Optional Practical Training

F-1 visa students

Optional Practical Training

If you are an F-1 student, Optional Practical Training (OPT) allows you to be employed within your major area of study for up to 12 months per educational level (e.g., bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, etc.). You may be employed on and/or off campus. This guide is to help you apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT), the year of work authorization all students on F-1 visas are eligible for after they complete their programs. If you are currently on OPT and you qualify for the STEM extension, please see information about applying for the STEM extension here.

When you can use post-completion OPT

After you complete your degree. This is when most students use their 12 months of OPT. It is known as post-completion OPT.

After you complete all graduate course requirements, but before you finish your thesis or equivalent. This is called post-completion OPT for ABD graduate students.

Is OPT for you?

If you have been in lawful F-1 status with the same SEVIS record for 1 full academic year, you are eligible to apply for OPT. You must have a valid I-20 and passport, and be lawfully enrolled in a program of study.

If you intend to engage in post-completion OPT, you can start the application paperwork 90 days before you finish your degree requirements, but no earlier. It usually takes 90 days to receive approval from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
USCIS must receive your OPT application within 60 days of your program end date or you will become ineligible to apply for OPT for that degree.

You do not need a job offer when applying for your initial 12 months of OPT. However, if you complete your OPT and file for a 24-month extension, you will need a job offer at that time. While on a STEM extension, your employer must complete a form I-983 Training Plan and be enrolled in the E-Verify program.

When you obtain OPT authorization, you are still in F-1 visa status. You will simply receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), also called your OPT card. The OPT card does not replace the need for other documents. You need a passport, visa, I-20, and the OPT card to reenter the United States.

If the visa stamp in your passport is expired while you are on OPT, you may still be lawfully employed. An F-1 visa needs to be valid only when you are entering the United States and being processed for admission at the U.S. port of entry. You can legally maintain your immigration status with an expired visa.

If you wish to travel outside the United States while you are on OPT, check the travel regulations.

OPT has a clear purpose. It allows you to engage in work that directly applies knowledge you acquired during your program of study. Immigration regulations do not specify what “related to major field of study” means. You are responsible for determining that your employment is related to your field of study. If you hold multiple positions at the same time during OPT, each position must be related to your major field of study.

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