Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional practical training (OPT) is another type of practical training available to nonimmigrant students. It differs from CPT in the following ways:
- OPT is not an integral part of a student’s academic program
- OPT requires DHS adjudication
Topic 1: Optional Practical Training for F-1 Students
OPT is available to F-1 students while completing their program of study or upon completion of their program of study. This webpage outlines the basic guidelines for F-1 OPT and provides information on the employment authorization process.
General F-1 Student OPT Guidelines
F-1 students can participate in OPT that is directly related to their major area of study while they are enrolled in school (pre-completion) and upon completion of their program of study (post completion). Certain students are also eligible for a 24-month extension of post-completion OPT. This extension for STEM majors is covered in greater detail in Topic 2.
As is the case with CPT, students must be enrolled full time for a full academic year before being eligible for OPT — there is no exception to this requirement. However, F-1 students can apply for pre-completion OPT as early as 90 days prior to completion of a full academic year.
Specific guidelines for OPT are as follows:
- A student can participate in a total of 12 months of OPT at each education level.
- Certain students are eligible for a 24-month extension of post-completion OPT.
- Part-time work counts toward the maximum 12 months at one-half the rate of full-time employment.
- OPT does not count as part of a nonimmigrant student’s required full-time course load.
- A student may work up to 20 hours per week when classes are in session.
- A student may work more than 20 hours per week when classes are not in session.
- A student does not need to have a job offer to be authorized for OPT.
- A student is limited to an aggregate of 90 days of unemployment during post-completion OPT and 120 days of unemployment if granted the 24-month extension.
OPT Application Process
As previously indicated, a student must be enrolled full time for one full academic year to be eligible for OPT but may apply for employment authorization as early as 90 days prior to completion of a full academic year. In calculating the required one full academic year needed to be eligible for OPT, students can include time spent in other programs of study, if there was no break between the programs.
A student applying for post-completion OPT must submit the application for employment authorization prior to the end of the 60-day grace period after his or her program end date. If a student files the application for employment authorization beyond the grace period, USCIS will deny the application. SEVP recommends that students submit the application for employment authorization as early as possible.
Optional Practical Training (OPT) Student Checklist
The P/DSO is available to assist with OPT applications, but it is ultimately the student’s responsibility to be familiar with all of the OPT regulations and to complete and mail the final OPT application to USCIS.
Submit the following form to the Center for Global Learning (CGL) for processing of the OPT I-20:
- Completed DSO Recommendation Request Form for OPT. (This form is available from the CGL.)
After you receive your OPT I-20 from the CGL, mail the following items to USCIS Service Center.
NOTE: You must file the application with USCIS within 30 days of the date the OPT I-20 was issued. If your OPT I-20 is more than 30 days old and you have not yet filed the application with USCIS, contact the CGL so that the OPT request can be cancelled and then re-issued.
- $380 check or money order made payable to the ‘US Department of Homeland Security’ – not “DHS”
- Two (2) recent passport photos (2 inches by 2 inches) with a white background
- Completed Form I-765. Use blue ink and be sure to sign your name with a blue ink pen.
- Photocopy of your new SEVIS OPT I-20 after it has been endorsed by the CGL
- Photocopies of all other previous I-20s issued to you by Saint Peter’s University or by any other U.S. school you have attended
- Copy of any previous EAD card (both sides), if applicable
- Photocopy of the identity pages of your passport and your current F-1 student visa. Make sure your passport is still valid.
- Photocopy of most recent I-94 document, available from this website.
The student must mail the application to the USCIS Service Center. For residents of NY, NJ, CT, send packet to:
For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Deliveries:
PO Box 660867
Dallas, TX 75266
For UPS, DHL and FedEx deliveries:
2501 S. State Hwy. 121 Business, Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067
After mailing the documents, the student will receive a notice (Form I-797) stating that the application was received and the check was cashed. The average processing time for OPT applications is 60 to 90 days.
NOTE: While a student waits for USCIS approval or denial of the application for employment authorization, the student must still be prepared to leave the United States 60 days after his or her program end date in case the application for employment authorization is denied. It is possible that an application will remain in Pending status with USCIS beyond a student’s 60 day grace period. Should this occur, the student must be prepared to depart the United States immediately if the application is denied.
If a student’s application for employment authorization is approved, the student’s SEVIS record remains in Active status for the duration of the post-completion OPT, plus 60 days. USCIS also sends the student a Form I-766 (EAD) stating the dates the student is approved for OPT. DO NOT LOSE YOUR EAD CARD. If lost, you must reapply and pay $380 for a replacement card.
With the EAD, the student can work without jeopardizing status, as follows:
- Up to 20 hours per week when classes are in session
- More than 20 hours per week when classes are not in session
- More than 20 hours per week during post-completion OPT
If an F-1 student’s application for employment authorization is denied, USCIS sends the student a Notice of Denial. A student cannot work without an approved EAD.
Length of Stay for Students with Post-Completion OPT
An F-1 student is allowed to remain in the United States until the expiration date shown on the EAD plus 60 days to prepare for departure. All OPT must be completed within 14 months of the program end date. This provides a two month buffer to allow for adjudication time. However, if it takes three months after the program end date for USCIS to adjudicate the application, the student will be able to work for only 11 months. In no case will a student be approved to work more than 12 months of OPT.
Students cannot begin work while their application for employment authorization is pending. If USCIS does not approve or deny the application within 90 days, the student should contact USCIS regarding the application.
Students are limited to a period of 90 days of authorized unemployment during the initial 12-month period of post-completion OPT. If a student exceeds the period of authorized unemployment, it is considered a violation of status. If a student does exceed the limit, it could impact his or her eligibility for future immigration benefits or ability to change status.
Topic 2: 24-Month STEM Extension for F-1 Students
F-1 students on a period of post-completion OPT (after earning a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in a science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) field included in the list of designated STEM degrees) may apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion OPT (known as the STEM extension). The list of STEM designated degree programs is found on the SEVP Web site.
In addition to completing a STEM designated degree program, in order to be eligible for the STEM extension, students must have a job or a job offer from an employer registered and in good standing with the DHS E-Verify (referred to as an E-Verify employer). The employer’s E-Verify account information is required on the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, for students applying for the STEM extension. Students will have to complete a Form I-983, with the assistance of their employer, and submit it to the Saint Peter’s P/DSO as part of the STEM extension application.
Student Responsibilities During the STEM Extension
While completing the STEM extension, students must maintain status. This is done by working in a paid position for an E-Verify employer in a related field of study for at least 20 hours per week. Students completing the STEM extension are limited to an aggregate of 120 days of unemployment during the entire period of post-completion OPT (regular post-completion OPT and STEM extension OPT).
A student must report to the PDSO/DSO any change in the following:
- Legal name
- Residential and mailing address
- E-mail address
- Employer name
- Employer address
- Job title or position
- Supervisor name and contact information
- Employment start-date
- Employment end-date
The student must also report to the P/DSO every six months, confirming the information listed on the I-983; even if there have been no changes.
The application process for the 24-month STEM extension is similar to the application process for normal OPT, with the addition of the Form I-983. A student applying for the extension must submit the application for employment authorization prior to the end of his or her approved period of post-completion OPT. If a student files the application after the end of post-completion OPT, USCIS will deny the application. SEVP recommends that students submit the application for employment authorization as early as possible. USCIS will accept the application up to 120 days prior to the requested employment start date.
To apply for the OPT STEM extension, please contact the Center for Global Learning.
Students must file the application for the extension prior to the end of their post-completion OPT. Students who file their STEM extension applications with USCIS in a timely manner may continue working while their applications are pending for 180 days or the date of the decision, whichever is earlier. This interim extension minimizes disruptions in employment.
If a student’s application for employment authorization is approved, the student’s SEVIS record remains in Active status for the duration of the OPT extension, plus 60 days. USCIS also sends the student an EAD. With the EAD, the student can work without jeopardizing status.
If an F-1 student’s application for employment authorization is denied, USCIS sends the student a Notice of Denial.
Topic 3: Automatic Cap-Gap Extension of OPT
Many employers file H-1B petitions on behalf of F-1 students after the student’s post-completion OPT expires.
Under USCIS regulations, an employer cannot file, and USCIS cannot approve, an H-1B petition submitted earlier than six months before the date of actual need for the beneficiary’s services or training. As a result, the earliest date that an employer can file an H-1B petition for consideration under the next fiscal year cap is April 1, for an October 1 employment start date. If that H-1B petition and the accompanying change of status request are approved, the earliest date that a student may start approved H-1B employment is October 1.
The automatic Cap-Gap rule automatically extends the duration of status and any employment authorization for post-completion OPT for an F-1 student who is the beneficiary of a pending or approved H-1B petition and request for change of status to October 1.
The cap-gap extension is automatic. Students do not need to file an application for employment authorization for this period. Accordingly, students do not receive an EAD for the cap-gap extension of OPT. Students can receive an updated Form I-20 from the P/DSO to show the extension of OPT through the cap gap.
For more details see the OPT guidance on the SEVP Web site.