Optional Practical Training

For Students in F-1 Status

Definition of Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training is designed to provide you with an opportunity to gain actual employment experience in your current major field of study for a maximum of one year per degree level (associate, bachelor's, master's, doctorate) during your F-1 status. Its purpose is to round off or complement your academic work.

Eligibility Requirements

The work must be directly related to your current major field of study and it must be appropriate to someone having your level of education. The work may be full-time or part-time during vacations and after you finish your degree or part-time during the academic year. The work may occur anywhere in the United States. In order for you to be eligible to apply for Optional Practical Training:
  1. you must have been in lawful F-1 student status for at least one full academic year,
  2. you must submit your application in a timely fashion (see next section).

Application Deadline for OPT Following Completion of Your Program

You must first submit an application to the DSO. You must apply in your final semester and USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services- formerly INS) must receive your application before your degree completion date. Due to processing time and mailing time, please submit your application to the DSO no later than 2 weeks before your completion. Upon recommendation from the DSO, you must then submit an application for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to the BCIS office having jurisdiction over the place you are living at that time. You do not need a job offer first to apply for OPT following degree completion.

Importance of the Actual Date You Complete Your Program of Study

Immigration regulations refer to the date you complete all requirements for a program of study, not to the date you participate in graduation ceremonies and receive the certificate or diploma. The USCIS ignores your graduation ceremony date because it realizes that many students, especially graduate student in thesis or dissertation programs, may complete requirements for a degree any day during the year. This means that the last day of an academic term may not be the date you complete program requirements. Your lawful F-1 status expires 60 days after the date you complete degree requirements and you are expected to leave the country by that date unless you file a timely application for practical training or make other arrangements to lawfully remain in the U.S.

Using OPT Prior to Completing Your Program

You may submit an application to the DSO as early as 90 days prior to completing one full academic year in good standing. You must have a job offer first when applying to use OPT for work prior to completing your degree. The work could be full-time during annual vacations or following completion of all graduate coursework excluding master's thesis project. The work is limited to 20 hours per week if you wish to use your OPT while you are still taking a regular full course load or authorized part-time semester. Full time OPT used prior to finishing your degree program will be deducted from your 12 -month limit per degree level. Part time OPT used prior to finishing your degree program will be deducted at one-half the time used from your 12-month limit per level. Before selecting this option, please meet with your Academic Advisor and the Co-op Internship Director to see if Curricular Practical Training is an alternative that is open to you.

Authorization May Not Be Rescinded

Once authorization to engage in OPT is granted, it may not easily be rescinded or cancelled. This means that, after practical training is authorized by the USCIS, unexpected delays in completing degree requirements, inability to find an appropriate job or loss of a job may result in loss of otherwise eligible time to work. Once permission to work has been given, it is gone regardless of subsequent occurrences. If you have never worked using your OPT and wish to cancel the authorized time prior to the start date of the card, please meet with the DSO to discuss this option.

Actual Date Practical Training Employment May Begin

You may not begin work until the following requirements are satisfied:
  • You have obtained an EAD card (Employment Authorization Document) from the USCIS
  • The date is reached when the EAD authorizes employment to begin.
You may not begin working until you have received you EAD card and it is valid!

Change of  Employer After OPT Has Been Authorized

You may change employers after you have begun authorized employment provided the new job is:
  1. directly related to your major field of study and
  2. appropriate for someone having your level of education.
Show your EAD card to your new employer when you fill out form I-9 within 3 days of hire.

Working at More Than One Job

During your authorized full time OPT period, you may have more than one job as long as all jobs meet the requirements of being directly related to your major field of study and appropriate for someone having your level of education. During a part-time OPT period, your total employment is limited to 20 hours per week.

Travel Outside the US

Students in OPT are still in F-1 status and must present:
  1. Form I-20, endorsed for travel by an International Student Advisor within the last six month and
  2. The Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and
  3. a valid F-1 visa (if required).
Be sure to consult with the DSO when contemplating travel outside of the U.S. during the time when an OPT application is pending and you have completed your degree requirements.

Change of Address Requirements

The immigration laws require all F-1 students to notify their school within 10 days of a change of address. This rule applies to all F-1 students, including those in their OPT period following degree completion. Notify the Registrar's Office of any change in your local address or home country address.

Termination of Practical Training

Your OPT will automatically be terminated if you transfer to another school or begin study at another education level. Your OPT will automatically be terminated if you change your non-immigration status to another category (such as H-1B). Please notify the International Affairs Office if you end your OPT prior to your authorized end date.
Last Update: April 09 2009
For additional information, contact: Robert Henderson