Navigating OPT While Pursuing a Green Card: What You Need to Know

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Picture of Shawn Sedaghat, Esq.

Shawn Sedaghat, Esq.

As an F-1 visa holder, you’ve worked hard to study in the U.S. and now you’re considering staying permanently. You might be asking, “Can I apply for OPT while also pursuing a green card?” The short answer is yes—F-1 students can engage in Optional Practical Training (OPT) while working towards permanent residency.

This guide will help you navigate the complexities of balancing OPT with a green card application, ensuring compliance with immigration regulations and maximizing your opportunities.

Key Takeaways

  • F-1 visa holders can simultaneously apply for OPT and seek a green card.
  • OPT allows for up to 12 months of work, with an additional 24-month extension for STEM graduates.
  • Transitioning from F-1 status to permanent residency can be achieved through various methods such as NIW or EB-1 self-petitions, job offers, marriage, or investment in the U.S.
  • Be mindful of all the implications and processes when applying for a green card during OPT.

Understanding Optional Practical Training

OPT allows international students to gain practical work experience in their field of study while staying in the U.S. This is a crucial step that bridges student status and professional employment, providing invaluable hands-on training that complements academic learning.

Pre-Completion OPT

Pre-completion OPT lets students work in their field of study before finishing their academic programs. During the school term, students are limited to 20 hours per week but can work full-time during breaks. To initiate this process, students need to submit Form I-765.

Post-Completion OPT

After graduation, post-completion OPT provides up to 12 months of employment in your field. This phase also requires submitting Form I-765 and maintaining valid F-1 status. Graduates in STEM fields can apply for a 24-month extension, which is crucial for those who need more time to apply for a green card.

STEM OPT Extension

STEM graduates can extend their OPT by 24 months. This extension requires a timely application before the initial OPT period expires. USCIS allows continued employment while processing the extension, ensuring no interruption in your career.

Transitioning from OPT to a Green Card

Securing a green card while on OPT is a significant step that requires careful planning and understanding of U.S. immigration laws.

Applying for a Green Card During OPT Status

F-1 visa holders on OPT can apply for a green card through various paths such as employment-based petitions, self-petitions like NIW or EB-1, marriage to a U.S. citizen, or investment (EB-5 visa). Each method has specific requirements and benefits. Consulting with an experienced immigration attorney is crucial to avoid mistakes and delays.

Employment-Based Green Cards

Employment-based green cards can be pursued through job offers, the PERM process, or extraordinary ability petitions (EB-1). This path allows you to continue working while your green card application is processed.

Green Card Through Marriage

Marrying a U.S. citizen allows you to apply for a green card through a marriage-based petition. This involves proving the authenticity of your marriage. Conditional permanent residency is granted initially, which can later be converted to full permanent residency.

Green Card Through Investment

The EB-5 visa requires a significant investment in a U.S. business that creates jobs. This path provides conditional permanent residency, which can be converted to full permanent residency after meeting specific criteria.

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Considerations When Applying for a Green Card While on OPT

F-1 visa holders must carefully plan their green card applications to ensure compliance and smooth processing. This includes understanding eligibility, maintaining lawful status, and staying updated on immigration laws.

Maintaining Legal Work Status

You must have valid employment authorization while your green card application is pending. This may involve applying for an EAD using Form I-765 after your OPT expires.

Planning and Timing

Plan your application timeline carefully, considering priority dates and visa bulletin updates. Ensuring all paperwork is accurate and submitted on time is crucial.


F-1 visa holders can pursue OPT while working towards a green card. Each step requires careful planning and adherence to legal procedures. Stay informed and consult with immigration experts to navigate this journey successfully.


What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

OPT allows F-1 visa holders to work in their field of study in the U.S. Pre-completion OPT is part-time during school terms and full-time during breaks, while post-completion OPT is full-time after graduation.

How do I apply for OPT?

Submit Form I-765 to USCIS, along with a recommendation from your school’s Designated School Official (DSO) and the filing fee. Apply at least 90 days before your desired start date.

What is the STEM OPT extension and who is eligible?

The STEM OPT extension offers an additional 24 months of work authorization for STEM graduates. You must already be on post-completion OPT, have a job with an E-Verify employer, and your degree must be in a DHS-designated STEM field.

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

Yes, but applying for a green card can conflict with the non-immigrant intent of an F-1 visa. Consult with an immigration attorney to navigate this process.

How does the transition from OPT to STEM OPT work?

Apply for the STEM extension before your current OPT expires, involving your employer in the E-Verify program. Submit Form I-765 and a new Form I-20 endorsed by your DSO.

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

You need to find another legal way to stay in the U.S., such as changing your visa status or planning ahead with an attorney.

Can I work while my Green Card application is pending?

Yes, with valid employment authorization. Apply for an EAD using Form I-765 after your OPT expires to continue working legally while your green card application is processed.

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