F-1 Optional Practical Training – FAQs
F-1 Optional Practical Training Basics
What is F-1 Optional Practical Training?
Practical training is the opportunity to apply knowledge gained in your degree program to off-campus work in your major field. OPT is authorized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This authorization can take 2 to 3 months to obtain. The maximum amount of time granted to work on F-1 OPT status is 12 months per degree level plus a possible H1B cap gap extension OR a 17 month extension for those who qualify (see below). You may use some or all of the available 12 months of practical training during your course of study (pre-completion OPT) or save the full twelve months to use after you graduate (post-completion OPT).
What are the Eligibility Requirements for F-1 OPT?
To be eligible to apply for optional practical training, you must: (1) have been a full time enrolled student in the U.S. for at least one academic year by the requested start date of your OPT, and (2) be in F-1 status when you apply.
If I complete one degree program, take 12 months of practical training, and then begin a second course of study, am I eligible for an additional 12 months of practical training?
Yes, you are eligible to apply for another 12 month period of Optional Practical Training after changing to a higher degree level. This does not apply to a second degree at the same level.
How can I use OPT while I am still in my program?
You may use OPT while you are still in your degree program as follows: (1) part-time while school is in session, (2) fulltime during annual vacation periods, and/or (3) full-time after you completed all course requirements for the degree and have a thesis requirement remaining. These periods of OPT used before you graduate will be deducted from the total allowable period of 12 months. Part-time OPT will be deducted at one-half the full-time rate.
How long does it take to get authorization for OPT and when should I apply?
Authorization for OPT is granted by USCIS and can take up to 3 months or more to obtain. Therefore we strongly advise that you apply 3 months before the date you wish to start working.
Do I need to have a job to apply for Optional Practical Training?
You do not need to have a job offer before applying for the first 12 months of optional practical training. If your field qualifies you for the STEM extension, you do have to have a job to apply for the extension.
Do I need to have a job while I am on Optional Practical Training?
Yes. The regulations require that you do have employment while on your POST-graduation OPT period. You are only allowed to have a total of 90 days of unemployment in your 12 month period of OPT or 120 days if you apply for and receive the 17 month extension. The job has to be related to your field of study.
Does the job I have while on OPT have to be paid employment, or can it be unpaid?
The employment does NOT have to be paid employment. Therefore, a student who is self-employed (including performance majors with regular "gigs"), interning or volunteering in a position directly related to the academic field would be considered "employed" for the purposes of OPT employment. If you are "self-employed," keep careful records of all the work you do—it is supposed to be at least 20 hours per week. It is your responsibility to maintain records of your employment for OPT for future review in applications to Homeland Security.
Can I begin working before I receive the Employment Authorization Document?
You may not begin employment before you receive your EAD from USCIS; working before practical training has been authorized by the USCIS constitutes illegal employment that will jeopardize your legal status in the U.S.
What are my reporting duties to the ISSS while I am on OPT?
Immigration regulations require that while you are on post-completion OPT, you must report your employment and address information to the Texas Tech University ISSS Office for entry in SEVIS. You can do so in OPT Reporting page.
Can I extend my OPT after the 12 months?
There are two types of extensions available: 1) a 24 month extension for those in certain fields (discussed below) and 2) an "H1B Cap Gap Extension" which extends your work authorization through to the start of your cap subject H1B visa if your OPT ends after your cap subject company has applied for a H1B for you but before the H1B starts on the following October 1st. This cap gap extension is available to all F-1 students using OPT in any field, as long as you have a pending or approved "cap subject" H1B application and the employer applied for in with a request for change of status as part of the application. The extension is automatic, you do not have to do anything at all to get the extension. "Cap Subject" refers to any H1B application that must be counted against the quota on H1B applications.
What do I do when my EAD card expires?
Within 60 days, you must: leave the country, get a new I-20 for a new program of study, or do a Change of Status to a different immigration status
Can I study while on OPT?
You can take classes that are "recreational" in nature. Starting a new program of study with a new I-20 will end your current OPT privileges.
INFORMATION ON THE 24-MONTH "STEM" EXTENSION
What is the 24 month STEM extension of OPT?
The "STEM Extension" allows F-1 students on OPT who have received a degree in the fields listed below, referred to as "STEM" fields (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics), to apply for a one time 24-month extension of their regular 12 month OPT period.
I think I qualify, how do I apply for the 24-month extension?
You can find information on applying for the STEM OPT extension at a our website.
What are the "STEM" fields?
Visit the official list.
Your major as listed on your I-20 needs to match one of the majors on the list in order to qualify for the extension
What is "E-Verify"?
E-Verify is an Internet-based system operated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA). E-Verify is currently free to employers and is available in all 50 states. E-Verify provides an automated link to federal databases to help employers determine employment eligibility of new hires and the validity of their Social Security numbers. More information is available at: www.uscis.gov.
Are there any other requirements while I am on the 24-month extension?
In addition to filling out the OPT report form for changes in address or employment, students on the 24 month extension of OPT will have to complete a report to the school every six months while on the 24 month extension. You can do so in OPT Reporting page.
I applied for my STEM extension but have yet to get my new EAD card and my current EAD card expires soon. Will I have to quit my job and wait until I get the new EAD card?
If their post-completion OPT expires while the 24-month extension application is pending, students who timely filed their STEM extension applications with USCIS will receive an extension of employment authorization after their current employment authorization expires, but for no more than 180 days.
I applied for my STEM extension but have been offered a job with another company. Can I update my application to reflect the new employment?
Yes. However, if the 24-month extension period has started, the employer must also be an E-Verify employer. The student must report the change in employment to his or her DSO. The DSO must update the student's employer information in SEVIS and the student should submit an amended Form I-765 to the appropriate Service Center , providing the new employer's E-Verify number and a copy of the USCIS receipt notice for the first form I-765. A brief letter explaining the submission should also be included. There is no fee associated with submitting the amended form I-765.
TRAVEL and OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING
Now that I've turned in my application, can I travel outside the U.S. while I wait for the card to come?
We strongly encourage students not to travel until they have their EAD card in hand.
What documents do I need to re-enter the U.S. while on OPT?
While on OPT do not travel outside of U.S. borders without your current I-20 signed by your international student counselor, a valid U.S. entry visa, an employment letter, pay stubs, and your EAD card. You must be returning to "resume employment" to be granted re-entry by Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
What if I have applied for the 24 month extension but I have not yet received the card, can I travel out of the U.S.?
USCIS advises that while you are waiting for the approval of the 24 month extension, you should NOT try to re-enter the country until you receive the new OPT card.
The visa stamp in my passport has expired, but I need to travel outside the U.S. while on OPT. Do I need to get a new visa stamp at an embassy?
If you are going to Canada or Mexico, and staying for less than 30 days, you could (with certain limitations) re-enter the U.S. on the same visa through the Automatic Revalidation program.
If you are traveling elsewhere, you will need to go to a U.S. embassy or consulate and seek a new visa stamp, but the risk of denial is much higher in this situation. In such a scenario you should contact an ISSS counselor to discuss your case.
Do I still need a travel signature on my I-20 if I travel outside the country while on OPT?
Yes, while on OPT you need to have a current travel signature for reentry. If you are not in Lubbock, mail the original I-20 to the ISSS office for our signature, leaving plenty of time for mailing delays both ways.