OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING (OPT)

Foreign students completing associate, bachelors, masters or doctorate degrees as well as non-degree students completing structured programs or certificate programs in F-1 student status are eligible to receive permission from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to be employed for a period of one year. This employment authorization is called Optional Practical Training. Optional practical training after completion of studies is not a one-time option. If you use a one-year period of practical training after completion of your degree, you can obtain another period of optional practical training upon completion of a higher degree.

 

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General Information

 

USCIS regulations, at 8 C.F.R. 214.2(f)(10), provide that optional “practical training is available to F-1 students who have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis in a Service-approved college, university, conservatory, or seminary for at least nine consecutive months. Students in English language programs are ineligible…”

 

In order to receive optional practical training, you must apply to your Designated School Official (DSO) or foreign student advisor at your university. You may apply for practical training at any time prior to the completion of your studies or within 60 days thereafter. Ideally, you should apply as early as possible in order to begin your employment immediately after you have completed your studies.
To apply for optional practical training, you must complete the top portion of form I-538 (Certification by DSO) and give this form accompanied by your current form I-20 ID to your DSO. The DSO must certify on form I-538 that the employment which you have proposed is directly related to your major area of study and is commensurate with your educational level. The DSO will endorse your I-20 ID if he recommends practical training in your major field of study.

 

Under current procedures, form I-538, a copy of form I-20 with your DSOs endorsement, an Application for Employment Authorization (I-765 immigration form) together with the appropriate fee, photographs, and signature card are sent to the Regional INS Service Center having jurisdiction over your school. Only when INS issues you an Employment Authorization Document I-766 may you begin employment.

 

Under USCIS rules, a student may engage in optional practical training “after all course requirements for the degree (excluding thesis or equivalent) if the student is in a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree program.”
Your Employment Authorization Document I-766 will allow you to be employed for a maximum of 12 months. However, since practical training will terminate no later than 14 months after completion of study, it is best to apply early.

 

What if your want to engage in practical training prior to the completion of your studies? Optional practical training is available during as well as after the completion of your academic program. However, remember that the total amount of optional practical training permitted is 12 months although some STEM graduates may be able to extend their OPT for an additional 17 months if their employers enroll in the E-Verify program. You may apply for part-time optional practical training prior to the completion of your studies. After you complete your studies only full-time optional practical training is available.

 

There are a number of other work options available for students such as work-study and on-campus employment. One such option is called “curricular” practical training (CPT). USCIS requires students who are authorized for one year or more of curricular training to forfeit all optional practical training benefits. However, it pays to know the rules. Students who engage in less than one year of curricular training may still qualify for one year of optional practical training. Also, time spent in part-time curricular training is not counted as time spent in full-time curricular training for this purpose.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

WHAT ARE THE TYPES OF OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING?

  • A student may apply for OPT part-time or full-time when school is not in session and when they intend to register for the following semester.
  • A student may apply for OPT part-time while school is in session.
  • A student may apply for OPT part-time of full-time after completion of graduation requirements (excludes dissertation and thesis)
  • A student may apply for OPT full-time after the completion of degree completion.

 

WHEN CAN I APPLY FOR OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING?

You can apply for OPT as early as 90 days before you complete your degree.

 

CAN I TRAVEL ON OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING?

Before completion of OPT you will need:

  • A valid passport
  • A valid F-1 visa stamp (except for Canadian and Bermudian citizens)
  • Endorsed OPT I-20 for travel by your Designated School Official within the last six months

After completion of OPT you will need:

  • A valid passport
  • A valid F-1 visa stamp (except for Canadian and Bermudian citizens)
  • Endorsed OPT I-20 for travel by your Designated School Official within the last six months
  • Employment Authorization Document Card
  • Proof of current employment (job offer or employment verification letter)

*If you are missing any of the previously mentioned documents, make sure you visit your DSO before traveling.

 

CAN I TRAVEL WHILE MY APPLICATION IS PENDING?

Yes and no. If your entry date is before the degree completion date on your I-20, yes. If your entry date is after the completion date on your I-20 then no.

 

IF MY F-1 VISA IS EXPIRED CAN I TRAVEL DURING OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING?

You may but you will need to apply for a new F-1 visa stamp.

 

WHAT IS THE DURATION OF OPT EMPLOYMENT AUTHORIZATION?

Employment authorization will either begin on the date requested or on the date on which a decision on the employment authorization is made, and will be effective until the date requested.

 

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER 90 DAYS OF UNEMPLOYMENT?

If you are not employed after 90 days of the start of your EAD card, you will be considered out of status. Each day you are not working in a qualified OPT job, that day will be counted towards the limit of 90 days (total) you are allowed to be unemployed.

If you come across this problem, it is in your best interest to: