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. 

Types of OPT:

  1. 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.  
  2. 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. 

Potential Extensions of Post-completion OPT:

  1. STEM Extension: A two in a lifetime 24-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. ‌
  2. 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. 

Click here for the Application Process

Maximum Length

  • Pre-completion & post-completion OPT combined cannot exceed 12 months at each degree level.
  • Part-time pre-completion OPT is deducted from the 12-month limit at 50%.
  • An F-1 may become eligible for another 12 months of OPT when completing 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 over 20 hours per week while on post-completion OPT.
  • During standard post-completion OPT, a student may not be unemployed for more than 90 days. If a student receives a 24-month STEM OPT extension, the limit on unemployment is raised to a total of no more than 150 days, applied to the entire 36-month period of post-completion OPT.

How to Apply for OPT

The Steps to Apply for Post-completion OPT:

  1. Attend the virtual OPT workshop or watch the most recent recording. Schedule an appointment to discuss any questions you may have.
  2. Log into Sunapsis, under F-1 Practical Training select either thethe Post-completion OPT Request.
    Complete the Academic Advisor Certification and I-20 with OIS' OPT Recommendation request e-forms.
  3. OIS will send you your I-20 recommend you for OPT
  4. Follow the instructions in the OPT Online Application Review e-form, draft your application on the USCIS website, upload your draft for OIS review. (Do not pay fee to USCIS yet)
  5. OIS will review your drafted application and e-mail with you about any suggested changes  
  6. You will submit your OPT application online and pay the fee

OPT Timing Issues:

  • 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 recommendation I-20 is issued.

  • 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.

The End of Your 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. 

Reporting Requirements While On OPT

There are reporting requirements for students who are on OPT.

All students on OPT must report to the OIS using the OPT Reporting Form in Sunapsis 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 out 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 or on the transfer-out date.

Employment Tracking and Reporting

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. This is especially important if you are volunteering.

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.).

Unemployment Issues

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. 

Traveling while Employed

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, OIS recommends you have the EAD card for re-entry. We recommend you schedule an advising appointment before you make plans to travel. For more information on travel, visit the SEVIS Travel Q&A page.