What you need to know about OPT 

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is off-campus employment authorization that lets F-1 students get work experience in their field of study. The amount of work you are permitted is a maximum of 12 months of full-time employment for each higher educational level you pursue in the U.S. You can use it during or after your studies. You can work for any employer, anywhere in the country. 

Think of it as an OPT Bank account: In that account are 12 months of full-time optional practical training for your current program of study. Let's say you'd like to work full-time for three months after your second year in your bachelor’s degree. That’s a three-month withdrawal of full-time employment, leaving you nine months to spend during your third year, you decide to work part-time (less than 20 hour a week) for two semesters or nine months. Since part-time employment counts at half the full-time rate, you’ve made a withdrawal of four and a half months of full-time employment still in your account to use after you graduate. 

If you decide to spend all of your OPT after you complete your degree, you must request all of it at once, that is the full year. You cannot use it in pieces. 

If you decide to go on for your bachelor's degree after completing your OPT for your associate degree, your bank account will be full again with another 12 months available to you.

How can OPT be used?

  • Summer vacation and semester break – either part-time or full-time employment
  • While school is in session – part-time employment only
  • After completion of all course requirements for a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree, excluding the thesis or equivalent – part- or full-time employment
  • After completion of all requirements for the course of study – full-time employment only 

How can you qualify?

  • You must have been enrolled full-time for at least one academic year.
  • You must be able to describe how the type of work you are seeking directly relates to your major. You do not have to have a job offer to apply for OPT. If you are applying for before-completion-of-studies OPT, however, it is wise that you be as sure as possible of a job so that you don't waste any of your OPT "account."
  • If you are seeking post-completion-of-studies OPT, your department must certify the date that you are expected to complete your program of study. You may apply for post-completion of your studies OPT up to three months before completing your program of study, but not later than 60 days after. If you apply within the 60-day period after completion, you are likely not to receive your full 12-month OPT benefit due to USCIS processing times.
  • You cannot already have used 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training. 

How do you apply?

Pick up an Application for F-1 Optional Practical Training Employment recommendation, fill it out and return it to us. When you return it, we will review your application to make sure it is complete and that you qualify. If everything is in order, we will issue a new Form I-20 recommending your OPT and contact you to come pick your application. When you pick up your application, we will provide you with instruction on how to submit your application to USCIS and track its progress. 

How long does it take?

After your application is filed at USCIS, plan that it will take about three months for your EAD (Employment Authorization Document) to be returned to us from USCIS. It could take less or more time, depending on their work load and any security clearances. If it takes longer than 90 days, you may request "expeditious handling" of your application. 

It’s important to take USCIS processing time into consideration when planning the date you want to start working! You cannot begin to work until you have your EAD card.

Can I travel before starting post-completion-of-studies OPT?

Contact your international student advisor before making any travel plans if your OPT is still pending USCIS authorization. DHS regulations require that you have your EAD card and a job or job offer to return to the U.S.

Study and Post-Completion OPT

DHS regulations state that "Authorization to engage in Optional Practical Training employment is automatically terminated when the student transfers to another school or begins study at another educational level." Therefore, you should not continue your U.S. studies until after your OPT has ended.