Optional Practical Training (OPT)
F-1 students studying at colleges, universities, conservatories, or seminaries may qualify for practical training, which allows them to engage in temporary employment to gain practical experience in their field of study. All Optional Practical Training (OPT) must be directly related to the student's course of study. Students may have up to twelve months of OPT at each educational level (Associate's, Bachelor's, Master's, etc.), with the exception of students who qualify for the 24-month STEM extension. You do not need an offer of employment to apply for OPT. There are three types of OPT for which F-1 students may apply:
Pre-completion: OPT authorized prior to a student's program end date
Post-completion: OPT authorized after a student's program end date
STEM: Applies only to certain students whose programs of study are in the area of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics
The following types of activities are allowable employment on both pre-completion and post-completion OPT, provided that the job is directly related to the student's program of study.
Regular Paid Employment
The work must be for at least 20 hours per week. Students may work for multiple employers, as long as it is directly related to the student's program of study.
Payment by Multiple Short-Term Multiple Employers
Students, such as musicians and other performing artists, may work for multiple short-term employers (gigs). Students should maintain a list of gigs with the dates and duration.
Work for Hire
This is commonly referred to as 1099 employment, where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested, the student should be able to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
Self-Employed Business Owner
Students on OPT may start a business or be self-employed. The student should be able to prove that he/she has the proper business license and is actively engaged in a business related to his/her degree program.
Employment through an Agency
The student should provide evidence showing that he/she worked an average of 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.
Volunteers or Unpaid Interns
The student should be able to provide evidence, acquired by the student's employer, to verify that s/he worked at least 20 hours per week during the employment period.
The exception to this exists for the 17-month STEM extension, where work must be paid employment.
Students who have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for at least nine months, do not have 12 months total of full-time CPT and have not used all 12 months of OPT for the current educational level are eligible to apply for OPT.
USCIS processes all applications for OPT. See sections on pre- and post-completion OPT for application start and end dates. Applications received by USCIS before or after this period will be denied and fees will not be refunded.
Gather and submit the following documents to the International Student Advisor:
- Copies of all prior Forms I-20
- Copies of previous Employment Authorization Documents (EADs)
- Documentation from academic advisor indicating your current academic status and expected date of completion of studies (Please note that USCIS does not view the graduation ceremony as completion of studies; completion of studies means completion of coursework (non-thesis majors) or the date the final thesis has been submitted.)
- Complete Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, marked with the proper code at item 16:
- (c)(3)(A) for pre-completion OPT
- (c)(3)(B) for post-completion OPT
- Check or money order for the Form I-765 filing fee, made payable to "U.S. Department of Homeland Security" (Refer to the Form I-765 instructions for the exact amount of the filing fee.)
- Two identical immigration-style photos
- Copy of Form I-94 (both sides) or printout of electronic I-94 (I-94 retrieval tips)
The International Student Advisor will review all of the documents and make a recommendation for OPT. You will receive a new I-20 with the OPT recommendation on page three, which you must sign. The International Office will collect all documents and mail to the USCIS Service Center. You can expect to wait at least a month to find out if your OPT has been approved.
Bring the denial letter to International Student Advisor. Depending on the reason for denial, it may be possible to send additional information, appeal a decision, or re-apply.
A student cannot begin OPT employment until the start date indicated on the employment authorization document (EAD) issued by USCIS.
Students who have not yet completed the one full academic year requirement may file for pre-completion OPT no earlier than 90 days before meeting that requirement, so long as the employment start date requested is on or after the date that the student meets the one full academic year requirement.
If the student has already completed the one full academic year requirement, s/he may apply for pre-completion OPT up to 90 days in advance of the requested employment start date.
While school is in session, OPT may not exceed 20 hours per week. Students may engage in pre-completion OPT on a full-time basis while school is not in session (i.e. during regularly scheduled breaks). Part- or full-time employment may be requested for pre-completion OPT for students who have completed all requirements for their degree except for thesis or dissertation. However, these students must continue to make normal progress towards completing the thesis or dissertation required for their degree.
If a student participates in pre-completion OPT, that time period will count against the 12-month total and reduce the post-completion OPT time available. Additionally, if a student exceeds a cumulative of 12 months of full-time CPT over the course of his/her program of study, s/he will no longer be eligible for OPT.
A student may engage in post-completion OPT after completing his/her program of study, or after completing all course requirements for the degree (excluding thesis/dissertation). A student must be adequately employed to avoid limits of unemployment (90 calendar days).
For standard post-completion OPT, the Form I-765 must be received by the USCIS Service Center no earlier than 90 days before the program end date, and no later than 60 days after the program end date. The Form I-765 must be received by the USCIS Service Center no later than 30 days after the DSO submits the OPT recommendation in SEVIS.
For standard post-completion OPT, a student may not request a start date that is more than 60 days after the student's program end date. Additionally, all standard post-completion OPT must be completed within 14 months of the completion of study. Thus, the end date for post-completion OPT will be the earliest of:
- The requested end date
- The date on which the student's remaining allotment of OPT expires
- 14 months after the student's program end date
STEM OPT Extension
Students filing for the 24-month STEM extension of OPT must file before the student's current post-completion OPT employment authorization expires. Please note, to be eligible for the extension, the student's employer must be registered in E-Verify and agree to report to the DSO when the student is terminated or leaves employment.
To apply, the student and the employer must complete a Form I-983 Training Plan, and submit the form to the International Office. The DSO will review the STEM OPT request, request the recommendation in SEVIS, and print a new form I-20. The student must then apply to USCIS using Form I-765 and include all supporting documentation.
Students who are authorized to participate in post-completion OPT may not have more than 90 cumulative calendar days of unemployment.
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