Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is work authorization available to international students who have been in valid F-1 status for at least one full academic year and who plan to seek employment in the U.S. in their field of study. OPT is recommended by the Office of International Education, but final approval is granted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).
To obtain OPT, a student must:
- Be in a valid immigration status (such as F-1) for at least one academic year. One year of OPT is available at each level of education. During the period of OPT, a student continues in F-1 status, since OPT is considered to be part of the program of study.
- A job offer is not required to apply for OPT; however, once you find a job, you must notify the Office of International Education. The employment may occur anywhere in the U.S. It can take the USCIS three to five months to issue the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) that allows you to begin working on OPT. There is no way to expedite an application.
- If 12 months or more of full-time CPT is used, a student forfeits OPT eligibility. Accrual of part-time CPT does not affect eligibility for OPT.
- Once the OPT application is submitted to the USCIS, it is very difficult to change or cancel the application.
Types of OPT
1) Pre-completion OPT
Pre-completion OPT allows students who have not yet completed a degree program to be authorized for off-campus employment. The application process for pre-completion OPT is the same as for other types of OPT and requires 2-3 months processing by USCIS. Students on pre-completion OPT are still required to meet the full-time enrollment requirement each long semester (fall and spring). Students on pre-completion OPT can only work part-time during school sessions. They can work full-time during official school vacations. Pre-completion OPT must end by the student’s program completion date. Unlike post-completion OPT, students on pre-completion OPT are not required to limit days of unemployment and do not have reporting requirements, other than for changes of address. The amount of time you use for pre-completion OPT will be deducted from your 12-month allowance. Curricular Practical Training is a better option in most cases for working prior to your degree completion.
2) Post-Completion OPT
Post-completion OPT provides for up to one year of practical training authorization after completion of studies. Students can apply up to 90 days before and up to 60 days after program end date. It is recommended that students apply before completing their last semester of enrollment to avoid additional processing time and the possible loss of days of employment availability. In addition, OPT applications must be submitted to USCIS within 30 days of receiving an OPT I-20 from the Office of International Education.
3) STEM OPT Extension
Students who have received a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree in certain STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields may be eligible to apply for a one-time 17-month extension of post-completion OPT (List of eligible STEM fields). This extension can only be used one-time; not after each degree level, like post-completion OPT. The new STEM extension EAD card begins the day after the expiration of the 12 month EAD and ends 17 months later; no matter when approved. Student may continue to work while the application is pending IF the application is submitted before the EAD card expires for up to 180 days. Employers must be registered with the U.S. Government E-Verity employment verification system.
In general, F-1 students who have been in the U.S. for no more than five different calendar years are exempt from Social Security taxes. You should be sure to bring this to the attention of your employer because many employers are not familiar with this provision of the tax laws. Students in F-1 status are subject to all other taxes that may apply, including federal, state and local. For more information, please consult with a tax professional and/or Publication 519 of the Internal Revenue Service.
Comply with F-1 Status Regulations while on OPT
F-1 students are responsible for complying with all immigration regulations, including employment regulations. Working without the proper authorization is a serious violation of nonimmigrant status in the U.S. If a student fails to comply, he or she may not be eligible for benefits normally granted to F-1 students and may jeopardize his or her stay in the U.S. Prior to accepting any employment in the US, students should consult with the Office of International Education.
- Employment Related to Major. OPT is intended to enhance an F-1 student academic program by providing a means to gain experience in his or her field of study. The USCIS considers working in a job that is not related to his or her major a violation of F-1 status.
- Periods of Employment. Once an F-1 student completes his or her degree, he or she cannot work on-campus or off-campus until he or she has the EAD and the start date has arrived.
- Periods of Unemployment. During post completion OPT, students may not accrue an aggregate total of more than 90 days of unemployment during any post-completion OPT carried out under the initial post-completion OPT authorization. No special permission is required to change employers or terminate employment.
- Reporting Changes Employment. An F-1 student authorized by USCIS to engage in Optional Practical Training is required to report within 10 days of any change in the following: employer name, employer address and/or, periods of employment/unemployment.
- Update Local Address. An F-1 student authorized by USCIS to engage in Optional Practical Training is required to report within 10 days of any change in the following: legal name, residential including changes from one residence hall to another or mailing address.
- Maintain the validity of your immigration documents. F-1 students should keep his or her passport valid for at least six months in to the future. F-1 students should keep his or her visa valid if traveling outside the U.S.
- Copies of Immigration Documents. F-1 students should keep copies of all immigration documents including: passport photo page, visa in passport, I-94 Form, current I-20, all copies of any I-20 issued.
- International travel before the completion of an F-1 student’s academic program. F-1 students must have the third page of your I-20 form signed by a university DSO before traveling. The signature date on your I-20 is valid for only one year of travel; check to make sure the signature is and will be valid upon return. Before leaving you must check to make sure that your student visa will still be valid upon re-entry into the U.S. If not, a new visa will need to be applied for prior to your return to the U.S.
- International travel after completion of an F-1 student’s academic program. The guidance for travel of students who have a valid visa is related to whether OPT has been approved or not yet. If post-completion OPT has not been approved yet -Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card still not yet issued by USCIS, and there is not a job or a job offer, an F-1 student may leave and then re-enter the U.S. to continue to look for employment with a valid travel signature on page 3 of the OPT I-20. If post-completion OPT has been approved -EAD card has been issued by USCIS and there is a job or a job offer, an F-1 student may leave and re-enter the U.S. in order to begin or resume employment with a valid travel signature on page 3 of the OPT I-20. If your post-completion OPT has been approved and an F-1 student leaves the U.S. before getting a job or a job offer, OPT ends and the student may not re-enter the U.S. as an F-1 student.
OPT Application Process:
- Read the information about OPT.
- Request OPT by completing the APSU OPT request form (pages 4 and 5). Forms should be turned in two weeks prior to desired appointment date (step 4). See "USCIS Application deadlines" below to make sure you schedule your appointment well in advance of the deadlines.
- Prepare the USCIS Application materials.
- Schedule an appointment with the Office of International Education to obtain new OPT 1-20. All USCIS Application materials should be brought to the appointment. See "USCIS Application deadlines" below to make sure you schedule your appointment well in advance of the deadlines.
- Mail application packet.
- Receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD). It may take up to three months. You cannot begin work of any type until you receive your EAD.
- Begin OPT once start date has arrived. (STEM extension students may continue to work while application is pending for up to 180 days.)
- Apply for Social Security Number (cannot apply before start date on EAD).
- Report employment and any changes in employment or address to the Office of International Education.
USCIS Application deadlines:
- Pre-completion OPT - USCIS Applications deadline is 90 days before your desired start date.
- Post-Completion OPT – USCIS Applications can be accepted up to 90 days before and up to 60 days after program completion.
- STEM Extension – USCIS recommends you apply up to 120 days before your OPT end date. Applications cannot be submitted after the end date.
USCIS Application Materials
Please check USCIS website for updated listing.
- Application Fee (Use a money order or personal check made payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security”)
- Form I-765 See "Tips for completing form I-765" below.
- Photocopies of your new OPT I-20 and all previous I-20s (Make sure all your I-20s are signed before copying them. Keep the originals for your records.)
- Photocopy of I-94 (If you last entered the US after July 2013 by air or sea, you will need to print your electronic I-94 record. If you last entered before July 2013 or by land, this is the small, white card usually stapled into your passport. Include a copy of both sides of the I-94, even though the back side may be blank.)
- Photocopy of Passport (passport biographical information page)
- Photocopy of Visa
- Photocopy of past EAD cards if applicable
- 2 Passport Photos (Photos need to be a certain size. See Instructions for Form I-765 for guidelines. Write your name and I-94 number on the back of each photo in pencil in case they get separated from your application.)
- Form G‐1145 Attach completed form to first page of I‐756 application.
Tips for completing form I-765
- #1: Be sure to write name in correct order (Family, First, Middle)—this is what will be written on your EAD. Write family name in ALL CAPS.
- #3: Use an address that will be valid for the entire next 3 months. If address is not known or there is possibility of change, use the Office of International Education. Any requests for evidence, communication, or EAD card, if approved, will be sent to this address so it needs to be an address that will be regularly checked.
- #10, 12, 13, and 14: This is information from most recent entry on I-94/passport stamp.
- #16: If pre-completion OPT, use: (c)(3)(A). If post-completion OPT, use: (c)(3)(B). If STEM extension, use: (c)(3)(C).
- #17: only needed if STEM extension