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Optional Practical Training
Optional Practical Training permits F-1 students to engage in employment that is related to their field of study, but which is not integral to their curriculum (as defined under CPT);
Students authorized for OPT remain in F-1 status, their SEVIS record remains active, and they are required to report any changes in address, interruptions in employment, or the stoppage of OPT before the expiration of the authorization to the OIS.
To be eligible for OPT, the student must:
- Be in valid F-1 immigration status.
- Have completed at least one academic year (two semesters) of full-time study in the United States and be in good academic standing.
F-1 students are eligible for 12 months of OPT at each successively higher level. F-1 students who have used 12 months of full-time CPT are no longer eligible for OPT.
Four types of OPT available:
- Pre-completion OPT: Employment starting BEFORE the completion of the degree. F-1 students maintain full-time enrollment during the academic year and are allowed to work 20 hours per week during the school year and full-time during summer vacation.
- Post-completion OPT: Employment starting AFTER the completion of all requirements for the degree, or after completion of all required coursework--excluding thesis or dissertation.
- STEM Extension: A one time 17-month extension of post-completion OPT for students who earned degrees in qualifying Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields and whose employer while on OPT is registered with E-Verify. OPT STEM Request Form
- Cap-Gap Extension: For F-1 students presently on OPT who are beneficiaries of a pending or approved H-1B petition who are working for a cap-subject employer with an October 1 start date of H-1B status. This extends OPT authorization and F-1 status to September 30th of the year when your H-1B will start.
- The standard OPT period is a cumulative maximum of 12 months.
- Part-time OPT is deducted from the 12-month limit at 50%.
- An F-1 may become eligible for another 12 months of OPT if he or she advances to a higher educational level.
Employment While On OPT
- While on OPT, F-1 students may only work in positions related to their major field of study.
- Employment is only permitted upon receiving the OPT card (Employment Authorization Document—EAD), and only during the dates listed on the card.
- After you complete your degree, you may not work on-campus until you have received your OPT card and the start date on your card is current. At that time, you may resume working on-campus, provided that the work is in your field of study.
- OPT allows students to work in more than one job, provided that all jobs are in the major field of study.
- There are no maximum limits on the number of hours per week that a student can work while on OPT, but students must work at least 21 hours per week while on OPT.
- During standard post-completion OPT, a student may not be unemployed for more than 90 days. If a student receives a 17-month STEM OPT extension, the limit on unemployment is raised to a total of no more than 120 days, applied to the entire 29-month period of post-completion OPT.
How to Apply for OPT
- Steps to Apply for OPT
- OPT Timing Issues
- The End of Your OPT
- What You Must Report to OIS while on OPT
- What to Keep Track of while Employed
- Unemployment Issues
- Traveling while Employed
- Sign up for and attend a Student Employment Workshop or schedule an appointment to discuss any questions you may have.
- When ready to submit the request for OPT, schedule an OPT appointment with the OIS.
- Bring the completed request form with all of the completed items listed on the checklist of the form.
- During your appointment, an international student advisor will review your application and answer any remaining questions you may have about OPT. At that time, you will be issued a new I-20 with the OPT request reflected on page 3.
Required Documents for OPT Application:
- Completed Form I-765 pdf
- Check or money order made payable to US Department of Homeland Security in the amount of $410
- 2 recent Passport-style photos
- Legible copy of all previously issued I-20s including I-20 issued with OPT request on page 3.
- Legible copy of Passport ID page
- Legible copy of I-94 card or electronic I-94 print out and visa stamp
- Copies of any previously issued work authorization cards you've ever been issued.
- Mail completed application to USCIS. It can take up to 90 days for the card to be issued. You may not begin employment until you receive the card and reach the start date on the card.
- Applications for OPT may be submitted up to 90 days before the student’s expected program completion date.
- Applications for OPT must be received by USCIS no later than 60 days after the completion of the academic program requirements. F-1 students should keep in mind that filing later will not give them additional OPT time. Click here for USCIS processing time estimates for OPT applications.
- The application must be received by USCIS no later than 30 days after the OPT I-20 is printed during your OPT appointment with the OIS.
- Students who file OPT during their grace period may lose a portion of the 12 months of OPT time. Filing at least 30 days before the program completion is recommended to take full advantage of the 12 months of OPT.
At the end of the OPT authorization, an F-1 student has a 60-day grace period to remain in the U.S. and prepare for departure, to begin a new program of study, or to submit an application for a change of status.
There are reporting requirements for students who are on OPT.
All students on OPT must report to the OIS using OPT Reporting Form (pdf) within 10 days of any change in the following:
- Any change in name or address
- Any change in immigration status
- Any change or interruption of employment, including a return to studies
Students who wish to transfer to another college or university in the U.S.: Transfer requests must be submitted and approved before beginning a new program. The transfer approval for these requests must be granted no later than the end of the 60-day grace period following completion of OPT.
Note: OPT will be automatically terminated when a new I-20 is created for a new program of study.
It is the responsibility of each F-1 student on OPT to keep track of employment-related information. You will need to keep very careful track of your employment. This means exact dates, employer names, addresses, supervisor’s contact information, etc.
It will be very important for you to track your days of unemployment and also to retain supporting documentation of the periods of time when you are employed (including offer letters, pay stubs, etc.).
Students granted post-completion OPT can accrue up to 90 days of unemployment.
Any period of unemployment will count toward the 90 total days of unemployment.
- This means that any day for which you are not employed will count toward the 90-day total.
Days spent outside of the US while unemployed DO count toward the 90 days of unemployment permitted.
If a student is not able to secure a paid job and is nearing the 90 days of unemployment limit, he or she may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern, where this does not violate any labor laws. The work must be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT and students must be able to provide evidence from the employer that they worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of unpaid employment. Be careful not to “volunteer without pay" for positions in which U.S. citizens would be paid. This is designed to protect you, the employer, and other workers. Visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s Fair Labor Standards Act for more information.
The OIS is responsible to report employment information that you provide to us. Therefore, it is important for you to retain records in any event that government officials ask for evidence.
If a student on OPT is traveling outside of the U.S. for a vacation or for business while continuing to be employed, the dates spent outside of the U.S. do not need to be tracked or reported as days of unemployment.
While traveling on OPT, students are advised to carry the following:
- The most recent I-20, signed for travel (remember that each travel signature is valid for only six months during the period of OPT)
- A valid F-1 visa stamp
- A passport valid for at least 6 months into the future from the date of re-entry to the U.S.
- A valid EAD card
- A job offer or employment letter detailing your job duties.
If you are traveling outside the U.S. after your degree completion it is the OIS's recommendation you have the OPT card for re-entry.
For more information on travel, visit the SEVIS Travel Q&A page.
Some students experience difficulty when applying for renewal of their F-1 visa stamp while they are on OPT. If your visa stamp is expired, or will soon expire, keep this in mind.