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Optional Practical Training (OPT)

What is OPT?
OPT Basic Information
Eligibility
How to Apply
Reporting Responsibilities

What is OPT?

Optional practical training is off-campus employment authorization granted to F-1 students for the purpose of gaining practical experience in their field of studies. F-1 students can make use of their OPT eligibility either prior to completion of their studies or after completion of their studies. Individuals wishing to engage in OPT must first obtain a recommendation from a Designated School Official in the Office of International Services and then submit a formal application for the work authorization to the U.S.Citizenship and Immigration Services.

What do I need to know about OPT?

Pre-Completion OPT

  • You may only engage in work that is directly related to your field of studies as stated on the form I-20.
  • OPT prior to completion of studies can only be authorized for up to 20 hours per week while school is in session. Students are eligible for full-time OPT during their regular school vacation, but full-time OPT is authorized separately.
  • You may not begin employment until you have received the Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
  • F-1 students are limited to 12 months of OPT. Time used on OPT prior to completion of studies will be deducted from time that can be used on OPT after completion of studies.
  • You DO NOT need a job offer in order to apply for OPT. However, due to the fact that once the OPT request has been approved by the USCIS it cannot be withdrawn, we recommend that students wait until an offer has been made prior to submitting the application and obtaining the recommendation.
  • You can apply at any point in your studies as long as you have fulfilled the one year full-time enrollment in lawful status and have not otherwise violated the terms of your immigration status.

Post-completion OPT

  • You do not need a job offer in order to apply.
  • Post-completion OPT can only be authorized for full-time employment.
  • OPT post-completion employment (paid or unpaid) must be 20 hours or more a week.
  • Students on post-completion OPT may not accrue a total of more than 90 days of unemployment under the initial 12-month period of OPT.
  • Students MUST report employment status to OIS while on post-completion OPT through the OPT Update Form.
  • All employment must cease by end date on Employment Authorization Document unless student has obtained an approved change of status to an immigration status that allows employment or has filed a STEM OPT extension application prior to the end date.
  • After the end date listed on the EAD card, students have a 60 day grace period during which they can make arrangements to leave the U.S. During this period students CANNOT work.
  • Student becomes eligible for another 12 months of OPT after completion of each higher degree level.
  • Once the OPT has been approved by the USCIS, the OPT request cannot be rescinded. Time approved is considered time used, whether or not you use the employment authorization.
  • The OPT will be automatically cancelled if the student transfers to another institution of higher education or enrolls in a new degree level.
  • You can apply to USCIS no more that 90 days prior to the end date of your program.
  • The USCIS must receive your application no later than sixty (60) days after completion of studies.
  • The requested start date of the OPT employment authorization must be within 60 days of completion of studies.

STEM Optional Practical Training

  • STEM OPT is a 24 month extension available to students who have obtained a Bachelors, Masters, or Doctorate degree in a Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) fields.
  • Only certain STEM fields are eligible for this extension. Please see the STEM list provided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to see if your particular field of study is eligible. (See CIP code listed on Page 1 of your I-20)
  • A student must be in a valid period of Post-Completion OPT based on the eligible STEM degree in order to apply for a STEM Extension.
  • The student must have documentation of a STEM degree awarded by the school who issued the I-20.
  • The new rule allows a total of 2 lifetime STEM Extensions, the 2nd after earning a new STEM-eligible degree at a higher level and obtaining a new, higher level of 12-Month OPT.
  • Memo for International Student on Post Completion OPT
  • An application for STEM OPT must be recieved by USCIS before the post-completion OPT period is complete.
  • Students on STEM OPT may not accrue a total of more than 150 days of unemployment under the combined initial post-completion OPT and STEM OPT periods.
  • Students on STEM OPT must validate their employment every six (6) months by reporting employment information to OIS through the OPT Update Form.

REMEMBER: YOU MAY NOT BEGIN WORK UNTIL YOU HAVE RECEIVED AUTHORIZATION FROM THE OIS. ENGAGING IN UNAUTHORIZED EMPLOYMENT IS A VIOLATION OF YOUR IMMIGRATION STATUS AND WILL RESULT IN THE TERMINATION OF YOUR F-1 SEVIS RECORD.

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Am I eligible for OPT?

Eligibility Requirements for Optional Practical Training PRIOR to completion of studies:

  • Student must be maintaining lawful F-1 status.
  • Student must be making normal progress towards completion of his/her degree.
  • Student must have a valid I-20 form and an active SEVIS record.
  • Student must have been enrolled full-time for at least one academic year. Time spent as a full-time student while under a different immigration status, except for B1/B2 and F-2 status, can be used towards this requirement.

Eligibility Requirements for Optional Practical Training AFTER completion of Studies:

  • You must have valid F-1 status
  • You must have been enrolled full-time for at least one academic year. Time spent as a full-time student while under a different immigration status, except for B1/B2 and F-2 status, can be used towards this requirement
  • The OPT application must be submitted to USCIS prior to completion of studies or within 60 days of completion date.

Eligibility Requirements for STEM Optional Practical Training:

  • Student must have valid F-1 status
  • Student must be in a period of approved Post-Completion OPT at time of application.
  • Student must be in a valid period of Post-Completion OPT based on the eligible STEM degree in order to apply for a STEM Extension.
  • Student must be employed or have an employment offer from employer who has enrolled in the E-Verify system.
  • The OPT application must be received by USCIS prior to completion Post-Completion OPT period authorized on EAD card.

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