Optional Practical Training (OPT) provides temporary employment to eligible F-1 students to gain real world experience in their major area of study. Eligible students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization before completing their academic studies (pre-completion) and/or after completing their academic studies (post-completion). However, all periods of pre-completion OPT will be deducted from the available period of post-completion OPT.

In order to participate in the OPT, the foreign students must have the recommendation in SEVIS from their Designated School Official (DSO). Then the students must apply for the work permit with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). If the OPT is approved, USCIS will issue an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). The student must not begin working before the start date on the EAD.

Types of OPT

  • Pre-completion OPT: The F-1 students may apply to participate in pre-completion OPT if they have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year at a college, university, conservatory, or seminary that has been certified by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to enroll F-1 students. The students may work (20 hours or less per week) while school is in session in pre-completion OPT. They may work full time when school is not in session.
  • Post-completion OPT: The F-1 students may apply to participate in post-completion OPT after completing their studies. If authorized for post-completion OPT, they must work part time (at least 20 hours per week) or full time.

STEM OPT Extension

If the students have earned a degree in certain science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, they may apply for a 24-month extension of the post-completion OPT employment authorization. A qualifying STEM degree can be found on the STEM Designated Degree Program List.

Cap-Gap Extension for F-1 Students with Approved H-1B Petitions

F-1 students with a timely filed H-1B petition and change of status request, whose F-1 status/employment authorization will expire before the change of status to H-1B occurs (typically Oct. 1), may be eligible for a cap-gap extension, so that they will be able to maintain their legal status and the right to work from the day F-1 status/employment authorization expires through Oct 1.

If you are an employer and you want to provide a practical training opportunity to a STEM OPT student during their extension, you must:

  • Be enrolled in E-Verify
  • Remain a participant in good standing with E-Verify, as determined by USCIS
  • Have a valid Employer Identification Number (EIN) issued by the Internal Revenue Service for tax purposes
  • Report material changes including termination of the STEM OPT student’s employment to the DSO
  • Implement a formal training program to augment the student’s academic learning through practical experience
  • Maintain a bona fide employer-employee relationship with the student
  • Make sure that the OPT opportunity is commensurate with those of similarly situated U.S. workers in duties, hours, and compensation

Department of Homeland Security may, at its discretion, conduct a site visit of the employer to ensure that program requirements are being met, including that the employer possesses and maintains the ability, personnel, and resources to provide structured and guided work-based learning experiences consistent with the training plan.

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