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Frequently Asked Questions

Optional Practical Training (OPT) Frequently Asked Questions

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?

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).

When can I apply for Optional Practical Training?

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.

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). In the case of pre-completion OPT, the student can apply as early as 90 days prior to the requested start date.

Should I Wait To Apply For OPT Until I Have A Job Offer?

No, OPT is taking 90+ days to be approved, so you will likely have to apply in advance of actually receiving a job offer.

How do I select my OPT start date?

Your start date must fall within the 60-day grace period following your completion date.

What Kind of Work is Authorized While on OPT?

  • You are only permitted to work in your field of study.
  • The job should be commensurate with the level of your degree.
  • You can have concurrent employment while on Post OPT, but each position needs to comply with above referenced minimum requirements.

How do I apply for Optional Practical Training?

Students wishing to apply for OPT must first submit a completed application with all requested documents to ISSO. The OPT Guide provides 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 proceed to gather documentation for Step 2 of the OPT process. 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 U.S.

What if USCIS Processes My OPT Application After My Grace Period Expires? Will That Cause Me To Lose OPT Time?

Yes. though you can remain in the U.S. while your OPT is pending, even beyond the expiry of your grace period.

Example: If your completion date is May 19, your grace period expires July 18, and you chose a start date of July 18 for OPT. If USCIS approves your petition on August 19, you will have lost 30 days of OPT time, leaving you with an approved period of 11 months of OPT time.

Can I Request Expedited Processing Of My OPT Application?

Never.

How do I report my Post-OPT/STEM Employment?

All changes must be reported within a 10-day period.

Once you receive your Employment Authorization Card (EAC), please update our office by using our EAC Upload E-Form found on our Forms & Guides page.

Students on Post-OPT must report any employment changes through the SEVP Portal within 10 days of the change.

STEM Extension students should use the STEM Reporting E-Form found on our Forms & Guides page.

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 24-month STEM extension of OPT are granted an additional 60 days of unemployment, effective once the STEM OPT period becomes valid.

Failure to reporting OPT employment will result in your SEVIS record to continue to accrue unemployment days. Accruing more than 90 days of unemployment is a violation of the F-1 status and may result in automatic termination of your F-1 SEVIS record and employment authorization by DHS.

What if I am Unemployed While on OPT?

  • Post OPT, F-1 status is dependent upon employment.
  • Students may not accrue an aggregate of more than 90 days of unemployment during any POST-Completion OPT carried out under the initial Post OPT authorization.
  • Students granted a 24-month OPT STEM Extension may not accrue an aggregate of more than 150 days of unemployment during the total 36-month OPT period.
  • The Student & Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) requires that the student’s school report employer information for students who are on Post OPT. Be sure to inform our office when you find employment and also report any subsequent employment changes within 10 days. Failure to report jeopardizes your F-1 OPT Status. SEVIS will only be aware of your employment if you have notified our office, permitting us to record it on SEVIS.
  • A student must work at least 20 hours per week in a qualifying position in their field of study to be considered employed. If a student has a variable schedule, within a month, it should average out to at least 20 hours per week.

Failure to reporting OPT employment to the SEVP portal will result in your SEVIS record to continue to accrue unemployment days. Accruing more than 90 days, or 150 days in aggregate during an approved STEM OPT extension period, of unemployment is a violation of the F-1 status and may result in automatic termination of your F-1 SEVIS record and employment authorization by DHS.

Are Volunteer Positions or Unpaid Internships Allowed?

USCIS currently acknowledges volunteer or unpaid internships in the student's field of study, to comply with the Post OPT employment requirement. The law is intended for positions that are recognized by the sponsoring employer as "volunteer" or "unpaid internship" positions. In order to comply with USCIS and Department of Labor laws these must be “true” volunteer or unpaid internships and not those that would otherwise be paid. The position would need to fulfill the following requirements:

  • Be in your field and level of study
  • Minimum of 20 hours per week
  • Be a true volunteer or unpaid internship as mentioned above
  • Please note that volunteering is not permitted at UMass Lowell
Can I Work At UMass Lowell For OPT?

You will not be permitted to work at UMass Lowell after your completion date as listed on your post-OPT I20, unless ALL of the following conditions apply:

  • You have received the EAD.
  • The start date on the EAD is current.
  • The work at UMass Lowell is in your field.
  • The work is commensurate with your degree level.
  • The work should be paid unless the position is vetted by Human Resources as a legitimate unpaid internship. We will need to have a copy of your contract before we can update SEVIS with this information.
  • You must update the I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification Form, at the Human Resources office. (They will need to see your EAD when updating this form.)
Can I Enroll in a Degree Program While on OPT?

You are not permitted to be a full-time student or be enrolled in a degree program. In order to be enrolled in a degree program, either part-time or full-time, you will need to return to a student visa and your Post OPT will terminate. If you are accepted as a student during your Post OPT period, you will need to inform our office. You will also need to inform your new school of your Post OPT Status. They will need to issue you a new Form I-20. Your Post OPT status will terminate on the effective date of your new Student Visa Document (i.e. start date as listed on Page 1 of the Form I20), or on the Release Date from our school to your new institution, whichever comes first. Your new school will request that we release/transfer your SEVIS record from UMass Lowell to their institution’s SEVIS program.

Can I Travel Outside The U.S. While My OPT Application Is Pending?

No, you may travel once your receive your OPT card. You'll need to present the following documents when traveling on Post-OPT:

  • Passport: Valid for at least 6 months form your intended reentry
  • I-20 with a valid travel signature
  • Valid F-1 visa stamp
  • OPT Employment Authorization Card (EAC)
  • Employment confirmation letter
  • Photocopies of recent pay statements
What is a STEM Extension of Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

F-1 Students from STEM fields are also eligible for an additional 24 months of Post-OPT time (36 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 an additional 60 days during the 24-month STEM extension for a total of 150 days of available unemployment. F-1 students can only apply for a STEM extension once they are within 90 days from the expiration of their Post-OPT work authorization. All STEM employment must be with an e-verify employer for a minimum of 20 hours per week in a job that is within the student’s field of study, and the job must be paid

Am I Eligible for the H1-B Cap Gap?

Please visit our H1-B Cap Gap Employment website for more information.