Employment support systems for Asian American International students at the U

Story and photos by JIYOON YU

According to International Student Insurance, Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a period during which undergraduate and graduate students with F-1 status who have completed their degree programs are permitted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to work towards getting practical training to complement their field of studies.

Sue Seong is smiling in front of cherry blossoms at the Utah State Capitol. She graduated in May 2021 and is working as a social media specialist at Sophos. Seong got her current job position via her OPT visa.

Sue Seong, who is working as a social media specialist at Sophos, a British cybersecurity company, with OPT status said, “Working overseas allows you the opportunity to explore new cities, immerse yourself in a new culture, and make new friends.” 

In the USCIS website, I-765 is described as an application for Employment Authorization, to request both authorization and an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Certain foreign nationals who are in the United States may file Form I-765. The EAD is the card issued as evidence that the holder is authorized to work in the United States. 

“OPT is a temporarily permitted visa to U.S. university students. After graduation, students can work for 12 months in any fields with this visa. In other words, it is a more practical employment visa program,” said Sylvia Christensen, administrative manager of International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS).

Christensen added, “STEM Optional Practical Training (STEM OPT) allows non-immigrant F-1 student visa with a science, technology, engineering and/or math degree to extend their stay in the U.S. for up to 24 months after the student’s initial post-degree-completion OPT, which is for 12 months.” 

This is a picture of the International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS) office, which is located in the Union building, room 410. ISSS is now available for limited in-person and drop-in visits to the main office. ISSS office supports a global campus community as part of the University of Utah’s vision of a welcoming and internationally connected campus. 

ISSS fosters and supports a global campus community as part of the University of Utah’s transformation into a global university. ISSS office tries to develop global competence and other essential skills to be successful in today’s global society. 

“ISSS advisor helped me a lot. They reviewed my documents before I submitted my application, and also helped me to filled out the I-765 form. They also offered info session for OPT and STEM OPT, so attending those sessions can be helpful,” said Seong, the social media specialist.

According to Christensen, U.S. college students do not always have qualifications to get job positions here. In that case, they should apply for their OPT with some necessary documents. ISSS is a perfect place for the global engagement of applicants. 

Seong said, “All the documents you should prepare to apply for the OPT visa are OPT I-20, previous I-20, copy of passport, copy of your visa, Form I-765, Form G-1145, two photographs, application fee of $410, I-94.”

The office has workshops throughout the semester on various topics, presented by international student advisors about applying for a working visa and F-1 students’ visa regulations.

Especially many Asian American students might have concern about setting their desired start date when applying for OPT. The date can be set up to 60 days from the graduation date. 

“The biggest issue is whether the company can sponsor a visa after the OPT expired,” Seong said. “If there are something to discuss with the company when you look for a job, it will be a migration status. The best option for international students is to choose a company that suggests sponsorship during the final interview.”

Graduate students need to deeply understand their current migration status and visa sponsor. The reality is that no matter how much the company wants students to work, Asian American international students will eventually return their countries without knowledge. 

In the International Student website, CPT, or Curricular Practical Training, gives international students authorization to gain employment training and to work full-time (more than 20 hours per week) or part-time (20 hours or less per week) earning money and gaining work experience.

International Student Insurance states that CPT is especially targeting undergraduate university students in the U.S. So, it is appropriate to students who want to get an internship while in college. It is designed to give students practical experience in the workplace to supplement their work in the classroom. 

This visa is available when students attended at least two full semesters. If they want to apply for OPT as well as CPT, they couldn’t work over 12 months. Because applicants only can register after getting a job offer letter, it is considered more complicated than OPT. 

“Most courses in a CPT program will be offered in the evenings and/or on weekends. This will allow students to work during the week,” Christensen said. “Many schools offer online courses in their master’s degree programs.” 

She added, “It is legal for international students to take one online course and two in-person classes per semester. However, you cannot enroll in only online courses; at least two out of three of your courses must be in-person.”

General eligibility criteria of CPT will vary depending on each university, so students make sure to review policy guidelines on the application and meet with designated international student advisors prior to applying.

Christensen emphasized that registration opens 30 days before the workshop date. Additionally, she recommended students come to their next workshops, which will be noted on UAtlas Services

Besides that, ISSS provides international student orientation, including pre-arrival communication, immigration guidance, American classroom overview, and campus resource fair.

“We give some advice on international student and general scholar questions, including workshops on immigration topics,” Christensen said. “Our ultimate goal is to assist international students by supporting with review of their e-forms and internship course approvals.”

On the other hand, Seong gave a tip about the number of office counselors. “There are not many advisors in ISSS, so you have to plan ahead and book an appointment earlier than you’d expect.” 

The ISSS office allows students to meet with advisors by an appointment. It is for 30 minutes and available during mornings and afternoons Monday through Friday. Unfortunately, same-day appointments are not available, and it may take up to a week to meet with an advisor during the busy season.

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