While on OPT you remain in F-1 status and need to comply with F-1 regulations. OPT is authorized by the U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). USCIS issues an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), a laminated card with your photo and employment authorization dates, which is the official approval of OPT.
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
OPT is employment authorization designed to provide you with an opportunity to gain practical experience in your field of study, complementing your academic work.
In order to be eligible for OPT, F-1 students must:
- currently be in valid F-1 status
- have completed two semesters of full-time enrollment prior to OPT start date
- Undergraduates Only: have declared a concentration at the time of application
A job offer is NOT required at the time of application.
Types of Employment Allowed
All employment while on OPT must be directly related to student's field of study and appropriate for someone at student's degree level.
- Graduate: directly related to academic program
- Undergraduate: directly related to concentration(s)
If you had a change in your degree level (e.g. Ph.D. to MS) or your current concentration(s) is not yet reflected on your I-20, this information must be updated prior to applying for OPT.
Length of OPT Available and Hours
OPT is limited to 12 months total and can be used prior to or after completion of student's degree, or a combination of the two.
During academic semesters: Limited to part-time (20 hours per week or fewer). Part-time OPT is deducted at a half-rate from the total time allowed (i.e. 4 months of part-time OPT is equal to 2 months of the total 12 months).
During semester breaks (i.e. summer or winter): Part-time or full-time (more than 20 hours per week) allowed
Ph.D candidates only: After completion of all required coursework
Graduate students who have completed all course requirements and are engaged in thesis/dissertation research only are eligible to apply for full-time (more than 20 hours per week) OPT during the academic year only if the training constitutes an integral part of their thesis/dissertation research.
Any post-completion OPT authorization is automatically issued for full-time (more than 20 hours per week) employment.
Limits to Unemployment
You may not accumulate more than 90 days of unemployment during the initial period of post-completion OPT authorized on the Employment Authorization Document (EAD). A legitimate volunteer position (in accordance with U.S. Department of Labor regulations) qualifies as a substitute for paid employment. Students on post-completion OPT are required to report all employment, paid or unpaid.
Once approved for STEM OPT, a student may not accumulate more than 150 days of unemployment during the entire period of employment authorization (post-completion OPT + STEM OPT).
Change of Employer
Students on OPT can have multiple employers at the same time and can change employers at anytime provided each job is directly related to student's field of study and commensurate with student's level of education. Students are required to keep careful records of all employment while on OPT and report any changes of employment within 10 days.
Travel While on OPT
Students can travel in and out of the U.S. while on OPT. If a student travels outside the U.S. after completion of studies, the student must have an approved EAD card to enter, and must re-enter in F-1 status; otherwise the OPT authorization will automatically end.
Students on post-completion OPT must present at the port of entry:
- Valid passport
- Valid F-1 visa (unless Canadian or eligible for automatic revalidation of an expired visa)
- Form I-20, endorsed for travel by an OISSS Advisor within the last 6 months
- Valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
- Letter from your employer with either a job offer or confirmation of current employment (if returning to the U.S. after the employment start date listed on the EAD)
For more information, refer to the Travel page on this website for details about travel while on OPT.
Status Changes During OPT
You must inform OISSS as soon as possible of any changes in your status, so that the F-1 record can be appropriately updated.
- Change of immigration status: If approved for a change of immigration status (i.e. F-1 to H-1B) your F-1 status and OPT will end upon the start date of the new immigration status.
- Leave the U.S. permanently: If you decide to leave the U.S. for longer than 5 months, your post-completion OPT is no longer valid.
- Start new full-time academic program: If you are admitted into a new full-time academic program, your SEVIS record must be updated with the new program’s information or transferred to your new school. Your OPT is officially ended when the SEVIS record is transferred.