Optional Practical Training, also known as OPT for short, is a work authorization opportunity that F-1 visa holders can apply for near the end of their academic program. OPT allows students to stay and work in the US after they have completed their coursework. It is a great chance for students to gain valuable experiences in their field of study.
What is OPT?
OPT is a type of work authorization that allows international students to work in a field related to their major for one year after the completion of their study in the US, assuming that their academic program is longer than nine months. An OPT can be used as post-completion OPT or pre-completion OPT. Commonly, students would use their OPT after the end of their study in order to gain relevant work experience. However, some may choose to use their OPT pre-completion under certain circumstances, such as running out of CPT hours. Keep in mind that OPT is usually only valid for 12 months, but some people may have an extension (read this article to find out how you can get a 24 month extension on your OPT too!).
What is the difference between pre-completion and post-completion OPT?
Pre-completion OPT is for international students who have completed at least one year of their studies but are still working toward their degrees, and it can be used to work part-time during the academic year or full-time during school breaks. However, it is often better to use CPT during your studies—here’s an article on How to Apply for CPT.
Post-completion OPT is available to international students who have successfully completed their academic degree program, and it allows them to work either full-time or part-time with a sponsoring organization.
What are the benefits of OPT?
OPT offers the following benefits:
- It allows you to work part-time or full-time in the US for 12 months after you graduate from your academic program.
- It allows you to gain work experience in your field of study, which can be useful for your career development.
- It enables you to earn money and build professional connections after completing your academic program in the US.
Who is eligible for OPT?
OPT is available for F-1 students either before or after the completion of their studies at a university or other accredited institution of higher education in the US. If you are looking to participate in the pre-completion program then you must be enrolled for at least a year as a full-time student beforehand.
What are the restrictions for OPT?
You should contact your DSO to discuss school-specific rules, but here are the most common OPT restrictions:
- You must get a job in your field of study, and you have to find this job within 90 days of your graduation date.
- The company that you work at must be willing to sponsor you.
- You will only have 12 months of OPT, unless you have a STEM extension, which can be deducted if you use pre-completion OPT.
- Must not have worked more than 12 months of full-time CPT.
When can you apply for OPT?
For pre-completion OPT, the earliest that you can apply for it is 90 days before the end of your first academic year. For post-completion OPT, you must apply within 30 days after your Designated School Official (DSO) has entered the OPT recommendation into your SEVIS record. Moreover, you can apply for post-completion OPT up to 90 days but no later than 60 days before the completion of your program.
How can you apply for OPT?
To apply for OPT, you must put in a request for your DSO to recommend OPT. Once the DSO makes the recommendation by endorsing your Form I-20 and Certification of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status as well as providing the appropriate notation in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), you will have 30 days to apply for OPT by filing Form I-765 along with other appropriate documents with USCIS. Usually, they will require photocopies of your passport, visa, I-94 record, newly issued and signed I-20, all previously-issued I-20, two US-style passport photos, and a $410 check for the application fee. The check must be a US check drawn on a US bank, put your SEVIS number and I-94 number in front of the check in the memo section, and make it payable to the US Department of Homeland Security. For US Postal Service (USPS), you can mail the check to:
P.O. Box 660867
Dallas, TX 75266
For express mail and courier deliveries, you can mail the check to:
USCIS Attn: AOS
2501 S. State Hwy. 121 Business, Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067