What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?
OPT provides students with the opportunity to work off-campus and apply the skills and knowledge gained from their degree program in a field directly related to their course of study. OPT is authorized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and they can take up to 2 or 3 months to provide authorization. Students are allowed to work up to 12 months per degree level under F-1 OPT status and if applicable, can request H1B cap-gap extension OR 17 month extension.
International students can be employed under OPT anywhere in the US. OPT falls into four categories:
- Full time employment during a student's annual vacation.
- Part time, 20 hours per week employment while school is in session
- Full-time employment after completion of all course requirements for the degree.
- Full-time employment after graduation.
USCIS authorizes optional practical training in the form of an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). There is a $380 fee for the EAD.How do I know if I am eligible for OPT?
Eligibility requirements for F-1 Optional Practical Training are listed below:
- Students must be enrolled in a degree program for a full academic year and be F-1 status
- Employment while on OPT must be directly related to your major area of study.
- The maximum amount of time granted to work on F-1 OPT status is 12 months per degree level plus extension IF student meets qualifications and is authorized cap-gap extension or 17 month STEM extension.
- You may not begin working until you receive the OPT card AND the start date on the card has been reached.
- You can work different jobs throughout the 12 months as long as they are directly related to your course of study.
You may apply for OPT up to 90 days prior to your graduation date and USCIS must receive your application NO LATER THAN 60 days beyond your graduation date or 60 days beyond the end date of your I-20 (whichever is earlier). It is important to plan ahead and submit your application in a timely manner because the United States Citizenship and Immigration issues OPT. If USCIS receives your application more than 60 days after you complete your program, you will not be eligible for OPT.How do I apply for OPT?
- Schedule an appointment with the International Students Advisor by calling 661-654-6113 or email email@example.com.
- Complete I-765 Form which can be accessed online under "Forms" or can be obtained from the advisor .
- Once I-765 Form is complete, schedule an appointment with the International Students Advisor by calling 661-654-6113 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The advisor will print out a new I-20 and ensure all necessary documents have been submitted.
You must obtain a travel signature from the International Students Advisor on your I-20 every six months while on OPT.
If you plan to travel abroad, you must carry your
- passport valid for at least 6 months
- valid U.S. F-1 visa,
- I-94 card,
- EAD card and
- a letter from your employer.
If you plan to travel to Canada, Mexico or Adjacent Islands and you received your EAD card but your F-1 visa stamp in your passport is expired, you may do so, if you travel less than 30 days, and you carry with you the documents mentioned above.
Make sure you have all documentation listed above and documentation from your employment stating that you have a job offer to return to. If you do not have the required paperwork under your possession you will not be allowed back into the US.
Before you travel, make sure you check the U.S. Consulate website in your home country to find out the requirements: http://www.usembassy.gov/What are the reporting requirements while on OPT?
While you are on OPT you are required to report any of the following changes to the International Students Advisor within 7 days of the change:
- Any change of physical address
- Any change of name
- Any period of unemployment while authorized for OPT
- The name and address of your employer when you get a job and when you change jobs.
F-1 students who are receiving a degree in any of the fields listed below, also referred to as "STEM" fields (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics) are eligible to apply for the 17-Month stem extension following their 12-month OPT. Students who are going to graduate should apply for regular OPT first, and would then request the 17-month extension. Employers have to be enrolled in "E-Verify" the USCIS (see details here)for students to apply. The 17-month extension will authorize F-1 students who qualify to work through October 1st of any given following year, in case they do not get an H1B visa in time. Students will be able to continue employment while their application is pending if they apply for the 17-month extension in a timely manner, until a final decision on the I-765 or for 180 days, whichever comes first. "STEM" fields (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics):
- Computer Science
- Earth System Science
Students who are currently F-1 status and have their H1B application pending because their OPT will run out before October 1st are eligible for cap-gap extension. This is a method used to fill the "gap" between the end of OPT while on F-1 status and the issuance of H1B. The employer has to file for the cap-gap extension, the earliest date that an employer can file an H-1B cap-subject petition is April 1st, for the following fiscal year, starting October 1st. USCIS does not accept an H1-B petition submitted by an employer more than 6 months prior to the date that the student actually needs to be on H1-B status. If USCIS approves the H1-B petition and the accompanying change of status request, the earliest date that the student may start the approved H-1B employment is October 1st. On the other hand, if USCIS denies cap-gap extension and current visa expires before October 1st, students are required to leave the United States.