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.
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).
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.
No, OPT is taking 90+ days to be approved, so you will likely have to apply in advance of actually receiving a job offer.
Your start date must fall within the 60-day grace period following your completion date.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 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.
No, you may travel once your receive your OPT card. You'll need to present the following documents when traveling on Post-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
Please visit our H1-B Cap Gap Employment website for more information.