Can I Apply For OPT If I Apply For A Green Card?

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Picture of Shawn Sedaghat, Esq.

Shawn Sedaghat, Esq.

You’ve worked hard on your F-1 visa and are eyeing a future in the U.S., but you’re wondering, “Can I apply for OPT if I’m seeking a green card?” Here’s the answer: F-1 students can indeed participate in Optional Practical Training (OPT) while pursuing permanent residency.

This article will guide you through navigating OPT alongside your green card application, ensuring you stay compliant with immigration regulations every step of the way. Let’s unfold the options available to carve your pathway to success!

Key Takeaways

  • F – 1 visa holders can apply for OPT and seek a green card at the same time.

  • OPT allows students to work up to 12 months, with a possible 24 – month extension for STEM graduates.

  • You can switch from an F – 1 student status to permanent residency through many ways, such as a self-petitioning process such as NIW or EB-1, job offers, marriage, or investment in the U.S.

  • When applying for a green card during OPT, it’s important to be aware of all the issues involved before filing petitions such as an I-140 or I-130, and understand the possibilities and pitfalls based on your situation.

  • While waiting for your green card, you may often continue working in the U.S. with proper employment authorization.

Understanding Optional Practical Training

Having OPT allows international students to gain practical experience in their field of study while remaining in the United States.

This critical step can serve as a bridge between student status and entering the professional workforce, providing invaluable hands-on training that complements academic learning.

Pre-completion OPT

With the nod from USCIS, international students can embark on pre-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) before their academic journey ends. This opportunity allows you to gain hands-on experience in your field of study while you’re still hitting the books. During the academic term, you’re limited to working 20 hours per week, but when school’s out for breaks, you can ramp up to full-time employment of 40 hours per week. Jumpstarting this process requires submitting Form I-765.

Pre-completion OPT is designed for students to secure up to 12 months of employment authorization to engage in practical training within their area of study. It’s crucial that the work you undertake directly relates to your major to ensure compliance and maximize the benefits of this experience. Engaging in pre-completion OPT not only enriches your academic and professional journey but also lays a foundational step towards potentially navigating the path from an F-1 visa towards permanent residency.

Post-completion OPT

Following your graduation, post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) opens the door for you to apply your acquired knowledge within your specific field of study, providing up to 12 months of work opportunity. Initiating this phase requires submitting necessary documentation, including Form I-765, to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), all while ensuring your F-1 visa status remains valid.

This period is a golden opportunity to amass invaluable work experience, enhancing your professional profile.

For those with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields, the STEM OPT extension further broadens horizons, offering an additional 24 months of employment. This extension is particularly beneficial, granting you extended time to refine and enhance the skills that are in high demand by employers.

It’s critical to apply for this extension well before your initial year of OPT concludes to maintain uninterrupted employment. USCIS allows you to continue working as it processes your timely submitted extension application, ensuring your career trajectory doesn’t hit a pause.

STEM OPT Extension

To reiterate, F-1 visa holders who majored in STEM fields have a chance to stay longer after graduation. You can extend your work time in the U.S. by 24 months with a STEM OPT extension. But you need to act fast and follow steps carefully.

When filing for your STEM extension, make sure everything is right before you send it off because those two more years may be crucial if you need more time to also apply for a green card in the United States.

The STEM extension could help you gain work experience related to your field, which you can use as a helpful credential during your green card interview and may help you ensure that you will have a smooth and favorable green card application process.

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Transitioning from OPT to Green Card

Going from OPT to a green card is very important to many F-1 visa holders in securing their future in the United States, and if done with the correct planning and procedure, can be a painless process.

This critical step requires careful consideration of various pathways and adherence to complex immigration laws and procedures.

Applying for a Green Card during OPT status

If you are on OPT and want to stay in the U.S. permanently, applying for a green card is possible. You might choose an employment-based path if you have a job offer or extraordinary or exceptional abilities in your field that qualify you for an NIW or EB-1 without a job offer.

Regardless of whether you will file a self-petitioning I-140 or labor certification, it is important for you to consult with experienced attorneys at this stage so you don’t waste valuable time.

Another way is through a bona fide marriage. If you marry a U.S. citizen, you could apply using form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. In some cases, investing in the U.S economy can lead to permanent residency status as well; this usually involves obtaining an EB-5 visa by investing a significant amount of money and creating jobs.

A family based green card is also a possibility here, but due to strict quotas for each category and per-country limits, there are often large wait times. You should consult the visa bulletin to see the different wait times. The visa bulletin should be consulted monthly since the dates change often. This kind of immigration petition is easy to start and it allows you to have an additional manner if which you may get your green card, while you try other manners as well.

Before deciding on any green card path while on OPT, consider all requirements and talk to legal experts who know about immigration laws and procedures. They help ensure that your application process goes smoothly without mistakes that could delay or deny your chance at permanent residence in the United States.

Employment-based green cards

Getting a green card through your job is one way to stay in the United States. The PERM or Labor Certification process requires the employer to test the labor market through a series of actions that are strictly enforced and must abide by certain deadlines, and then presenting these recruitment efforts to the U.S. Department of Labor, which will, if everything was done correctly, certify the request by the employer, allowing the hiring of a foreign national.

Different kinds of jobs can lead to this type of green card and there is no list of jobs or skills to follow, although certain jobs are exempt from this requirement altogether. This type of employment-based green card allows the beneficiary to obtain their green card on the basis of the job offer and has been used by a vast number of people to get their green cards.

Some people with amazing skills get chosen for EB-1 category green cards. They don’t need a job offer if they prove their talent helps the U.S. Others go for visas like H-1B or L-1 before applying for permanent resident status.

This path lets them work while waiting for their green card approval.

Green Card through marriage

Marrying a U.S. citizen can open the door to a green card for immigrants. After you tie the knot with your significant other, you can apply for a marriage-based immigrant petition or status change. If your marriage is less than two years old, you’ll first get a conditional permanent resident card. Depending on your status at the time of marriage, marrying a Lawful Permanent Resident may also allow you to obtain your green card through an Adjustment of Status in the U.S. or through consular processing if you have no current status in the U.S. when the visa bulletin shows your turn has come. If you are not in valid status at the time, your numbers are correct according to the Visa Bulletin. You may still be eligible for consular processing, but it is very important for you to consult with an immigration attorney before leaving the U.S. for such a process. Even if you are on OPT status discuss your case with a lawyer before leaving the U.S.

This card lasts for two years.

You have to prove your marriage is real and not just for the green card. Once that’s done, you can become a lawful permanent resident of the United States without conditions on your status.

It’s an important step towards building a life with your spouse in America.

Green Card through investment

You have the chance to stay in America forever if you invest big. The EB-5 visa makes this possible when you put money into a new U.S. business and create jobs. To get your green card, you must show where your investment money comes from.

You also need to prove that the business will keep going for years.

Finding success with an EB-5 investor visa takes careful planning. Stick to all rules carefully to make sure your application goes through smoothly. This path is well-known among those wanting a future in America as investors.

It opens doors for you and your family by granting conditional permanent residence for two years first.

Considerations When Applying for a Green Card While on OPT

F-1 visa students on OPT status thinking about green cards should know it’s a big step. The path to becoming a lawful permanent resident involves several important decisions and documents.

Make sure you check your eligibility for different types of green cards, like employment-based or family-sponsored ones.

Carefully plan when to submit your application. In the green card process your priority date matters because it decides your place in line for a green card. Keep an eye on this while applying! Also, you must keep working legally and any violation of your current status may change things drastically for you regardless of applying for an employment based green card or through other means.

This means having the right paperwork, like an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), until you get permanent residence status. And don’t forget changes can happen with U.S immigration laws that may affect your chances or process time.

Talk to experts if you need help understanding forms like I-485 or learning about things like national interest waivers and EB-1A visas. Always stay updated on rules from the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) during this transition from OPT to potentially being a green card holder.

How long is OPT valid?

Optional Practical Training, lets you work for up to 12 months after finishing your studies. If your degree is in a STEM field—science, technology, engineering, or math—you can apply to extend this time by an extra 24 months.

That means you could get up to three years of work experience in your field before making the next step towards becoming a green card holder.

You must keep track of the expiration date on your EAD. This card shows when your legal right to work in the U.S. ends. Plan ahead if you’re thinking about applying for a green card or need more time on OPT with the STEM extension.

Can I work while my Green Card application is pending?

You can keep working while your Green Card application is in process. You need to have valid employment authorization to do so. If you’re on OPT, you can work until your OPT expires.

After that, apply for an Employment EAD using Form I-765. Once approved, the EAD lets you work legally in the U.S while waiting for your Green Card.

Getting a new job or keeping your current one is possible during this time. Make sure you follow all rules for F-1 visa holders and report any changes in employment to USCIS. Your Green Card status will not be affected by lawful work with proper documents.

Stay informed about your rights as an applicant to avoid issues with your application.


Applying for OPT while aiming for a green card is definitely an option. F-1 visa holders have paths to take towards permanent residency. Keep in mind, each step takes careful planning and following legal procedures is key.

Remember, balancing work on OPT with green card applications needs attention to detail. Stay informed and proactive throughout the journey!

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1. What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

OPT is a program that allows international students with an F-1 visa to work in the U.S. in their field of study. There are two types: pre-completion OPT, which is done before graduating, and post-completion OPT, which is after graduation. Pre-completion OPT is part-time while school is in session and can be full-time during breaks. Post-completion OPT is usually full-time.

2. How do I apply for OPT?

To apply for OPT, you must submit Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You’ll also need a recommendation from your school’s Designated School Official (DSO) on your I-20 form and to pay a filing fee. It’s advised to apply at least 90 days before your desired start date for pre-completion OPT and up to 90 days before your program end date (or 60 days after) for post-completion OPT.

3. What is the STEM OPT extension and who is eligible?

The STEM OPT extension is an additional 24 months of OPT, available to graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields from accredited U.S. educational institutions. To be eligible, you must already be on post-completion OPT, have a job or job offer from an employer enrolled in the E-Verify program, and your degree must be from a program on the DHS STEM designated degree program list.

4. Can I apply for a green card while on OPT or STEM OPT?

Yes, you can apply for a green card while on OPT or STEM OPT. However, applying for permanent residency can show intent to immigrate, which might conflict with your F-1 visa’s non-immigrant intent requirement. It’s important to consult with an immigration attorney to navigate this complex process carefully.

5. How does the transition from OPT to STEM OPT work?

If you’re eligible for the STEM OPT extension, you must apply before your current OPT expires. The process involves your employer, as they must be part of the E-Verify program. You’ll again need to submit Form I-765, pay the filing fee, and include a Form I-20 endorsed by your DSO for the extension. Your work must be related to your STEM degree.

6. What happens if my OPT or STEM OPT expires and I don’t have a green card yet?

If your OPT or STEM OPT expires and you haven’t obtained a green card, you’ll need to find another legal way to stay in the U.S. This might involve changing your visa status (e.g., to an H-1B work visa if you have a job offer from a qualifying employer) or leaving the U.S. It’s crucial to plan ahead and consult with an immigration attorney to explore your options and avoid any gap in lawful presence.

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