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By Debbie Kaltman, Coordinator of International Student Experience at The International Office

Welcome to Northwestern Career Advancement’s (NCA) international master’s student blog series.  This series is designed to provide international master’s students with career information and strategies.  Find our previous posts here. We will add more posts during Fall Quarter 2016. This blog series is a collaboration between NCA and The International Office.

As an international master’s student, it is important to consider the visa processes as you conduct your job search.  It’s an extra “layer” you will need to consider.

Here are some important visa processes and types:

CPT (Curricular Practical Training) is work authorization for any job (or internship, practicum, co-op, etc) that is off-campus and during your academic program.  CPT is required for any off-campus work.  You are not eligible for CPT until you have been at Northwestern for three consecutive quarters.  If you are a new student in Fall 2016, this means you are not eligible until Summer 2017. To apply for CPT, you must have a job offer.

OPT (Optional Practical Training) is work authorization for any job after your academic program (on-campus or off-campus).  OPT is required for any work in the US after graduation.  You do not need a job offer to apply for OPT.  OPT takes 2-3 months to be approved, so we recommend you apply at the beginning of your final quarter.  To help you apply for OPT, the IO holds OPT workshops, and the next one will be October 17.  Please see our events calendar for future dates.  We will also hold special OPT workshops for McCormick MS students during Winter Quarter.

Everyone is eligible for 12 months of Post-Completion OPT.  If your degree is in a STEM field, you may also be eligible for the OPT STEM extension.  The OPT STEM extension is now 24 months.  Including Post-Completion OPT, this means you may be eligible for up to 3 years of work authorization in the US without an H-1B or other visa!  We highly recommend you use your STEM extension, as it will allow you maximize your work authorization time in the US.

If you are a J-1 student, you are eligible for Academic Training during and/or after your academic program.  Please contact your IO advisor to apply for Academic Training.

Another visa type you may hear about is the H-1B.  This is an employment visa and must be sponsored by a specific employer.  The process is different for every company.  You can search for previous H-1B sponsoring employers in the Going Global database (accessible through NCA’s CareerCat system).  There are two types of H-1B visas: cap-subject and cap-exempt.  Cap-subject employers can only apply for a limited number of H-1B visas in April of each year, and these visas can only begin on October 1.  Cap-exempt employers may apply at any time.

Many U.S. employers (big and small) are unfamiliar with OPT/STEM OPT.  They may not want to hire an international student because they fear they are employing someone illegally.  You may need to educate an employer about the OPT rules.  This means it is very important that you first educate yourself!  Review the information online, come to an OPT workshop, and ask questions!

Remember: IO is the best place to go for information about visas and your F-1/J-1 status.  There is a LOT of bad information on the internet, so please don’t Google your situation (or use Yahoo, Bing, Baidu, or any other search engine…) If you have questions, please contact your IO advisor or come to the IO during walk-in hours.  The IO and NCA are here to help you during your job search process!