Optional Practical Training

F-1 visa students have the opportunity to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT), allowing them to obtain practical work experience while attending school or immediately after finishing their studies. Applicants for OPT must be seeking employment that is related to their areas of study, and the length of time they may work depends on whether they are employed while in school or after graduation.

According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), F-1 students may be authorized to work and receive training up to a total of 12 months at the undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate levels. If students wish to start OPT while in school (also known as pre-completion OPT), they may not work more than 20 hours per week while school is in session, but may work full-time during annual vacation and when school is out of session.

Applying for OPT

To apply for OPT, students must first request that the Designated School Official (DSO) at their academic institution recommend OPT on their behalf. Students must then file Form I-765, "Application for Employment Authorization Document" (EAD), a copy of their passport identification page, and a copy of the front and back of their most recent I-94 Form with the USCIS. If the USCIS approves the OPT request, it will issue an EAD to the applicant. Only then may the applicants begin their OPT employment.

For applicants who wish to begin their OPT post-completion, the earliest they may file is 90 days before they finish their studies, and the latest they may file is 60 days after finishing their studies. It may take up to two to three months for the USCIS to approve the OPT application and mail back the appropriate documentation, so applicants should apply as soon as they may do so. For students who want to start their OPT while still in school, they may apply within 90 days of the requested employment date.

OPT Extension for Certain Students

Students who have a Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) degree and are employed in a post-completion OPT have the opportunity to apply for an extension of their OPT. The U.S. government allows eligible students to apply for a 17-month extension of their post-completion OPT. Students must file for an extension of their EAD before their current OPT work authorization expires. The USCIS recommends that you file 90 days before the expiration of your OPT.

When applying for a STEM extension, applicants must provide an employer certification statement and a copy of their transcripts or diploma in English. Qualifying STEM degrees include:

  • Computer Science Applications
  • Actuarial Science
  • Biological and Biomedical Studies
  • Engineering
  • Mathematics and Statistics
  • Military Technologies
  • Engineering Technologies
  • Science Technologies
  • Physical Sciences
  • Medical Sciences

The OPT program provides opportunities for F-1 students to earn valuable work experience. This experience helps them obtain better work positions in their home countries and gives them a hands-on understanding of what is expected of them once they enter the professional world. For eligible students, it is an opportunity they should utilize as much as possible.

To better understand the OPT program, contact the Law Office of Samuel Berger for a consultation at (201) 587-1500 and (212) 380-8117. Mr. Berger and his team can help you understand how the program works, so you can go to school and work in the U.S. to gain the valuable knowledge and experience you need to become successful.