Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 International Students in the United States

After completing their degree, F-1 students can apply for temporary work and Optional Practical Training (OPT) in their field of study. Those who qualify may apply for up to a year of OPT work authorization either before (pre-completion) or after (post-completion) they finish their academic program (post-completion). On the contrary, any OPT time accrued before degree completion would be deducted from the total OPT time awarded.

OPT category

There can be no unrelated OPT; all work must be relevant to your principal. There are two possible routes to OPT participation for F-1 students:

  • You can apply for pre-completion OPT after one year at an institution approved by the US ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to register F-1 students. You may have been in a status other than F-1 for the entire year to meet the “one full academic year” requirement.

Even though you are eligible for pre-completion OPT, you can work 20 hours or less per week even if you are still in school. When you’re not in school, you can work full-time.

  • After finishing your program of study, you may apply for optional practical training. You must work 20 or more weekly hours throughout your approved post-completion OPT.

The Effect of Prior OPT Employment Authorization on Post-Graduation OPT Requests for the Same Degree Program

If you’ve been granted a year of pre-completion OPT at a reduced workload (20 hours per week), your remaining 6 months of full-time OPT would be cut in half. Upon completing your OPT, you will only be eligible for 6 more months of full-time work permission.

If you have already completed 1 year of full-time (40 hours a week) pre-completion OPT, the remaining time for optional practical training will be decreased by 1 year, equal to 100% of the previously approved year at the same academic level. If this happens, you won’t be able to extend your OPT work permit.

STEM OPT Extension

The STEM OPT extension allows F-1 students to engage in practical training related to their major for an additional 24 months.

Graduates of some STEM degree programs are eligible to request a 24-month extension of their post-graduation OPT work permit if they meet the following requirements:

You can apply for pre-completion OPT after you have spent one academic year at a school approved by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to accept F-1 students (ICE). You didn’t have to be an F-1 for the whole year to meet the “one full academic year” requirement. You could have been in a different status.

The Qualifications for the STEM OPT Extension

If you want to get the 24-month extension, you have to do the following:

  1. Have been approved for Optional Practical Training and be serving a valid post-completion OPT period;
  1. At the time of your STEM OPT extension application, you must have: completed your undergraduate, graduate, or doctorate studies at an institution that is both recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and approved by the SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program).
  • Those with prior experience in STEM fields: An F-1 student currently in 12 months post-completion OPT based on a non-STEM degree but has a STEM degree from a U.S. college or university may be eligible for a STEM OPT extension if they already have a STEM degree. You cannot have previously acquired a STEM OPT extension based on this previous degree, and both must be from accredited and SEVP-certified institutions. Additionally, the internship or apprenticeship must have some connection to the candidate’s prior study in a STEM field.

Suppose you have a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from a U.S. college or university and are currently participating in OPT based on your master’s degree in business administration. In that case, you may be qualified to register for a STEM OPT extension based on your degree if the two degrees are closely related and the OPT employment change is directly related to your bachelor’s degree.

  • In the future, you will receive degrees in STEM fields, including One additional 24-month STEM OPT extension that may be true if you register in a new academic program and acquire another STEM degree at a higher educational level in the future.

The STEM OPT extension granted for a bachelor’s degree in engineering can be used to apply for a second 24-month extension granted for a master’s degree in the same field.

How to Get an OPT

In most cases, you should:

  1. Request that your designated school official (DSO) at your academic institution recommend the OPT. After reviewing your documentation, your DSO will recommend stamping the relevant box on Form I20, Certification of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, and entering the necessary data into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.
  2. To apply for employment authorization with USCIS, you need to file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, together with the appropriate fee and the supporting papers, as outlined in the instructions for the form.
Source: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

After we have approved your Form I-765 and received your Employment Authorization Document, you can start your pre- or post-completion optional practical training (EAD).

Suppose you submit your application for an extension of your STEM OPT promptly and your OPT period ends while your extension application is underway. In that case, we will automatically extend your authorization to work for 180 days. This automatic 180-day extension will end once USCIS has decided whether or not to approve your application for other STEM OPT.

Altering Your Educational Path by Either Attending a New School or Starting Your Studies at a Higher Level

Your permission to work during OPT will end automatically if you transfer to a different school or start studying at a different level. For example, if you have a bachelor’s degree and are creating a master’s program, your permission to work during OPT will end. Your employment authorization document (EAD) will be terminated after the termination date communicated to USCIS by SEVP.

The loss of your authority to participate in optional practical training will come from USCIS terminating your employment authorization document (EAD); nevertheless, as long as you complete all of the requirements for retaining your student status, you will not be affected. Maintaining your student status requires that you refrain from working on an expired OPT authorization document (EAD), as this means that you are no longer permitted to use that OPT EAD to obtain employment in the United States. Working in the United States without the proper authorization can result in severe penalties, such as being expelled from the country and being denied readmission. Additionally, violating the terms of your lawful nonimmigrant status and continuing to reside in the United States could lead to the accumulation of unlawful presence. 

Consult with your DSO if you believe that the termination of your EAD was carried out unfairly, wish to submit a request for the termination of your EAD to be reconsidered, or have any other queries.

Extension of the Cap-gap Provision for F-1 Students Who Have H-1B Petitions That Have certified

If you are an F-1 student who has filed an H-1B petition and a change of status request on time, and if your F-1 status and permission to work will expire before your status changes to H-1B (which usually happens on October 1), you may be eligible for a cap-gap extension. Cap-gap extensions are indeed on a case-by-case basis. For further information, please see our page devoted to the Cap-Gap Extension.