Optional Practical Training

Overview

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is work authorization granted by the Department of Homeland Security. Immigration regulations allow F-1 students to apply for 12 months of OPT to gain practical experience related to the student's field of study. OPT can be authorized at each academic level, i.e. 12 months at the bachelor's level, 12 months at the master's level, 12 months at the doctoral level.

Eligibility Requirements

You are eligible to apply if you meet the following criteria:

  1. currently residing in the US and currently in legal F-1 status
  2. have been in legal F-1 status at least one full academic year immediately prior to the application
  3. you have not exceeded 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
  4. have a passport valid at least 6 months into the future

You do not need to have a job offer before applying for the first 12 months of OPT.

Pre-Completion and Post-Completion OPT - Differences

Pre-Completion: OPT used while you are still enrolled in your course of study is called “pre-completion “ OPT. Pre-completion OPT is uncommon.

Post-Completion: OPT authorization that begins after completion of your academic program is called “post-completion” OPT. This is the most common OPT used. Post completion OPT is full-time and can begin after you complete all course requirements for your academic program (excluding thesis).

When to Apply

Apply Early! You may submit your application as early as 90 days before your program end date (graduation clearance date) and up to 60 days after your program end date. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) takes approximately 90 days to process applications. You cannot begin to work until you have approval from USCIS.

How to Apply

Please read the following instructions carefully. If you have any questions or concerns please contact Immigration Services for Students & Scholars at 972-721-5304.

Prepare the Following Documents (2 copies of each):

1. Form I-765 - Application for Employment Authorization - please complete it on-line, print it out and bring it with you.

IMPORTANT APPLICATION REMINDERS

  • enter your family name in ALL CAPS
  • US Mailing Address – enter your permanent mailing address. This is where your OPT EAD card will be sent.
  • Item 16 – Eligibility Category
    • Post-completion OPT (c) (3) (B)
    • STEM Extension OPT (c) (3) (C)
  • Sign your application in BLUE ink

2. All previous I-20's
3. Passport
4. Visa
5. I-94 (can be printed here
)
6. Two passport quality color photographs (take within the last 30 days). Photos should be 2x2 inches.
7. Personal check or money order made payable to “Department of Homeland Security” in the amount of $410.00

Once all of the documents have been prepared, please schedule an appointment with Immigration Services for Students & Scholars Office by calling 972-721-5304, or emailing bcollins@udallas.edu. We will review the documents and mail the application packet to USCIS on your behalf.

After the application packet has been received by USCIS, you will be sent a receipt notice (I-797 Notice of Action). This receipt will have your individual receipt number. You may use the receipt number to track the status of your application online. You may not begin employment until USCIS approves the OPT application AND you have received your Employment Authorization Document (EAD Card). Your authorized OPT dates will be listed on your EAD Card.

Status, Obligations & Constraints While On OPT (Post-Completion)

Status: While you are on OPT, you are still an F-1 student under the jurisdiction of the Immigration Services for Students & Scholars Office. As such the following still applies:

  1. You must report all employment changes within 10 days by submitting the OPT Reporting Form. Employment changes to your I-20 will require a valid employment offer letter (please click HERE for example).
  2. You must report all address changes by within 10 days by submitting the OPT Reporting Form.
  3. You must get travel signatures on your I-20 before leaving the US if you intend to return (see special section later about travel during OPT)
  4. You must keep your passport valid

Employment Obligations: While on OPT, you MUST be employed to be considered to be in legal status. Being unemployed for more than 90 aggregate days is a violation of status. (See later section on what types of employment qualify as legal employment.)

Reporting Obligations: You 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 Immigration Services for Students & Scholars Office. The preferred method of reporting is by submitting the OPT Reporting Form.

The Immigration Services for Students & Scholars Office is responsible for updating SEVIS with employment information provided by you. However, we are 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.

 

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:

  1. Paid employment: Students may work part-time (at least 20 hours per week when on post-completion OPT) or full-time.
  2. Multiple employers: Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to the student's degree program and for pre-completion OPT cannot exceed the allowed per week cumulative hours.
  3. Work for hire: This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than in an employer/employee relationship. If requested by DHS, students must be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
  4. Self-employed business owner: Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. In this situation, the student must work full-time. The student must be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to the student's degree program.
  5. Employment through an agency: Students on post-completion OPT must be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.
  6. Unpaid employment: Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this does not violate any labor laws. The work must be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. These students must be able to provide evidence from the employer that the student worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.

Employment Records:

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 supervisor 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.

If you had intended to graduate, but have not yet completed your thesis/dissertation, you can continue to register for 1 credit hour (administrative purposes) until you finish the thesis/dissertation requirement. In this case, you would still remain subject to the three-month (90 day) unemployment rule.

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

    1. TO BEGIN A JOB THAT HAS ALREADY BEEN OFFERED TO YOU. You must have an offer letter with you; or
    2. TO CONTINUE WORKING IN A JOB YOU ALREADY HAVE. You must carry an employment letter - a letter from the HR department or your supervisor on company letterhead stating that you are working there and that you will resume employment following this brief trip outside the country. Your original offer letter IS NOT sufficient. A proof of employment letter must be current and be related to a specific trip abroad.

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.