What is OPT?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. The F-1 Visa (Academic Student) allows the applicants to enter the United States as full-time students at a recognized college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution, or to participate in a language training program.
It permits international students to gain professional experience without having to apply for an H-1B visa. The applicants can apply for OPT while still in school or before finishing their program of study, which is called “Pre-Completion OPT.” The applicants are also eligible to apply for OPT after they graduate through “Post-Completion OPT.”
What is STEM OPT?
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and refers to any subjects that fall under these four disciplines.F-1 students who completed a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in selected government-designated science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields and are currently working with post-completion OPT may apply for the STEM extension of 24 months of additional employment if they have a job or job offer from an E-Verify employer and meet all the required criteria. The STEM OPT application is reviewed by International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) and submitted to the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) for processing.
Types of OPT
All OPTs must be relevant to the applicant’s major field of study. An F-1 student may be eligible for OPT in one of the following two ways:
(i) Pre-completion OPT:
Pre-completion OPT is Optional Practical Training that the applicants use before finishing their program of study. OPT is temporary employment that is directly related to the applicant’s major field of study and is only for students in F-1 status. It is used while the applicants are still enrolled in their degree.
Pre-Completion OPT is only for situations where:
- The applicant’s OPT start and end date will be during their studies (not after graduation).
- They have a training opportunity but might not be eligible for CPT.
If the applicants are graduating soon and need OPT approval to work after graduation, they must apply for Post-Completion OPT. If they are not graduating soon, and need authorization for internship, practicum, or other work/training related to their studies, they need to consider Curricular Practical Training (CPT).
The applicants are eligible to apply if they meet the following criteria:
- They are currently in F-1 status.
- The applicants will begin and end their OPT during their enrolled course of study.
- They have been enrolled in a full course of study for one academic year (three quarters).
- The applicants have not been authorized for 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT).
- They have not previously completed 12 months of full-time OPT at the same degree level.
There are two ways to apply for OPT authorization with USCIS:
- File a paper application
- Online OPT application
(ii) Post-Completion OPT:
Post-Completion OPT takes place after the program completion date. Only one application is allowed per academic degree level (i.e., Master’s, Ph.D.).
The applicant may apply for Post-Completion OPT only if all of the following criteria have been met:
- The applicants need to maintain a valid F-1 student status
- They need to enroll as full-time for at least one academic year
- The applicants have less than 365 days of full-time Curricular Practical Training at the degree level for which they are seeking OPT.
- The applicants have completed all coursework but are in the final stages of the thesis/dissertation.
- You have not already departed the U.S. after the program completion date
NOTE: If you depart the U.S. before your OPT application has been filed, received, and receipted by the USCIS, you become ineligible to apply for Post-Completion OPT if your program has ended.
When to apply for OPT
OPT Application Timeline
STEM OPT Extension
If the applicant has earned a degree in either science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) related fields, they may apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion OPT employment authorization provided that they :
- Are an F-1 student who received a STEM degree
- Are employed by an employer who is enrolled in and is using E-Verify; and
- Received an initial grant of post-completion OPT employment authorization based on their STEM degree.
Eligibility for STEM OPT extension
To qualify for the 24-month extension, the applicants must:
- File their STEM OPT extension application, they must have received a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree from a school accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency and authorised by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).
- Have been granted OPT and currently be in a valid period of OPT
- The applicants should receive the STEM degree
The applicants need to work for an employer who meets all the requirements listed and will agree to the following:
- Be enrolled in E-Verify and remain in good standing.
- Report material changes to the STEM OPT student’s employment to the DSO within 5 business days.
- Implement a formal training program to augment the student’s academic learning through practical experience.
- Provide an OPT opportunity that is commensurate with those of similarly situated U.S. workers in duties, hours, and compensation.
Applying for a STEM OPT Extension
To apply for an extension, the applicants must properly file:
- A Form I-765 with the correct application fee.
- The employer’s name as listed in E-Verify, and
- The employer’s E-Verify Company Identification Number or valid E-Verify Client Company Identification Number
- Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, endorsed by the applicant’s Designated School Official (DSO) within the last 60 days; and
- A copy of the applicant’s STEM degree.
Note: If the applicants file their STEM OPT extension application on time and their OPT period expires while their extension application is pending, we will automatically extend their employment authorization for 180 days. This automatic 180-day extension ceases once USCIS adjudicates its STEM OPT extension application. F-1 students who have a pending STEM OPT extension application is not eligible for the temporary increase of the automatic extension period.
After Receiving a STEM OPT Extension
If the applicants receive a STEM OPT extension, they must, report the changes to the following information to their Designated School Official(DSO) within 10 days of the change:
- The applicant’s legal name
- Their residential or mailing address
- Their email address
- Their employer’s name
- Their employer’s address
- The applicants need to report to their DSO every 6 months to confirm the information listed above, even if none of their information has changed.
Limit on Unemployment Period after Post-Completion OPT
8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(E) states the provision relating to the unemployment period for F-1 students on post-completion OPT or STEM OPT. In the case of Post-completion OPT, it is 90 days, whereas, in the case of STEM OPT, it is 150 days, which includes any days accrued while on post-completion OPT. SEVIS would count the days of unemployment by referring to the employer data to verify the Actual OPT Start Date for that period of OPT and by counting each day without employer information.
During their OPT extension period, the applicant may be unemployed for a limited number of days in the following way:
All about SEVIS
The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is a Web-based system used by the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to keep track of Student and Exchange Visitor Program participants (SEVP). The Exchange Visitor Program of the United States Department of State allows non-immigrants to visit the United States for educational and cultural exchange. It is a critical tool in ensuring national security while also facilitating the legal entry of over one million F, M, and J non-immigrants.
Schools use SEVIS to petition SEVP for certification, which allows the school to offer programs of study to non-immigrant students. Designated school officials of SEVP-certified schools use SEVIS to:
- In order to continue issuing Forms I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for nonimmigrant Student Status,” to non-immigrant students and their families, the institution must update its information and reapply for accreditation.
- Issue Forms I-20 to specific nonimmigrants to obtain F or M status while enrolled at the school.
- Ensure that the institution complies with its legal reporting obligations about student addresses, subprograms, enrollment, employment, and adherence to the conditions of their student status.
- Transfer the student SEVIS records to other institutions