Optional Practical Training, or OPT, is a student visa employment program that grants eligible F1 and M1 visa students employment authorization either pre-completion or post-completion of their studies. Students on OPT visa must work in the field related to their area of study, gaining practical experience in that line of work. Under an optional practical training program, F1 OPT students may stay and work in the US for 12 months, and an additional 24 months with a STEM OPT extension.
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F1 students who are eligible for OPT gain the following benefits by participating in an optional practical training program.
- Gain practical experience in their major area of study.
- Start work after they receive EAD (Employment Authorization Document).
- May work in USA for 12 months up to 36 months with a 24-month STEM OPT extension.
- Work in USA during or after graduation, or both.
- Convert OPT to H1B by obtaining a position with an H1B sponsoring employer.
Pre-Completion OPT and Post-Completion OPT
There are two types of optional practical training: pre-completion OPT and post-completion OPT. In both F1 visa OPT categories, the training program must relate to the F1 student’s major area of study. M1 visa students may only participate in post-completion OPT.
F1 OPT students participating in pre-completion OPT must have been enrolled in an academic institution for one academic year. Pre-completion OPT students may work up to 20 hours per week while school is in session and may work up to 40 hours per week for during official school breaks.
F1 and M1 students are eligible to participate in post-completion OPT only after completing their coursework. Post-completion OPT students must work at least 20 hours per week and may work full-time.
For every 2 months of pre-completion OPT work an F1 student completes, the eligible period of post-completion OPT work the student may engage in is reduced by 1 month.
OPT Requirements & Eligibility
Eligibility requirements for optional practical training program include the following.
- OPT participant must have legal F1 or M1 student visa status.
- OPT participant must be lawfully enrolled in an academic program at a USCIS approved school for one full year and must be a full-time student.
- OPT participant must have temporary employment directly related to major field of study.
- OPT participant must engage either in pre-completion OPT, post-completion OPT, or a combination of both. M1 visa OPT participants may only engage in post-completion OPT.
- OPT participant may start work only after receiving Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
- For M1 students, the DSO must verify that the OPT employment is not available in the M1 student’s home country.
Applying for OPT
The below steps outline the process of how to apply for OPT.
- Initiate Request for recommendation of OPT from Designated School Official (DSO). DSO endorses a new Form I-20 that includes the DSO recommendation.
- Apply for EAD by filing the electronic Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization Document. Form I-765 for post-completion OPT must be filed within 90 days before OPT program end-date and up to 60 days after OPT program end-date. Form I-765 must also be completed within 30 days of the date the DSO issues the OPT recommendation.
Only once the OPT EAD card is issued, students may begin employment. Students on OPT may complete their training anywhere in the US for any employer within the duration of their optional practical training program. The employment offered should qualify under OPT standards.
The F1 OPT visa duration period is:
- 12 months for standard OPT students.
- An additional 24 months with OPT extension for qualified STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics) students.
The M1 OPT duration period is:
- 1 month for every 4 months of full-time study completed; and
- No more than 6 months maximum.
M1 visa OPT applicants who are unable to complete their practical training within the maximum 6 month OPT period will not be granted employment authorization.
If the M1 OPT participant has been granted OPT employment and temporarily leaves the US, he/she may complete the remainder of the OPT program upon returning to the US.
F1 STEM OPT Extension
F1 OPT students may qualify for a STEM OPT extension, which grants you a 24-month extension of your post-completion optional practical training if you:
- Are working under a post-completion OPT program.
- Hold a Bachelors, Masters, or Doctoral degree in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) for their current period of post-completion OPT.
- Are employed by a company that is enrolled in the E-Verify program.
- Select a STEM OPT employer that provides you with formal training and learning objectives.
- Work a minimum of 20 hours per week per employer.
If eligible for OPT extension, your DSO will endorse a new Form I-20 for you with the DSO recommendation for employment on page 3.
To apply for OPT extension, apply for work authorization by filing Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization Document. Upon approval, you will receive your EAD. You may work on your expired EAD for up to a total of 180 days while your 24-month extension is processed by USCIS.