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Optional Practical Training (OPT) & STEM Extension

About OPT
Types of OPT Employment
Eligibility Requirements
-completion OPT Regulations

Post-completion OPT Regulations
Applying for OPT
OPT Denied
Employment Start Date
Reporting Requirements during approved OPT

RESOURCE: SEVP Employer Data - Top 200 Employers for OPT

About OPT

F-1 students studying at colleges, universities, conservatories, or seminaries may qualify for practical training, which allows them to engage in temporary employment to gain practical experience in their field of study. All Optional Practical Training (OPT) must be directly related to the student's course of study. Students may have up to twelve months of OPT at each educational level (Associate's, Bachelor's, Master's, etc.), with the exception of students who qualify for the 24-month STEM extension. You do not need an offer of employment to apply for OPT.

There are three types of OPT for which F-1 students may apply:

Pre-completion: OPT authorized prior to a student's program end date - learn more.

Post-completion: OPT authorized after a student's program end date - learn more.

STEM: Applies only to certain students whose programs of study are in the area of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and have an approved STEM CIP code. Begins after post-completion OPT ends - learn more

Eligibility Requirement

Students who have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for at least nine months, do not have 12 months total of full-time CPT and have not used all 12 months of OPT for the current educational level are eligible to apply for OPT.

Pre-Completion OPT

Students who have not yet completed the one full academic year requirement may file for pre-completion OPT no earlier than 90 days before meeting that requirement, so long as the employment start date requested is on or after the date that the student meets the one full academic year requirement.

If the student has already completed the one full academic year requirement, s/he may apply for pre-completion OPT up to 90 days in advance of the requested employment start date.

While school is in session, OPT may not exceed 20 hours per week. Students may engage in pre-completion OPT on a full-time basis while school is not in session (i.e. during regularly scheduled breaks). Part- or full-time employment may be requested for pre-completion OPT for students who have completed all requirements for their degree except for thesis or dissertation. However, these students must continue to make normal progress towards completing the thesis or dissertation required for their degree.

If a student participates in pre-completion OPT, that time period will count against the 12-month total and reduce the post-completion OPT time available. Additionally, if a student exceeds a cumulative of 12 months of full-time CPT over the course of his/her program of study, s/he will no longer be eligible for OPT.

Learn how to apply for pre-completion OPT.

Post-Completion OPT

A student may engage in post-completion OPT after completing his/her program of study, or after completing all course requirements for the degree (excluding thesis/dissertation). A student must be adequately employed to avoid limits of unemployment (90 calendar days).

For standard post-completion OPT, the Form I-765 must be received by the USCIS Service Center no earlier than 90 days before the program end date, and no later than 60 days after the program end date. The Form I-765 must be received by the USCIS Service Center no later than 30 days after the DSO submits the OPT recommendation in SEVIS.

For standard post-completion OPT, a student may not request a start date that is more than 60 days after the student's program end date. Additionally, all standard post-completion OPT must be completed within 14 months of the completion of study. Thus, the end date for post-completion OPT will be the earliest of:

  • The requested end date
  • The date on which the student's remaining allotment of OPT expires
  • 14 months after the student's program end date

Learn how to apply for post-completion OPT.

Types of OPT Employment

The following types of activities are allowable employment on both pre-completion and post-completion OPT, provided that the job is directly related to the student's program of study.

Regular Paid Employment: 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: Students, such as musicians and other performing artists, may work for multiple short-term employers (gigs). Students should maintain a list of gigs with the dates and duration.

Work for Hire: This is commonly referred to as 1099 employment, where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested, the student should be able to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.

Self-Employed Business Owner: Students on OPT may start a business or be self-employed. The student should be able to prove that he/she has the proper business license and is actively engaged in a business related to his/her degree program.

Employment through an Agency: The student should provide evidence showing that he/she worked an average of 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.

Volunteers or Unpaid Interns: The student should be able to provide evidence, acquired by the student's employer, to verify that s/he worked at least 20 hours per week during the employment period. The exception to this exists for the 24-month STEM extension, where work must be paid employment.

Applying for OPT

USCIS processes all applications for OPT. See sections on pre- and post-completion OPT for application start and end dates. Applications received by USCIS before or after this period will be denied and fees will not be refunded.

Gather and submit the following documents to the International Student Advisor:

  • I-20 with OPT recommendation
  • Copies of previous Employment Authorization Documents (EADs)
  • Documentation from academic advisor indicating your current academic status and expected date of completion of studies (Please note that USCIS does not view the graduation ceremony as completion of studies; completion of studies means completion of coursework (non-thesis majors) or the date the final thesis has been submitted.)
  • Complete Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, marked with the proper code at item 20:
    • (c)(3)(A) for pre-completion OPT
    • (c)(3)(B) for post-completion OPT
  • U.S. check or money order for the Form I-765 filing fee, made payable to "U.S. Department of Homeland Security" (Refer to the Form I-765 instructions for the exact amount of the filing fee.)
  • Two identical immigration-style photos
  • Copy of Form I-94 (both sides) or printout of electronic I-94 (I-94 retrieval tips)

The International Student Advisor will review all of the documents and make a recommendation for OPT. You will receive a new I-20 with the OPT recommendation on page two. You will mail to the USCIS Service Center. Expect to wait up to three months to find out if your OPT has been approved.

OPT Denial

Bring the denial letter to International Student Advisor. Depending on the reason for denial, it may be possible to send additional information, appeal a decision, or re-apply.

Employment Start Date

You cannot begin OPT employment until the start date indicated on the employment authorization document (EAD) issued by USCIS. Learn more about the types of Employment permitted on OPT.

Unemployment during OPT period

Students who are authorized to participate in post-completion OPT may not have more than 90 cumulative calendar days of unemployment. The STEM extension allows an additional 60 days of unemployment. Learn more about the types of Employment permitted on OPT.

Reporting Requirements during periods of approved OPT

You may report updates to personal and employer information to the DSO or the SEVP Portal.

Pre-Completion: Provide employer information (see below)

Post-Completion: Current address and employer information (see below)

STEM Extension: (see STEM Extension website)

Employer Information to report to DSO while on OPT

Required Information

  • Explain how employment is related to student's course of study (Max 1000 characters)
  • Employer Name
  • Start Date
  • Schedule
    • Full Time: more than 20 hours/week
    • Part Time: 20 or less hours/week
  • Employer Address
    • Street Address
    • Suite/Apt #
    • Other Address Information (if applicable)
    • City
    • State
    • Zip Code

Recommended Information

  • Employer EIN (Highly Recommended)
  • Job Title
  • End Date
  • Supervisor Information
    • Last Name
    • First Name
    • Telephone Number
    • Telephone extension
    • Email Address