What is Optional Practical Training?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) work authorization is designed to provide opportunities for employment to international students with F-1 status who wish to work in their field of study. During the period of OPT, a student will maintain F-1 visa status since it is considered to be part of the program of study.
An F-1 student may not begin optional practical training until the date indicated on his or her
employment authorization document, Form I-766.
What are the Eligibility Requirements?
To be eligible to apply for F-1 optional practical training after the completion of studies:
A student may submit an application to participate in an optional practical training program up to 90 days prior to being enrolled for one full academic year and no later than 60 days after the academic program’s end-date. The period of employment must not begin until after the completion of the full academic year, as indicated by the DSO; and
The job is directly related to the student's major area of study.
Students enrolled in English language training programs are not eligible for practical training after the completion of their studies.
When to Engage in Optional Practical Training?
A student may be granted authorization to engage in temporary employment for optional practical training:
During the student's annual vacation and at other times when school is not in session, if the student is currently enrolled, and is eligible for registration and intends to register for the next term or session;
While school is in session, provided that practical training does not exceed 20 hours a week while school is in session; or
After completion of the course of study, or, for a student in a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree program, after completion of all course requirements for the degree (excluding thesis work or equivalent). For the school’s administrative purposes, the completion of the degree requirements within a “continued enrollment” program does not preclude a student’s eligibility to apply for an OPT. However, optional practical training must be requested prior to the completion of all course requirements for the degree or prior to the completion of the course of study. A student must complete all practical training within a 14-month period following the completion of study.
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) OPT
Students may participate in a designated STEM degree program list in their pursuit to complete the full-time course requirement of F-1 visas. According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the list of degree programs that are covered under STEM are can be found here. F-1 students who are enrolled in STEM programs are also eligible to apply for optional practical training. In order to qualify for an OPT through a STEM program, the student must major or dual major in the STEM field, a minor in the field is not sufficient. In order to participate, the employer must be a qualified employer in the e-verify system.
How long can I Work?
A student who is approved for on OPT is authorized for 12 months of practical training and becomes eligible for another 12 months of practical training when he or she changes to a higher educational level. Authorization to engage in optional practical training employment is automatically terminated when the student transfers to another school or begins study at another educational level.
Can I receive an Extension on my Optional Practical Training?
Generally, a student who is approved for an OPT is only eligible to work for 12 months of practical training. However, students who are participating in a STEM program are eligible to file for the 17-month extension up to 120 days prior to the end of their post-completion OPT. If the student successfully files for an extension through the STEM program, their employment authorization will be extended automatically for 180 days. Furthermore, for students who have filed for a change of status to H-1B and are the beneficiaries of H-1B petitions where there is a gap between the end of the OPT and the start-up date for the H-1B due to the H-1B cap, their OPT will be automatically extended. For more information about change of status from F-1 to H-1B, please click here. For more information about the H-1B cap, please click here.
What are the OPT Application Procedures under SEVIS?
Step 1: DSO Recommendation
How do they get a DSO recommendation? The DSO will update the student's record in SEVIS as having been recommended for optional practical training. A DSO who recommends a student for optional practical training is responsible for maintaining the record of the student for the duration of the time that training is authorized. The DSO will indicate in SEVIS whether the employment is to be full-time or part-time, and note in SEVIS the start and end date of employment.
Step 2: Endorsement SEVIS Form I-20
The DSO will then print the employment page of the student's SEVIS Form I-20, and sign and date the form to indicate that optional practical training has been recommended.
Step 3: Application for EAD
The student must also file with the appropriate USCIS Lockbox for an Employment Authorization Document (Form I-765).
Applicants who live in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands should file their forms I-765 at the Phoenix Lockbox (USCIS, P.O. Box 21281, Phoenix, AZ 85036).
Applicants who live in Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, US Virgin Islands, and West Virginia should file their forms I-765 at the Dallas Lockbox (USCIS, P.O. Box 660867, Dallas, TX 75266).
Coupled with this form, the student will need to submit the $380 filing fee and the SEVIS Form I-20 employment page indicating that optional practical training has been recommended by the DSO.
Step 4: Decision on application for employment authorization
The USCIS shall adjudicate the Form I-765 and issue an EAD on the basis of the DSO's recommendation, unless the student is found otherwise ineligible. The USCIS shall notify the applicant of the decision and, if the application is denied, of the reason or reasons for the denial. The applicant may NOT appeal the decision.
Am I required to report any change in my OPT?
An F-1 student authorized by the USCIS to engage in practical training is required to report any
change of name, change of address, or interruption of such employment to the DSO for the duration of the authorized training. A DSO who recommends a student for optional practical training is responsible for updating the student's record to reflect these reported changes for the duration of the time that training is authorized.
Electronic Code of Federal Regulations: 8 CFR §§ 214.2(f)(5), (10); 274A.12(b)(6)
(Updated 10/12/2012 by AD)
For more information about F-1 visas, please click on one of the following links: