What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a 12-month period of work authorization afforded to all F-1 visa holders that can be used either prior to or after they have completed their program of study. The employment must be in the student’s field of study as listed on their Form I-20 F-1 visa document; the employment cannot exceed 20 hours/week during academic semesters, but can be full-time during breaks and after the student’s program completion; and the employment can be paid or unpaid.
Who is eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT)?
Any F-1 student who has completed one academic year of full-time study while actively pursuing their degree is permitted a total of 12 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT) per higher educational level.
When can I apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT)?
An F-1 student can apply for OPT once they have completed one academic year of full-time study, and can apply to engage in OPT either before they have completed their program or upon graduation. The former is referred to as “pre-completion OPT”. Any pre-completion OPT time used prior to graduation is counted against the total 12 months of OPT that student would have otherwise been eligible to apply for upon graduation. Post-completion OPT refers to the OPT time available to the student after they have completed their degree program.
When can I apply for Optional Practical Training?
The application can be submitted to USCIS within 90 days of the student’s anticipated completion date or within the 60-day period beyond their completion date (be very careful that you understand the definition of completion date as listed above). In the case of pre-completion OPT, the student can apply as early as 90 days prior the requested start date of the OPT.
Keep in mind that USCIS typically takes around 6-8 weeks at a minimum to process applications for OPT, so consult an ISSO advisor to confirm the best time to apply for this benefit.
How do I apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT)?
Student’s wishing to apply for OPT must first submit a completed application with all requested documents to the ISSO. The application can be found here:
Download and print the OPT Handout (pdf). The handout includes forms for completion and an explanation of the OPT application process.
The ISSO will process the student’s OPT application within 5-7 business days of receipt and email the student when their OPT I-20 has been processed. The student must then submit a copy of the OPT I-20 to USCIS along with a list of other documents outlined in the above OPT application.
Once USCIS approves the OPT application, they will issue an Employment Authorization Card (EAC) that the student must obtain in order to work in the US.
What if I have trouble finding a job while on OPT?
Students are allowed no more than 90 days of unemployment while on OPT, and this 90-day period begins on the start date of the student’s EAC. Students who have applied for and are granted a 17-month STEM extension of OPT (see below), are granted an additional 30 days of unemployment.
What is a STEM Extension of Optional Practical Training (OPT)?
F-1 Students from STEM fields are also eligible for an additional 17 months of Post-OPT time (29 months in total work time) if they are employed by an e-verify employer. The student is limited to unemployment of 90 days during the 12 month-period of Post OPT and 30 days during 17-month STEM extension for a total of 120 days of available unemployment. F-1 students can only apply for a STEM extension once they are within 90-120 days from the expiration of their Post-OPT work authorization. All STEM employment must be for a minimum of 20 hours per week in a job that is within the student’s field of study, and the job may be paid or unpaid.
The 17 month STEM extension is a one-time benefit.