Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Application Package

Optional practical training (OPT) is temporary employment that is directly related to the student's academic program. The work done does not count towards credit, therefore it is the student’s option to engage in employment.

The basic OPT application process consists of a DSO recommendation in SEVIS, the production of a new Form I-20, and the student's filing of Form I-765 with fee, the OPT I-20, and other supporting documentation with USCIS.

I-765 for Standard OPT

To request an I-20 with OPT Recommendation, you will need to submit the following documents to ISSO:

Completed Form I-765

Application for OPT (Includes the Academic Advisors Recommendation Form and the OPT Waiver Form)

Providing these items to ISSO will allow the DSO to process your request for an I-20 with OPT Recommendation. When your request has been processed, we will send you an email to collect your I-20. When you come to ISSO, you will receive your new I-20 as well as an instructions page on how to submit your OPT application to USCIS.

If you have any questions regarding the OPT application or the process of submitting your application, please feel free to stop by ISSO. Our student assistants and staff are here to assist you. If you would like your COMPLETED application and supporting documents reviewed, our student assistants can review them for you. HOWEVER, ISSO is not responsible for incomplete applications or any errors on your application. It is your responsibility to complete your own application.

Quick-reference: Characteristics of F-1 optional practical training (OPT)

Preconditions

  • Student must have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis at a DHS-approved school for one full academic year before being eligible for OPT. Available both before and after completion of the educational objective, but different rules apply to pre- and post-completion OPT. Students in English language training programs are not eligible for OPT. OPT must be “directly related to the student’s major area of study.”

Location

  • Students may engage in OPT for any employer for the duration of OPT authorization, as long as the employment qualifies under OPT standards.

Duration

  • Standard OPT is available for a cumulative maximum of 12 months per educational level.
  • A one-time extension of 24 months (for a total of 36 months) is available to certain STEM degree recipients.

Hours per week

  • 20 hours/week limit for pre-completion OPT done while school is in session and student still has coursework to complete.
  • Full-time employment can be requested for pre-completion OPT done during official school breaks, and for students who have completed all requirements for their degree except for thesis or dissertation.
  • For post-completion OPT, according to SEVP guidance a student must be adequately employed to avoid limits on unemployment.

Field / level of work

  • Must be directly related to the student's course of study.
Offer of employment
  • No offer of employment is required to apply for standard OPT, but the student is expected to work during the OPT EAD validity period. Students on post-completion OPT are limited to a maximum of 90 days of unemployment.
  • To apply for a 24-month STEM extension, student must have an offer of employment from an employer registered with E-Verify.

Effect on other work

  • Prior use of full-time Curricular Practical Training for one year or more eliminates eligibility for Optional Practical Training.

Approval Process

  • DSO recommends OPT in SEVIS.
  • Student files I-765 application for EAD with USCIS Lockbox Facility.
  • Work can begin only after receiving EAD issued by USCIS, and on or after the start date on the EAD.
  • Special rules govern applications for the 24-month STEM OPT extension.

Miscellaneous

  • If doing pre-completion OPT, must maintain a full course of study during the period of employment (unless done during school breaks).
  • Degree candidates that have completed all coursework must continue to make normal progress towards completing the thesis or dissertation required for their degree.

Note: F-1 students with approved employment authorization (OPT) from USCIS Service Center must present their EAD card when applying for a social security card.

Types of activity that constitute employment while on OPT

The following activities are considered allowable employment on both pre-completion and standard post-completion OPT, provided that the job is directly related to the student's program of study. While a student engages in such activity during a period of post-completion OPT, he or she is not considered "unemployed":

  • Regular paid employment in a position directly related to the student's program of study.
    • For post-completion OPT, the work must be for at least 20 hours per week
    • Students may work for multiple employers, as long as it is directly related to the student's program of study.
  • Payment by multiple short-term multiple employers. SEVP says that "Students, such as musicians and other performing artists, may work for multiple short term employers (gigs). The student should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration. The student should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration."
  • Work for hire. SEVP says, "This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by DHS, students should be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company."
  • Self-employed business owner. SEVP says, "Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed.The student should be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to his or her degree program."
  • Employment through an agency. SEVP says, "Students on post-completion OPT must be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency."
  • Volunteers or unpaid interns. SEVP says, "Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this practice does not violate any labor laws. The work should be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. A student should be able to provide evidence, acquired from the student's employer, to verify that he or she worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment."
  • Note that a volunteer position or unpaid internship would be a valid option for someone who otherwise might not meet the minimum employment requirement.

For additional information regarding OPT requirements, refer to USCIS web site at: http://www.uscis.gov/OPT