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Optional Practical Training (OPT)

What Is It?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is off-campus employment authorization that lets F-1 students get work experience in their major field of study. You have a total of 12 months of full-time OPT per degree level. You can work for any employer, anywhere in the U.S.

When can I use Post-Completion OPT?

  • After completion of all course requirements for a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree, except the thesis or equivalent. Employment can be part-time or full-time.

  • After completion of all requirements for the course of study (full time employment only). If you decide to spend all of your OPT after you complete your degree, you must request it all at once, that is the full year (12 months). You cannot use it in pieces.

Who is eligible for OPT?

  • You must be a degree candidate who has been a full-time student in F-1 status or has attended school in lawful non-immigrant status prior to changing to F-1 for at least one academic year (two semesters).

  • Time spent outside the U.S. in a study abroad program of 5 months or less can count toward the “one full academic year” of lawful enrollment required for Practical Training eligibility, if you were enrolled full time in the U.S. at least one term before studying abroad.

  • You cannot already have used 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training.

  • You do not need to have a job offer to apply for OPT.

  • If you have graduated, you can still apply for OPT as long you have not left the US since completing your program and USCIS receives your application within 60 days of the end date on your I-20. If you apply within the 60 day period after completion, it is unlikely you will receive your full 12 month OPT benefit due to USCIS processing delays.

  • STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors may be eligible to apply for an additional 24 month extension of their Post-Completion OPT.

How long does the OPT review process take?

After your application is filed at USCIS, it can take up to 90 days for USCIS to review and process our OPT application. It could take less or more depending on their workload and security clearances. It’s important to take USCIS processing time into consideration when planning the date you want to start working. You cannot begin to work until you have your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card.

How do I apply for OPT?

See Post-Completion OPT for application instruction and materials.