Applying for OPT

To apply for OPT, a student must follow these steps:

- Request that their academic institutions’s designated school official (DSO) recommend them for OPT. To do so, the DSO endorses the student’s Form I-20 (officially called the “Certification of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status”) and makes the appropriate notation in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).

- The student must properly file Form I-765 (“Application for Employment Authorization”) with USCIS, including a fee and supporting documents.
When to apply depends on which type of OPT is desired.

OPT requests for non-STEM degrees

Pre-Completion OPT requests:

- Students may begin their OPT only after USCIS approves their Form I-765 and the student receives their Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
-Applications may be filed up to 90 days before completion of a full academic year, as long as OPT employment is not started until the completion of one full academic year.

Post-Completion OPT request:

- Applications must be received within 30 days of the DSO entering an OPT recommendation into a student’s SEVIS record.
- Applications may be filed up to 90 days before the completion of a degree program, but no later than 60 days after completion.

OPT requests for STEM degrees

Pre-Completion OPT requests:

- Applications must be submitted after a DSO enters the recommendation for OPT into a student’s SEVIS record and
- Applications may be submitted up to 90 days before completion of a full academic year, as long as OPT employment is not started until one full academic year is completed.

Post-Completion Initial OPT requests:

- Applications must be submitted within 30 days of a DSO entering the recommendation for OPT into a student’s SEVIS record, and
- Applications may be submitted up to 90 days before degree completion, but no later than 60 days after completion.

Post Completion STEM OPT extensions:

- Applications must be submitted within 60 days of a DSO entering the recommendation for OPT into a student’s SEVIS record, and
- Applications may be submitted up to 90 days before a student’s current OPT employment authorization expires.

OPT employment may begin only after the approval of a student’s Employment Authorization Document (EAD) has been approved.
 

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Types of OPT Eligibility

F-1 students may be eligible for OPT in one of three ways: 

- Pre-completion
- Post-Completion 
- STEM OPT Extension

Pre-Completion OPT

F-1 students are eligible to participate in pre-completion OPT as long as they are enrolled full-time for a full academic year of study at a college, university, conservatory, or seminary that has been certified by USCIS to enroll F-1 students.

Pre-completion authorization allows for a current student to work part time (20 hours or less) while school is in session, and full-time when school is not in session.

Pre-completion eligibility is not restricted to having an F-1 visa for the full academic year. If a student held another nonimmigrant status during part of that academic year but at that time was engaged in studies, they can still satisfy the requirements.

For instance, a student starts off on an F-1 visa, and during the year they are hoping to participate in OPT, they obtain a green card visa. They will still be allowed to participate in OPT.

Post-Completion OPT

Students who have completed their studies at a certified academic institution can pursue approval for post-completion OPT, which does not restrict work hours. Graduates can work part-time or full-time.

If a student participated in OPT prior to graduation, that time is accrued as part of the 12-month period of OPT. The time spent in pre-completion OPT will be deducted from the total time of the program.

And, if a student’s status changes from F-1 to a green card, it does not reduce or restructure the OPT terms.

STEM OPT Extensions

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Students who have earned a degree in certain STEM disciplines can apply for a 24-month extension up to a total of 36 months of their post-completion OPT authorization if:

- The F-1 student received a STEM degree included on the ICE’s STEM Designated Degree Program List (PDF)
- The F-1 student is employed by an employer who is enrolled in and is using E-Verify and
- The F-1 student received an initial grant of post-completion OPT authorization based on the same STEM degree which drives their current employment.

Optional Practical Training

Optional practical training (OPT)  is on-the-job training for F-1 students.

OPT allows students, who are on an F-1 visa to take temporary employment in a discipline directly related to their studies. It usually covers up to 12 months of employment for eligible students, either during their studies (“pre-completion”) or immediately afterwards (“post-completion”).

Any time spent in OPT pre-completion will count toward the total 12-month period. For example, if a software programming student spent three months before completing their course of study in OPT, they would be eligible for nine more months of post-completion OPT.

Types of OPT Eligibility
How to Apply For OPT