Immigration regulations allow F-1 students to apply for 12 months of work authorization (Optional Practical Training) to gain practical experience related to the student's field of study. Twelve months of Optional Practical Training can be authorized at each academic level, i.e. 12 months at the bachelors' level, 12 months at the master's level, 12 months at the doctoral level.
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is work authorization granted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Processing takes 60 - 90 days. DHS issues an Employment Authorization Card for the exact period of time for which you apply. Once authorized, that period of OPT is used up whether you actually have a job or not.
Pre-Completion: Use some or all of your 12 months allowance while still enrolled in school. For processing, application must be made 90 days before you expect to begin working
NOTE: Each application to use a specific portion of OPT costs the $380 application fee
Post-Completion: If you have not previously used any of your OPT, you can apply for 12 months of work authorization. This is the most common use of OPT. The 12 months must be used within 14 months of ending your program.
Application can be made beginning 90 days before the end of your program (the last day of the term, not the graduation ceremony) until 60 days after the end of a program. If you apply early, you can choose the start date of your OPT. However, because of the processing time (up to 90 days), if you put off your application you will not be able to choose your start date AND you may lose some of your OPT because you have only a 14-month window in which to have your 12 months of OPT.
Call or email the international student office for an appointment - 972-721-5059 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Before coming to your appointment, decide what date you want your OPT to begin.
If the application is for Pre-Completion, select both beginning and ending dates. If for Post-Completion, the beginning date can be the day after the last day of your last term or it can be up to 60 days later.
NOTE You are not permitted to work before the effective date of your OPT. If you choose a late start date and get an offer of employment to begin before that date, you will not be able to begin work. There is NOTHING that the International office can do to provide any interim employment authorization. To avoid disappointment, when applying for OPT jobs, please place an "AVAILABLE TO BEGIN" date on your resume.
Bring the following items:
What happens at the appointment?
What happens after the appointment?
Status: While you are on OPT, you are still an F-1 student under the jurisdiction of the International Office. As such the following still applies:
Employment Obligations: While on OPT, you MUST be employed to be considered to be in legal status. Being unemployed for more than 90 days is a violation of status. (See later section on what types of employment qualify as legal employment.)
Reporting Obligations: Your are required to report your employer's name, your work site address (not the corporate headquarters), employment dates and all changes in employment (end date, new start date) to the International Office. The preferred method of reporting is by email to the International Advisor - email@example.com
The International Office is responsible for updating SEVIS with employment information provided by you. However, ISO is not responsible for determining if you have violated your status and subsequently terminating your record. DHS will determine if a student has violated his or her status by exceeding the permissible unemployment time.
How will DHS enforce this provision?
Students may possibly be denied future immigration benefits that rely on the student's valid F-1 status if DHS determines that the student exceeded the limitations on unemployment.
Additionally, ICE/SEVP may examine SEVIS data and terminate a student's record if the record fails to show the student maintained the proper period of employment. In such cases, the student will be given an opportunity to show that he or she complied with all OPT requirements, including maintaining employment.
Types of employment that qualify as legal employment:
All OPT employment, including post-completion OPT, must be in a job that is related to your degree program. This employment may include:
SEVP recommends that students maintain evidence -- for each job, regardless of type -- of the position held, proof of the duration of that position, the job title, contact information for the student's supervior or manager, and a description of the work.
Going to School During OPT:
Because your purpose during OPT is to be employed, enrolling in classes is restricted. You cannot enroll full-time in any program during OPT. You are permitted to enroll part-time in classes related to the field of study just completed as long as that enrollment does not interfere with your employment.
Traveling Outside the US During OPT:
After you complete your studies, your right to exit and return to the US is much more restricted. Even though you may have applied for or received your OPT authorization, readmission is not guaranteed.
In addition to getting a travel signature on your I-20 in the usual manner, take note of the following constraints:
1) Travel abroad before your OPT begins: Generally speaking, you can exit the US and return BEFORE the date your OPT begins under the following circumstances:
Your passport is valid
Your F-1 visa is valid*
You have a travel signature on your I-20
You carry your receipt from USCIS or your work permit (the EAD) with you. If you have been offered a job in the US, carry the offer letter with you.
*If your F-1 visa has expired, you would have to apply for a new F-1 visa while out of the US. This is very risky as your purpose in getting the visa is no longer to attend school, but rather to work.
2) Travel abroad during OPT: After your OPT has begun, you are permitted to exit and return to the US after a temporary absence ONLY
Life After OPT Ends
After OPT you can remain in the US for no more than 60 days. No employment is permitted during these 60 days. If you want to become a full-time student again, you will have to get a new I-20 for the new program within those 60 days. You must begin the new program within 5 months of the OPT expiration date.