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.
You are eligible to apply if you meet the following criteria:
You do not need to have a job offer before applying for the first 12 months of OPT.
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).
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.
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
2. All previous I-20's
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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: 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:
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:
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
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.