Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT) provides an opportunity to apply theoretical knowledge obtained in an academic program to a practical work experience. This employment opportunity must be directly related to your major field of study. It may, in certain circumstances, be full- or part-time and may take place anywhere in the U.S. You may apply to use OPT during your vacation periods, during the academic year, or when you complete your studies.
Students who are in F-1 status and have been enrolled full-time for at least one full academic year are eligible for Optional Practical Training:
- After completion of a course of study
- During the summer or over winter break
- The regular academic year (on part time basis, deducted from the 12 month maximum at a proportional rate)
Application Time Frame
You may apply for OPT no sooner than 90 days before graduation/ completion of your program, and as late as 60 days following graduation/ program completion; however, make sure that Homeland Security receives your OPT application in the mail before the 60 days period is over. Please keep in mind that it might take USCIS up to 3 months to process your application. It is highly recommended you that you apply 90 days before your graduation.
The Difference Between OPT and CPT
CPT permits employment before completion of required credits only. CPT also requires the offer of specific job. Please note that you are eligible to apply for OPT as long as you do not have full-time CPT for a total of 12 months.
- Complete the Request for OPT Application Form.
- Schedule an appointment with the Global Education Office and bring the following items:
- The completed Request for OPT Application Form
- The completed I-765 form
When you meet with your international students adviser, he/she will issue you your new I-20 with the OPT authorization on page 2. OPT processing time is two business days. It is your responsibility to make sure that your information is up to date and correct.
If you change your address before your receipt and/or EAD card are issued, you must notify USICS. You are also required to inform the Global Education Office.
Traveling Outside the U.S. if You Have OPT or Have Applied for OPT
In order to re-enter the U.S. after you have applied for OPT, you must have your I-20 signed by an International Programs adviser within the last six months, a valid F-1 visa, a valid passport and your EAD card. As of January 2005, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has also indicated the following:
- Condition 1: If your OPT is approved and you are employed or have been offered employment, you should be able to re-enter the U.S. with the documents mentioned above, PLUS a letter from your employer confirming that you are or will be employed there under OPT.
- Condition 2: If your OPT application is still pending when you wish to re-enter the U.S., you will be allowed to re-enter to look for employment. In case your OPT is approved while you are outside the U.S., the Global Education Office strongly recommends that on the day you are to leave the U.S. you go to the website egov.uscis.gov/cris/caseStatusSearchDisplay.do where you can enter the receipt number (3 letters and 11-14 digits) from your Notice of Action and print a statement showing the OPT application is still pending as of that date. Be sure to have this with you when you come through the Port of Entry.
- Condition 3: If your OPT application has been approved and you leave the U.S. before finding a job, your OPT will be considered canceled and you may NOT be allowed to re-enter the U.S.
What if I cannot find a job?
As of April 2008, this will be a problem. Under new OPT rules, students on OPT cannot accrue more than 90 cumulative days of unemployment during the 12-month period of OPT. If you accumulate 90 days of unemployment, your legal F-1 status ends and you need to make arrangements to leave the U.S., start a new degree program, or change to a different status.
If I apply for OPT and then decide not to use it, can I get my OPT time back?
If the USCIS has not yet issued your EAD, you may request to withdraw your application. If the EAD card has been issued, it is NOT possible to cancel.
Reporting Information to the Global Education Office
The new USCIS regulations that took effect January 1, 2003 require you to remain in contact with the Global Education Office. Changes to any of the following must be reported within 10 days of the event:
- Changes in name or residential/mailing address. In order to do this, you must complete AR-11 Change of Address Form
- Report your employer’s name, address, and supervisor’s e-mail within 10 days of any changes or new employment
- Report changes to another immigration status
- If you will leave your OPT employment before your OPT end date
- Notify the Global Education Office if you change your email address and phone number throughout the term of OPT
How long can I stay in the U.S. after the end date of OPT?
You have a 60-day grace period after the end of OPT. You are not authorized to work nor can you leave and re-enter the U.S. on F-1 status during the grace period.
What if I have applied for an H-1B on April 1 but my OPT will end before October 1?
Duration of status and work authorization will be automatically extended for a student on OPT who meets the following criteria:
- Your employer filed your H-1B application on April requesting an employment start date of October 1 of the same year
- Your employer requests a “change of status” to H-1B and NOT “consular processing”
- You have otherwise followed F-1 regulations
This automatic “H-1B gap coverage” applies to all students on OPT. This means that even if your OPT ends before October 1, you will be able to remain in the U.S. and continue working for the same employer who filed the H-1B for you until your H-1B becomes effective on October 1.