OPT Overview

1.      What is OPT?

OPT (Optional Practical Training) is a temporary work authorization opportunity for international students. Most students use OPT to authorize work after completing an academic degree. However, there are three types of OPT:
  • Post-Completion OPT: Authorized for working 12 months after graduation (most common)

  • STEM Extension OPT: Authorized for working 24 months more for students in STEM programs. To see the list of STEM degrees, visit website https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Document/2016/stem-list.pdf

  • Pre-Completion OPT: Authorized working before graduation, only if CPT is not an option

2.      Who are eligible for OPT?

In order to start your OPT application, you:

  • Do NOT need a job offer at that time, however, you will need to have employment within 90 days of OPT approval.

  • Must be in legal F-1 status

  • Must have completed two full-time semesters Fall & Spring, Summer does not count.

  • Must NOT have been previously authorized for 12 months of Full-Time CPT at the same degree level

  • Must NOT have been previously authorized for 12 months of OPT at the same level, or any OPT at a higher degree level

Note: Students in English language training are not eligible for OPT.

3.      When to apply for OPT?

You may apply for OPT from 90 days before your graduation date or 60 days after your graduation date. In general, it can take up to 3 months or more for USCIS to process an OPT request, hence, please plan ahead.

4.      How long does OPT last?

  • Standard Post-Completion OPT is available for a cumulative maximum of 12 months per educational level. That duration (12 months) is counted from the day your OPT application is approved (not from the day you start your job).

  • After completing 12-month Post-Completion OPT, only STEM degree students can apply to extend their OPT.

  • Part-time OPT (available for pre-completion OPT only) will deduct the length of post-completion OPT (e.g. 4 months part time = 2 months full-time deduction).

  • Unused periods of eligibility from lower level degrees cannot be accumulated for use with later degrees at a higher level.

  • If pursuing another degree at the same level the 12 months can be divided between the two degrees.

5.      How many hours per week can I work?

  • Pre-completion OPT is limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session and the student still has coursework to complete. Full-time employment can be requested for pre-completion OPT done during official school breaks.

  • For post-completion OPT, students may work 40+ hours per week and must be employed for at least 20 hours per week.

6.      Where can I use OPT?

Students in OPT can work for any employer in the U.S. which qualifies for OPT standards.

Paid employment: Students may work part-time (at least 20 hours per week when on post-completion OPT) or full-time.

  • 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.

  • Short-term multiple employers (performing artists).Students, such as musicians and other performing artists may work for multiple short-term employers (gigs). The student should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates, and duration. If requested by DHS, students must be prepared to provide evidence showing a list of all gigs.

  • 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 an employment 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.

  • 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
  • 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.

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.

See steps to prepare OPT Application here