F1 Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary permission to work in the United States in order to gain additional knowledge about your field of study. OPT employment outside your field of study, or employment not commensurate with your degree level, is prohibited. OPT requires the recommendation of Student Affairs, update of SEVIS, and a work authorization card from the government; however, it does not require you to have a job offer before authorization. OPT may be undertaken:

  • full-time or part-time during vacation periods;
  • part-time (20 hours/week max) during spring or fall semester, with full-time enrollment;
  • full-time or part-time after completing all formal class requirements(excluding independent study, thesis, and dissertation hours); and
  • full-time (not part-time) after completion of your study program.

Eligibility: To be eligible to apply for OPT, you must
be in F1 status and in good academic standing at the time of application;
have been attending a SEVIS school full-time for one full academic year (nine months);
not have engaged in 12 months or more of Curricular Practical Training; and
not have completed your program nor gone beyond your I-20 end date.

Time limits: You are permitted a total of 12 months of OPT per degree level. For example, if you take three months of OPT in one of your summers, only nine months of eligibility will remain at the end of your program. However, if you advance to a higher educational level, you will be eligible to apply for another 12 months of OPT at that next level. If you finish an M.S. and use your 12 months of OPT, for example, and then continue into a Ph.D. program, you will be eligible for another 12 months of OPT as part of your Ph.D. program.

However, if you finish an M.S., take your 12 months of OPT, then start a second master’s degree, you will not be eligible for further OPT as part of your second M.S. program. If your plan is to complete two M.S. degrees sequentially, and you want to engage in OPT based on each degree, you might consider applying for just six months of OPT based on the first degree, leaving the other six months to be used later based on the second degree.

Part-time OPT counts half-time toward the 12-month limit. For example, if you use four months of part-time OPT during your study program, two months will be deducted from your 12-month total, leaving only 10 months for use after you complete the program.

Procedures: Discuss your plan thoroughly with Student Affairs. If possible, make sure your passport is valid and will be valid at least six months into the future. Obtain an OPT packet of forms from Stduent Affairs three to five months ahead of the date you wish to begin your OPT. Follow the instructions carefully. You will need to get special photos made and obtain a letter from your advisor or department chair, but it usually takes only a few days to get everything together. Make an appointment with Student Affairs to update SEVIS and process your request.

Timing: Deciding when to ask for the start of your OPT is a common problem. The first consideration is that the immigration office must receive your application before you complete your degree program. It is simple to see the end date on your I-20, but for graduate students it is often not easy to predict when you will actually be finished with your program. It may be considerably earlier than your I-20 end date. This is important because the start date of OPT cannot be later than 60 days after your program is actually finished.

The second consideration is that the Texas Service Center is not always able to process the card in a timely manner, often exceeding the benchmark of 90 days. Thus, asking for an OPT start date sooner than 90 days in the future often does no good. It is impossible to predict either how long a card will take or what the actual dates on the card will be. When the application receipt (Form I-797C) arrives, you will know the case number and at least be able to check the BCIS web site to find out whether it is approved. If more than 90 days pass after the notice date on the receipt, you may apply for an interim card at any BCIS office.

Travel: Traveling outside the U.S. after applying for OPT and attempting to re-enter before the EAD is in hand can be risky. If at all possible, you should wait until you have the EAD before traveling. At the very least, you will need a current I-20 endorsed for travel and your application receipt, Form I-797C.

Beginning employment: DON’T begin employment until your card arrives and the actual start date is confirmed. There is no way to know, without seeing the card, what that start date will be. We normally use the Student Affairs address on OPT applications rather than your box number or apartment address in order to avoid losing cards in the mail. Your card will arrive at Student Affairs and be copied for your file. You will be contacted immediately and asked to pick it up or to give us the address where you want it sent. If you are in the process of being hired, we will be glad to fax a clear copy of your card to your employer to speed things along.

Effect of transferring or starting a new educational program in SEVIS: If you transfer to another school, or if you start a new program at another educational level, any current OPT authorization is automatically terminated and you may not continue with OPT at that point.

60-day grace period following OPT: As far as can be ascertained at this writing, those in F1 status who are completing post-studies OPT enjoy a 60-day grace period in which to travel, apply for a change of status, or perhaps obtain an I-20 to begin a new study program.