About Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Overview

OPT (Optional Practical Training) is a benefit available to international students in F-1 immigration status who are enrolled in, or completing, a degree program in the United States. This employment can be used:

  • Before completion of studies during an annual vacation or leave term
  • After completion of studies.

Completion of studies is defined as the actual date that you complete all requirements for a program of study (such as the date of your final exams, or submission of your thesis or dissertation). It is not automatically considered to be the date of graduation ceremonies.

Eligibility

F-1 students who have been enrolled in valid F-1 student status for a minimum of nine months are eligible to apply to U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) for up to 12 months of OPT work authorization.

Types of OPT

  • Pre-completion - working before graduation (c)(3)(A)
  • Post-completion - working after graduation (c)(3)(B)
  • OPT STEM extension available to Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math students hired by an employer registered with the government's E-Verify Program. Review the STEM Designated Degree Programs to see if your degree is eligible.

Employment must be directly related to your field of study and appropriate to the level of education. You do not need a job offer before applying for OPT, and your job may be anywhere in the United States. You may also change jobs during the course of your OPT period.

Length of Authorization

The initial post-completion period for which students can apply is 12 months, less any OPT time used pre-completion. The requested employment start date must be within 60 days after the end of the program. The employment authorization will begin on the date requested or the date the employment authorization is approved, whichever is later.

Exception: The employment authorization period for the 24-month STEM OPT extension begins on the day after the expiration of the initial post-completion OPT employment authorization, and ends 24 months later, regardless of the date the actual extension is approved.

In two instances, it may be possible to extend the period of OPT.

  • In the first case, you must hold a STEM degree (Science, Technology, Engineering or Math), be hired by an employer enrolled in the E-Verify government program, and will have to apply for the 24-month extension on Form I-765 with a fee. Students who file an application for the 24-month OPT extension in a timely manner will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending, until a final decision on the I-765 or for 180 days, whichever comes first.
     
  • In the second case, the extension of status and work authorization is automatic for students who have a filed and pending H-1B petition.

OPT may be used in "increments" during an annual vacation term before completion of studies, but after completion of studies it may only be used as a single block of time. Once you apply for OPT and complete your program of study, the OPT work eligibility is either used or it is not. There is no recapture of unused OPT time.

If you begin a new degree program at a higher level (e.g. Bachelor to Masters or Masters to Ph.D.), you may be eligible for an additional 12-month period of OPT.

Unemployment

Limited unemployment time is allowed during post-completion OPT and STEM OPT.

  • Post-Completion OPT: Students can accrue no more than 90 days of unemployment, which is cumulative.
     
  • STEM OPT: Students can accrue no more than 150 days of unemployment, which is cumulative, and includes the post-completion OPT unemployment time.

Volunteer work and unpaid internships on OPT

Volunteering and participation in an unpaid internship can be considered employment for purposes of the initial 12-month period of F-1 post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT), and can be reported in SEVIS as valid OPT employment.  The volunteer or training opportunity must comply with applicable federal and state labor laws.

Volunteering does not mean working without pay. Volunteering is donating time with an organization whose primary purpose is charitable or humanitarian in nature, without any kind of remuneration. The Department of Labor website contains resources on what constitute legitimate volunteer activities.

The Department of Labor applies a set of criteria when evaluating whether an activity constitutes a legitimate unpaid internship.

Engaging in activities that would be considered employment, without the appropriate work authorization, is a violation of your immigration status, and could threaten your ability to remain in the U.S., and to obtain future U.S. immigration benefits. If you have questions about a proposed activity, consult with your OVIS advisor before accepting an opportunity.