Optional Practical Training
When Can I Apply For Optional Practical Training (OPT)?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a temporary employment authorization issued to pursue employment in your field of study for the purpose of gaining practical experience. OPT may be authorized to an F-1 student who has been lawfully admitted and enrolled on a full-time basis for one academic year.
Students may receive 12 months of practical training for each academic level (bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate). Students may apply for OPT directly related to their major field of study in the following cases:
- After completion of the course of study. Application for OPT in this case can be submitted up to 90 days before the completion of the program or up to 60 days after the program completion date. The OPT must begin within 60 days of graduation (which is equivalent to the completion of your program requirements) and must be completed no later than 14 months after graduation. We encourage you to submit your application in a timely manner.
- During the student’s annual (summer) vacation as long as the student intends to register for the next semester. It is advisable to have a job offer at the time of application as well as allow for sufficient time for the USCIS to process the application (allow 90 days). The job may be full or part time. Undergraduate students should consider curricular practical training for this purpose.
There are certain exceptions for unusual circumstances. Please see your international advisor if you have questions.
If you meet these qualifications, you can proceed with the application for OPT. Upon completion of all the attached forms, an international student advisor will review your application and decide to either recommend or not recommend your application for submission to the USCIS for approval. The international student advisor must issue you a new SEVIS I-20 to indicate their recommendation and complete the process.
Please note that your OPT will be terminated if/when you transfer to another school or enroll in another degree program.
What types of employment are allowed for regular pre- and post-completion of OPT?
All OPT employment, including post-completion OPT, is required to be in a job that is related to the student's degree program by 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(A).
For students who are not on a STEM extension, this employment may include:
- Paid employment - Students may work part time (at least 20 per week when on post-completion OPT) or full time.
- Multiple employers - Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to each individual student's degree program. For pre-completion OPT, employment cannot exceed the cumulative hours allowed per week.
- Short-term multiple employers (performing artists) - Students, such as musicians and other performing artists, may work for multiple short-term employers (gigs). The student should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates, and duration.
- Work for hire - This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment, where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by DHS, students should be prepared 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 and be self-employed. The student should be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to his or her degree program.
- Employment through an agency or consulting firm - Students on post-completion OPT should be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.
- Unpaid employment - Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this practice does not violate any labor laws. The work should be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. A student should be able to provide evidence, acquired from the student's employer, to verify that he or she worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.
Travel While on Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Can I re-enter the U.S. if my request for OPT is pending?
Yes, you may reenter to search for employment. You should carry your I-765 (OPT) receipt notice with you while traveling. You should also have a valid passport/visa and have a recent travel signature on your I-20. There are risks to leaving the U.S. after graduation but before OPT approval because the date of approval is impossible to predict and may occur without your immediate knowledge.
Can I reenter the U.S. if I left while on OPT?
If your OPT has been approved and you depart before you get a job, your OPT ends and you cannot re-enter. If you have a job, you may travel and re-enter to resume work at the same job. You should carry an updated letter verifying your employment and job duties with you. You should also have a valid passport/visa and have a recent travel signature on your I-20.
Please note that even if you have filed your OPT application in a timely manner, there may still be risks associated with traveling with a pending application. Consular/border post officials have been informed of these changes, but this does not guarantee your admission.
This information was provided by The Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program office (SEVP) and the NAFSA Practice Advisory 2005-A retrieved from www.nafsa.org.
STEM Extension of OPT
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has announced major changes to Post-Completion OPT for F-1 students in certain academic fields. The new regulation is effective immediately. The new OPT rule includes:
The current 12-month limit on OPT will be extended by 17 months for a total of 29 months for certain STEM (see below) degree holders ONLY.
Please note that there can be no travel outside the U.S. during stem extension!
STEM is an acronym for:
STEM Fields include:
- Actuarial Science
- Computer Science Applications
- Engineering Technologies
- Biological and Biomedical Sciences
- Mathematics and Statistics
- Military Technologies
- Physical Sciences
- Science Technologies
- Medical Scientist (M.S., Ph.D.)
OPT Extension Requirements:
- The student must be currently authorized for a 12-month period of OPT and working for a U.S. employer in a job directly related to the student's field of study.
- The student must have successfully completed a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in a field on the DHS STEM Designated Degree Program list, from a SEVIS-certified U.S. college or university.
- At the time of application for the 17-month extension, the student must have a job offer or be employed by an employer registered with the E-Verify federal employment verification system.
- The student must not have previously received a 17-month OPT extension after earning a STEM degree. Only one 17-month OPT extension is allowed.
- The student must apply for the 17-month extension through his/her former school's international student office. The designated school official must recommend the extension and issue a new I-20 with the recommendation noted on the I-20.
- The student applies for the extension using form I-765 with fee to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Processing Center.
- The student must file the extension application in a timely manner, which is generally 90 days before the current OPT expires.
- A student who files the application timely may continue employment while the extension application is pending, until a final decision is made, or for 180 days, whichever comes first.
- The employer must agree to report the termination or departure of the student to the international student office of the student's former school, or through any other process chosen by the Department of Homeland Security.
- The student must also agree to provide a report every six months to the international student office of his/her former school. The report should include:
- Change of name
- Change of residential or mailing address
- Name and address of employer
- Change in the name or address of employer
- When employment changes or terminates
What is E-verify?
E-Verify is an Internet-based system operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the Social Security Administration. The program allows participated employers to electronically verify the employment eligibility of their newly hired employees.
An employer's registration in E-Verify is free, voluntary, and at the discretion of the employer.
What types of employment are allowed for students during an OPT STEM extension?
Students authorized for an OPT STEM extension must work at least 20 hours per week for an E-Verify employer in a position directly related to each individual student's STEM degree.
For students who are on a STEM extension, this employment may include:
- Paid employment - All employment during the STEM extension must be paid employment. Volunteer experience does not count as employment for the purpose of maintaining F-1 status during the STEM extension.
- Multiple employers - Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to each individual student's degree program and all employers must be enrolled in E-Verify.
- Work for hire - This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. The company for whom the student is providing services must be registered with E-Verify. If requested by DHS, students must be prepared 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 a STEM extension can start a business and be self-employed. In this situation, the student must register his or her business with E-Verify and work full time. The student must be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to his or her degree program.
- Employment through an agency or consulting firm - Students on a STEM extension may be employed by an employment agency or consulting firm. The employment agency or consulting firm must be registered with E-Verify, but the third parties contracting with the agency or firm (for which the student is providing services) need not be.
Can students count volunteer experience as employment during an OPT STEM extension?
Students on a STEM extension are allowed to volunteer, incidental to their status. This means that volunteer work is allowed but does not count as employment for the purpose of maintaining F-1 status.
Can students work multiple jobs during an OPT Stem extension?
Yes, but all the employers must be enrolled in E-Verify.
OPT Forms and Instructions
- OPT Extension Application Form
- I-765 Form and instructions
- I-765 Tips