Overview

F-1 students studying at colleges, universities, conservatories, or seminaries may qualify for optional practical training, which allows them to engage in temporary employment to gain practical experience in their field of study.

Eligibility

An F-1 student could be eligible for two kinds of Optional Practical Training:

1.   Pre-Completion OPT, prior to the completion of all coursework excluding thesis or dissertation credits:

  • You have been enrolled as a full-time student in valid F-1 status on the same SEVIS record for at least one academic year.
  • Your proposed experience (internship, work, practicum, etc.) is directly related to your major field of study.
  • You will not be working more than 20 hours per week while school is in session.

 

2.   Post-Completion OPT, after the completion of all necessary coursework excluding thesis or dissertation credits:

  • You have been lawfully enrolled as a full-time student in valid F-1 status on the same SEVIS record for at least one academic year.
  • Your proposed experience (internship, work, practicum, etc.) is directly related to your major field of study.
  • You will be working up to 40 hours per week.

Exceptions

  • English language students are not eligible for OPT.
  • A student who has used full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) for one full year (12 months) is ineligible for OPT.

General Guidelines

  • You may work anywhere in the United States.
  • OPT permission is for 12 months of employment. Students who are enrolled in a Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) major are eligible for 24 month extension (please see the STEM guide for more information).
  • Employment must be full time (more than 20 hours per week and up to 40 hours per week).
  • You do not need a job offer before applying for OPT.
  • The OPT start date must be no later than 60 days after graduation (program completion).

 To Apply

  1. If you are applying for post-completion OPT, make sure that you have officially registered for graduation or can demonstrate that you are enrolled in only thesis or dissertation hours. If you do not end up graduating as planned, you are still responsible for maintaining your status on OPT and finishing your coursework during your OPT validity period.
     
  2. Prepare the following documents:
    1. A copy of your passport biographical page
    2. A copy of your most recent U.S. visa
    3. An original check or money order, made out to "U.S. Department of Homeland Security" for $410 Note: DO NOT sign the back of your check/money order
    4. A copy of your I-94 number printout, found here.
    5. Two recent 2" x 2" passport-style photos, taken within the last 30 days, with I-94 number written in pencil on the back
    6. The completed Form I-765, found here.
    7. A copy of any previous EAD cards, if you have received one before
    8. A job offer letter, if you have already been offered a job
       
  3. Complete the OPT Request Form.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Early in your final semester of study is the best time to apply for OPT. Applications may be completed no earlier than 90 days prior to the chosen OPT start date. Applications must be completed no later than the last day of the 60 day grace period after program completion.

The estimated time from application to receipt of the EAD card is approximately 90 days or three months.

No. You are able to apply for OPT without having any job offer ready. You are given time to look for a job while on OPT, because you are allowed 90 days of unemployment during the 1- year OPT authorization period.

No. You must physically have your EAD card in your hand in order to report to work. You are allowed to interview, accept a position, and complete any paperwork before you have an EAD card, but you may not actually report to work until you have the EAD card, even if your requested OPT start date has passed.

Yes, but it is not recommended. When your OPT application is PENDING (meaning we have mailed your application but have not received an EAD card), you may travel outside the United States and you may return before your program end date. If your OPT is APPROVED, you must present the EAD card and a job offer letter at the U.S. port of entry.You should not travel outside the US while after your program end date if your OPT application is still pending.

Since you need to physically show your EAD card and a job offer letter at the U.S. port of entry, and since the EAD card will be mailed to the U.S. address listed on Form I-765, we do not recommend traveling internationally while an OPT application is pending. However, if you receive the card and offer while outside of the U.S., we recommend having the items sent to you wherever you are outside of the U.S.

Any employment, internship, or other practical training experience you accept while on OPT must be directly related to your major field of study. For example, a computer science major must work, volunteer, or intern in a position directly related to computer science. For it to be counted as employment, you must work at least 20 hours per week.

A student with a pending OPT application is allowed to remain in the United States even after the end of the grace period, as long as the application was filed before the grace period ended.

You are allowed 90 days of unemployment during your OPT authorization period (between the dates listed on your EAD card). If you exceed 90 days of unemployment, your OPT authorization ends.

You must report your employment or internship details to ISSS within 10 days of your employment start date.

Bring the RFE to an ISSS advisor, or email it to us. We will help you prepare the required documents and respond to the RFE.