have to leave the US after that time period, unless the employer agrees to file for an H-1B visa that will allow them to work for up to six (6) years."

Watson also further discussed a hurdle with these types of visas in that there is a numerical cap each year on the number of visas granted by the federal government. In a growing economy, there is concern that the visa cap will be reached for US employers and US employers will have to wait until the following calendar year to file for additional visas. Watson further advises, "The first filing date for an H-1B visa is April 1st.. Employers are strongly advised to file on that date, because frequently the demand for these visas is so great that the government often runs out of visas during the first week." Prior to filing a visa, Watson suggests building in about three weeks worth of time to complete the required registration process steps and forms.

Employers should carefully record the OPT information when they complete their Form I-9 (within the first three days of hiring). There is no special liability for employing someone on OPT.

A useful website to visit is the federal government's website for US Citizenship and Immigration Services at http://www.uscis.gov.

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