What is an OPT?
Students on F-1 visas may qualify for Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows the student to engage in temporary employment to gain practical experience in his or her field of study. Standard OPT is available for a cumulative maximum of 12 months per educational level, though some STEM majors (science, technology, engineering, and math) are allowed a one-time extension of 17 additional months. OPT is available both before and after graduation, or a combination of both. A student on OPT may work anywhere in the United States for any company, provided the work is directly related to the student's major. An offer of employment is not required to apply for OPT. There are 2 different types of OPT; pre-completion and post-completion.
- Pre-completion OPT is for students who wish to work before the end of their academic program (before they graduate). During a pre-completion OPT a student may work up to 20 hours while school is in session, and may work full time while school is out of session (summer or Christmas breaks), provided they are registered for the next school term.
- Post-completion OPT (more common) is for students after they graduate. Students must work a minimum of 20 hours per week and may work up to full time.
Applying for an OPT
Download the OPT Application Packet and begin gathering the required documents, including the I-765 form. Detailed instructions for filling out the I-765 form may be found here. Please leave any confusing questions blank and consult with a Designated School Official. Carefully read thoroughly the "Rules and Regulations While on OPT" portion of the packet. Come in-person to the Intercultural Student Programs Office with the OPT Checklist and all other required documentation. The Director of Intercultural Student Programs will enter your OPT application into the SEVIS system, print you a new I-20, and help you put these documents in the mail.
The OPT approval process usually takes 1 ½ – 3 months. If you hope to be employed on a post-completion OPT soon after graduation, we recommend getting your OPT request submitted by the end of February or early March. You may apply for a post-completion OPT between 90 days prior to, and 60 days after, your graduation date. You do not need a job when you apply for your OPT. However, you must have a job within 90 days of your OPT start date.
- The OPT start date may not be later than 60 days beyond the Program End Date.
- The OPT end date may not be later than 12 months after the requested Employment Start Date, nor may it be more than 14 months after the student's Program End Date.
- Students may only begin work after both of the following conditions have been met; the student has received his/her Employment Authorization Document and the student has reached his/her "start date" of employment.
- OPT students may work for multiple employers, for hire, for short-term employers, or through self employment.
- All employment (no exceptions) must be directly related to the student's major. Any employment not directly related to the student's major is considered a violation of visa status.
- Unpaid employment is fine and must be at least 20 hours per week. The student must be able to provide evidence of time worked.
- Students on OPT should be able to provide evidence of the position held, proof of duration of that position, a description of job duties, supervisor's contact information, and a description of how the position is connected to their program of study.
- Students must inform the Director of Intercultural Student Programs of their current address - including anytime they change address.
- Students must inform the Director of Intercultural Student Programs of anytime they change jobs and should include their employer name, job title, employer address, start date of employment, end date of previous employment and a 2 sentence description of how the new employment is related to the student's major.
- Unemployment Time - Each day (including weekends) during a post-completion OPT period in which the student is not employed counts as a day of unemployment. The limit on unemployment time is 90 days. After this 90 days has elapsed, the individual no longer qualifies for OPT and their student visa status is no longer valid. The individual must leave the U.S.
- Grace Period - Students are given 60 days beyond the authorized end of their OPT extension to leave the country.
OPT and Travel
Any OPT student traveling outside the US should have a recent signature on their I-20 within the past 6 months. If the student travels outside the U.S. while employed, either during a period of leave authorized by their employer or as part of their employment, that time spent outside the U.S. will not count against unemployment. Such students should show their Employment Authorization Document and proof of employment, in addition to their passport and I-20 upon re-entering the U.S.
A student who has applied for an OPT and whose status is listed as "pending" may exit and re-enter the US to resume search for employment provided they present their I-797, which shows proof of the receipt of their I-765 application. However, a student who has received their work authorization and whose OPT is listed as "approved" should not exit and re-enter the US unless they can provide written proof of a job offer having accepted employment - otherwise their OPT will be canceled by US immigration. All students with OPT applications in process should consult with the Director of Intercultural Student Programs before departing the US.