Optional Practical Training and Internships


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More and more, international students are interested in gaining practical work experience with U.S. companies.

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a great way to get hands-on experience working with U.S. companies. OPT is a benefit authorized by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It extends the F-1 student status to allow international students to work at U.S. companies in order to gain practical training in their major field of study.

International students are eligible for a total of 12 months of OPT after they have completed at least one full academic year. (Students authorized for 12 months of OPT become eligible to apply for an additional 12 months when they change to higher education level.) Students may apply for pre-completion or post-completion OPT, full or part-time. A job offer is not required to apply for OPT; however, the work must be directly related to the student's major area of study.

In addition to full-time work after completion of one full academic year, Optional Practical Training may also be authorized during annual school vacations such as summer vacation, (pre-completion OPT) or on a part-time basis (20 hours or fewer per week) while school is in session (pre-completion OPT).

International students who receive a science, technology, engineering or mathematics degree in either of the following areas of study, now qualify,under a 2008 rule by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security;for an extension of the OPT up to 29 months:

  • Actuarial science
  • Computer science applications
  • Engineering
  • Engineering technologies
  • Life sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Military technologies
  • Physical sciences

The extension is available to students who are employed by businesses enrolled in the a E-Verify program (www.uscis.gov). E-Verify is a free Internet-based system operated by USCIS in partnership with the Social Security Administration which determines a new employee's eligibility to work.

For international students unable to commit to 12 months of study to qualify for OPT,UC Berkeley Extension's International Diploma Program (IDP) offers an internship option after only four months of study.

Students choose from four-month programs in business administration, finance, global business management, marketing or project management. This fast track approach offers international students an opportunity to combine academic study with an internship in less time than an M.B.A. program. Extension's IDP students come to the program from all over the world. Some are young professionals and recent university graduates preparing for a career in business. IDP offers internships in a wide range of industries such as advertising, entertainment, finance and banking, healthcare, hospitality, international trade, marketing, public relations or telecommunications. Recent placements have included internships with Ballena Technologies, Bayer Healthcare LLC, Comcast Spotlight, Shaklee Corporation, Siemens, Voleon Capital Management LP and Westin St. Francis Hotel, among others. To give students the best opportunity for a meaningful experience, the internship typically takes place in a small-to-medium-sized company.

An internship coordinator assists students in creating a resume, developing interviewing skills, and participating in a company fair to meet prospective employers. Once a student obtains an internship, an IDP instructor helps them meet the program's academic requirements and a supervisor monitors their performance and attendance. Because the internship is considered part of an academic program, international students are able to maintain their status as full-time students. Many go on to complete the IDP's 12-month Management and Business Track program and then become eligible for a 12-month OPT. This provides them with additional U.S. business experience and more career opportunities. Genoveva Alfonzo La Placa, a native of Guatemala, enrolled in the IDP two years ago after earning her bachelor's degree in economics and international business.

"The IDP was the stepping-stone that gave me a thorough understanding of the financial world and made my interest in finance be a real passion," says Alfonzo La Placa.

She credits her finance concentration in the IDP, along with her internship, for giving her a career advantage. La Placa was promoted last year to controller of a multimillion-dollar hedge fund in New York and is working directly with the CFO and investors.

"Never in my life did it cross my mind that I would be working in a hedge fund, solving multimillion dollar stock trade errors or be fascinated so much by a company stock," says Alfonzo La Placa.

During the International Business Professions Program at Bellevue College near Seattle, academic courses cover Oral and Written Business Communication, Exploring Contemporary Issues, English Language Studies and business fields such as marketing, business, computers, project management, program animation, interior design, international business, medical terminology and microeconomics. Classes in Internship Placement, Workplace English and Observation build presentation and interview skills.

The program culminates in an internship at a local business.

"My Internship did more than teach me English or skills in American business, it helped me to find who I am and gave me the confidence and belief in myself to pursue my dreams", says Sae Suzuki from Japan, who worked for a film promoter."It has been a life changing experience."

Tsubasa Ueno, also from Japan, was originally interested in hotel management. He changed his field to education after his internship with Jubilee Reach, a non-profit community organization. He now claims he found a new career by being willing to "take a risk" in America.

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