Most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Please note: The information provided here is general in nature and this must not be construed as a legal advice.  Immigration rules change frequently; therefore, your must contact your International Student Services Office (may be called by another name at your school) for up to date rules, regulations,and timelines specific to your school and your educational program.

What is the Eligibility for F-1 OPT?

  • Must be in active F-1 status for two consecutive semesters preceding the start date of OPT
  • Must be physically present in the United States and in active F-1 status at the time of application
  • A job offer is not required to apply for OPT but all employment undertaken while on OPT must be directly related to your field of study

How much OPT time can I apply for?
You are allowed a total of 12 months of full-time OPT per degree level.

I don’t have a job yet. Can I still apply for OPT?
A job offer is not required to apply for OPT but all employment undertaken while on OPT must be directly related to your field of study.

I want to use OPT time before completing my degree. When can I apply?
You may apply for periods of pre-completion OPT during school terms and summer vacation. You may apply for part-time (20 hours or less a week) pre-completion OPT while school is in session and full-time pre-completion OPT during annual summer vacation periods.

I’m graduating and will be applying for post-completion OPT. If I have used pre-completion OPT during my studies, how do I know how much OPT time I have remaining?
Any periods of OPT used before completion of studies will be deducted from the total twelve-month period available.  Example: Full-time employment for three months during a summer vacation would leave a student with only nine months of OPT available after graduation.

I graduated and left the United States. Am I still eligible to apply for post-completion OPT?
If you depart the U.S. upon graduation without applying for OPT, you may lose your OPT eligibility.  Check with your school.

Will I be eligible for OPT again if I begin another degree program in the U.S?
Students may become eligible for another twelve months of OPT when they change to a higher educational level. However, simply beginning another degree program does not automatically confer this eligibility.

Pre-completion OPT

Students may apply as early as 90 days before the proposed start date of the employment.

Post-completion OPT

  • Generally students completing a program of study can apply as early as 90 days before the date of completion and/or graduation. Check with your school.
  • A job offer is not required to apply for OPT.
    Students who have had a break in their F-1 student status (such as a leave of absence outside of the United States) should work closely with their International Student Services Office to confirm their eligibility to apply for OPT.

How to Apply?

The process of applying for OPT, deadlines, etc., varies from school to school. Therefore, check with your school’s policy.

STEM OPT Extension Rules and Requirements

Students who hold degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) may be eligible to apply for an additional 24 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT), for a total of 36 months of post-completion OPT. Only students who have completed degrees in a STEM designated field qualify for this extension.  You can locate your field of study as listed on your Form I-20.  If your field of study does not appear on this list, you are not eligible for a STEM extension. It might be possible to apply for the STEM extension based on a prior U.S. degree in a STEM field. That degree must have been issued in within the past 10 years from an SEVP-certified school that is currently accredited.

Your International Student Services Office should be able to help you determine if your degree or concentration is eligible for the STEM extension.  In addition to having completed a degree in a STEM field of study, you must have a job offer or be working for an employer registered with “E-Verify” a federal employment verification system and you and your employer must complete the Form I-983, Training Plan for STEM OPT students.  Check with your school for specifics.

WHEN TO APPLY: 
Generally, you may submit the STEM application up to 90 days before your initial OPT period ends. This may vary, so contact your school for specifics.  

STUDENT RESPONSIBILITIES WHILE ON STEM EXTENSION
Students who are granted a STEM OPT Extension have additional federal reporting requirements.  Failure to satisfy these requirements will automatically invalidate the student’s F-1 status:
 
A student pursuing the STEM extension must:

  • Work in a paid position for an E-Verify employer at least 20 hours per week
  • Work in a position related to the STEM program major listed under “Program of Study” on the I-20
  • Not work for any employer that is not an E-Verify employer
  • Not have more than 150 days of unemployment time during the entire period of post-completion OPT (regular post-completion OPT and 24-month extension combined)
  • Cannot be self-employed