Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional practical training is defined in the regulations as temporary employment for practical training directly related to the student’s major area of study. Optional practical training provides an opportunity for F-1 visa holders to gain up to one year of experience in their field of study during the following time periods:
- During the student’s annual vacation and other times when school is not in session if the student is currently enrolled and eligible, and indents to register for the next term (Pre-completion full-time OPT)
- While school is in session, but OPT cannot exceed 20 hours per week (Pre-completion part-time OPT)
- After completion of all course requirements for the degree, excluding thesis or equivalent (full-time OPT)
- After completion of course of study (Post-completion OPT)
- F-1 students must have been enrolled in their current degree program on a full-time basis for at least nine consecutive months and be in good academic standing before they may begin OPT. A first year student may apply up to 90 days before they are eligible. The start date can be any day up to 60 days after the completion date. However the student’s OPT must finish before the end of the fourteenth month for OPT after their graduation.
- OPT must be directly related to the student’s area of study
- Students can work part-time (20 hours a week while the school is in session) or full-time (40 hours a week when school is not in session) but the 12 months of OPT must be completed in a maximum of 14 months.
- Students must demonstrate that the acceptance of employment will not interfere with the student’s ability to carry a full course load and continue to make normal progress towards completing their degree.
- Student must have passports valid for at least six months beyond the requested OPT start date
- The student is not required to have a job offer from an employer to apply for OPT. It is recommended, however, that the student be fairly certain of having a job before applying for OPT; this will prevent the student from unnecessary loss of the authorized twelve-month period of OPT.
- It is recommended that students apply for OPT (papers be delivered to USCIS) at least one month before their graduating semester ends or 120 days before students would like to receive their Employment Authorization Card for OPT.
- For Pre-completion OPT, it is necessary that students have a job offer, if the OPT is during the summer vacation and the student intends to register for the following school semester.
- Post-completion OPT is available for students who completed their course work and obtain a degree, a job offer is not necessary in order to apply.
NOTE: Students may not work after the end date on your new I-20 until you have received your Employment Authorization Card (EAD) with the starting employment date.
Optional practical training is limited to a total of 12 months. A student becomes eligible for another 12 months of optional practical training when he or she changes to a higher educational level. Part-time optional practical training, 20 hours per week or less, shall be deducted from the available optional practical training at one-half the full-time rate. Any optional practical training granted prior to completion of studies shall be deducted from the amount of practical training available after graduation.
Authorization to engage in optional practical training is automatically terminated when a student transfers to another school or begins full-time study at a different educational level.
OPT Application Process
To apply for OPT, a student must submit the following documents to the Office of International Students (up to 120 days before the desiring beginning date of Optional Practical Training and before the expiration date of their I-20):
- Letter from academic advisor or department chair recommending practical training related to your major as well as mentioning your stage of studies and your anticipated completion dated for all program requirements.
- Form I-765 completed (Note: Students may request any employment start date within 60 days after completion of your coursework, program requirements or end of final exams for your graduating semester, but you may not work with the company that intends to hire you, either as a paid or volunteer employee, during the period between your anticipated graduation and the start of your approved OPT.)
- Provide two glossy passport type photos (see USCIS Photo Requirements)
- Provide a copy of your I-94 card (both sides)
- Photocopies of all identity pages of your passport and visa page
- Provide the I-20 ID student copy on which the recommendation for practical training will be written and endorsed by the school official
- A check of $380 or money order, made out to “USCIS” for the application fee
- Photocopies of all previous I-20s
- Photocopy of new I-20 with the DSO OPT recommendation
- Photocopy of previous EAD, if any (both sides)
- Letter of Intent (available in the Office of International Students – Admissions)
After we review your application documents, you will be receiving a new I-20 with the DSO recommendation for OPT and the packet together with the USCIS address where you will have to mail it for processing. It can take as long as 12 weeks (and sometimes longer), for the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to be mailed to you at the address you indicated on Form I-765. This must be a U.S address. Processing time by USCIS is highly variable and difficult to predict.
As soon as you receive your EAD card, send or bring a photocopy to Office of International Students – Admissions.
It is illegal for students to engage in any type of off-campus employment, including internships without the express endorsement of the Designated School Officials (DSO) and authorization from the USCIS. Accepting employment without proper USCIS authorization will result in falling out of status and will subject the student to deportation from the U.S. Therefore, students are well-advised to consider their goals carefully before applying for optional practical training.