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Optional Practical Training: New Possibilities for International Students

Posted on June 24th, 2012 by Jenny Frankel

Many employers say that relevant work experience is the single most influential factor in their hiring decision but many international students feel unable to take advantage of this advice. After all, given the restrictions imposed by their student visas (those with F-1 students visas cannot apply for a paid work unless it is on campus), their work options are not only limited but also rarely related to their field of study.

A recent article from Diablo Valley College, however, reveals a unique option for international students to give them a leg up when it comes to career advancement. According to their counselors, the Optional Practical Training program provides international students with exactly the kind of opportunity that has been missing. Optional Practical Training gives participants the ability to work outside of school because, under the guidelines of the program, undergraduate and graduate students with F-1 status (who have completed or have been pursuing their degrees for more than nine months) are permitted to work for at most one year on a student visa without needing to acquire an additional work visa.

Because, under these guidelines, students must be enrolled for no fewer than two semesters of study, it is eligible not only to Bachelor’s and Master’s seeking students, but also to those pursuing an Associate’s degree or certificate. By placing the emphasis on those seeking an Associate’s degree (or really on any student enrolled in an academic for more than two semesters), Optional Practical Training opens the door of relevant work experience to many international students.

While such students would not be eligible to then get an H-1B (which requires that international employees possess at least a four-year college degree or the equivalent) it does present intriguing possibilities for those interested in working in the United States while completing their degrees. And, as we mentioned, such experience can make all the difference for career-minded international students.

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