Optional Practical Training
Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorizes an F-1 student to engage in practical training for up to one year, generally following the completion of studies. OPT is authorized by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Processing times vary, but you should anticipate at least 3 months upon receipt of the OPT application by USCIS before you receive employment authorization. We strongly recommend applying for OPT 90 days prior to your degree completion.
Every quarter, ISSS offers workshops to explain eligibility and the application process for Optional Practical Training. Please visit the Events page for dates and times.
Eligibility for OPT
In general, you must meet the following criteria in order to be eligible for OPT:
- You are currently in valid F-1 status.
- You have been enrolled full-time in F-1 status for at least one academic year.
- You have not completed a higher degree level in the U.S.;
- You have not previously been approved for 12 months of OPT at the current degree level or higher degree level;
- You have not completed more than a year of full-time CPT at the current degree level or higher degree level
- You have or will complete an undergraduate, Master's, doctoral, or professional degree program.
You may apply for OPT for each higher degree level that you complete in the U.S.. For immigration purposes, the primary degree levels are undergraduate, Master's, and doctoral. If you complete more than one degree at the same degree level, you may only apply for OPT once for that level.
You may apply for OPT as early as 90 days before your anticipated completion of studies date and as late as the final day of your 60-day grace period following the completion of your program. We strongly recommend applying as early as possible to ensure you receive your employment authorization in a timely fashion.
To apply for OPT, you must request a recommendation from ISSS. Your complete OPT application will be forwarded to USCIS for processing. To request a recommendation, submit the following documents to ISSS:
You may not begin working until you have received an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS and it is at least the start date indicated on the document. Your employment authorization begins on the date listed on the EAD and is only valid until the end date indicated on the document. You may not begin working until the start date or after the end date.
Appropriate Forms of Employment
OPT authorizes a student to engage in practical training directly related to the major field of study. You should speak to your academic advisor or employment supervisor to determine whether the employment is appropriate for your degree program. Neither International Student and Scholar Services nor USCIS directly monitors the appropriateness of your employment. However, immigration officers may review your employment history if you apply for other immigration benefits in the future.
Immigration regulations now specifically state that a student's F-1 status is dependent upon engaging in qualifying practical training while on OPT. In order to qualify as practical training, the employment must be for at least 20 hours per week. Employment may be paid or unpaid. Volunteer work may qualify as practical training, provided it meets the minimum hours per week requirement and is appropriate for your major field of study.
While on OPT, you must continue to meet certain reporting requirements in order to maintain your F-1 status. You must report the following information within 10 days to ISSS:
- Change of residential or mailing address including phone number or email address
- Change of legal name
- Change of immigration status
- Start of employment
- End of employment
- Permanent departure from the United States