Optional Practical Training—OPT

FAQs on Optional Practical Training

01

When can I apply for Optional Practical Training?

You can apply for OPT as early as 90 days prior to your completion or as many as 60 days after you complete. Your application must be at the USCIS Office before the 60th day following completion.

02

Can I renew my F-1 visa if it expires after I have applied for, or during my OPT?

NO, probably not. The advice we have received is that renewing an F-1 visa (a visa intended for study only) in order to work (even on OPT) would be virtually impossible and definitely risky. You would need to convince the consular officer that you have ties to your home country, which may be difficult to do if you are returning to the US solely for work. The only exception is when international travel is required by your OPT employer. The employer must then write a letter supporting renewal of your visa.

03

What date should I use as the starting date for my OPT?

That can vary according to your degree completion date plans. However, the OPT must begin no later than 60 days following your program completion date.

04

Do I need a job offer to obtain work authorization for OPT?

No. You can apply for OPT work authorization without a specific job offer.

05

What paperwork is needed for the OPT application?

You need to complete and submit all items in the OPT Authorization Request.

06

How long can I work on OPT?

You are eligible for up to twelve months of OPT. However, if you were authorized for 12 months (365 days) of full-time curricular practical training (CPT) during this program of study, you will be absolutely ineligible for OPT. In addition, Cap Gap and STEM extensions are available in some circumstances.

07

What is a "Cap Gap" extension?

If an employer petitions for an H1-B visa for you before your F-1 status ends, AND your F-1 status ends prior to the effective date of your H1-B visa, you may be eligible for a Cap Gap extension. Students on OPT may continue to work during this extension. Students who are not on OPT may have their student status extended, but are not authorized to work.

08

What is a STEM extension?

Students whose degrees are in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) may qualify for a 17-month extension of work authorization if their employer meets certain requirements. Students may have only one STEM extension, no matter how many periods of OPT they have authorized.

09

I want to apply for less than 12 months of practical training. Can I do that?

Yes. However, you need to make sure that you will not need any extension of your OPT. It is time consuming as well as expensive to extend the period. You need to pay the I-765 fee twice and there may be a long waiting period to receive your “extended EAD card.”

10

Can I apply for 12 months of Optional Practical Training at the end of a new degree program?

Yes, F-1 students are eligible for 12 months of optional practical training for EACH higher level of education, that is, a Bachelor's student gets 1 year of OPT after the BS degree, and would be eligible for another after a Master's. A person with a Master's degree, however, would not get an OPT if s/he returned for a second Bachelor's degree, even if s/he didn't use it after the first Bachelor's degree.

11

I am finishing my second Bachelor's, can I apply for another OPT?

No. You are eligible for 12 months of OPT at the end of each level. If you have already completed 12 months of OPT at the end of your first bachelor’s degree, you are not eligible to apply for OPT at the end of your second bachelor’s degree.

12

Do I need an appointment with an immigration advisor at IPS to apply for OPT?

Yes.

13

How much time does it take to process my OPT application at the USCIS?

Processing time at the USCIS varies. It can take up to 2-3 months and sometimes longer.

14

What if I receive an EAD card for OPT, but I do not find a job so I do not use it?

Once the OPT application is approved by the USCIS and your EAD card is issued, you will not be able to cancel the OPT. Therefore, any unused time will be lost. You may accumulate only 90 days of unemployment on OPT before you lose your F1 status.

15

I just found a job, but I do not have my EAD card. Can I start working?

No. It is against the law for a business or company to employ and/or pay you before you have your EAD card in hand. You can't work before the date on the card even if you have the card in hand.

16

What should I do once I receive the EAD card?

You need to bring your EAD card to the IPS office, so we can make a copy for our files. Or you can scan/email a copy to us. We MUST have a copy of your EAD in your file in IPS.

17

Can I work for more than one employer with an EAD card?

Yes. You can work for more than one employer or change employers, provided that the job is directly related to your area of study.

18

What if I receive my EAD card, but my graduation is delayed? Can I still work?

Yes. But you need to see the IPS immigration advisor.

19

What should I do about health insurance when I am on OPT?

Effective Fall 2009, you will be eligible to continue your student insurance through MTU for one semester following completion of your degree. In some cases, your employer will provide you with health insurance once you are on an employer's payroll. It is strongly recommended that you maintain some kind of health insurance yourself if your employer doesn't provide it.

20

Can I travel outside the United States while my OPT application is pending?

It is risky to travel unless you have a job offer in hand. With a job offer, and your OPT application receipt, you may travel outside the US if your visa is still valid. Remember to complete the Travel Authorization Request.

21

Can I travel outside the United States after I receive my EAD card?

Under new regulations, an F-1 student with an EAD card and proof of employment (a letter from your employer verifying that you have a job) can travel outside the U.S. However, if you have an EAD card but no job offer you should not travel. Without a letter from your employer identifying you as having a job, you will not be able to re-enter the U.S. If you leave the country you will forfeit your OPT opportunity.

22

What is the impact of a transfer to another school if I am on OPT?

Your authorization for OPT ends on the transfer release date. Authorization for OPT is not transferable. If you wish to complete OPT, the transfer-out must set the release date for a date after the OPT ends. You may transfer during the 60-day grace period following post-completion OPT, as long as the transfer release date occurs within the grace period.

23

Can I get a Cap Gap extension if I'm not on OPT?

Yes. If an employer has filed for an H1-B you may request a "Cap Gap" extension even if you are not on OPT. This extension would allow you to stay in the US legally until your H1-B visa becomes effective, but it would not authorize you to work before the effective date of the H1-B.

24

What if I've applied for OPT and don't finish all the courses for my degree on time?

You should make an appointment to see your immigration advisor as soon as you find out you won't be completing your degree as planned. If your OPT application is still pending, you should ask the Immigration Advisor to withdraw it. Your application fee will not be refunded. If your application has already been processed, you may work part time while you complete your course work IF the job is related to your major. If you are not working, you will begin accumulating unemployment days and will likely exceed the allowed number before you complete your degree.

25

Is every day of unemployment counted?

Each day (including weekends) during the period when OPT authorization begins and ends that the student does not have qualifying employment counts as a day of unemployment. 

26

Can I count volunteer work as OPT?

Yes, as long as it's related to your degree program and you're volunteering at least 20 hours a week.

27

What else counts as "employment" for OPT?

Several kinds of work count as "employment" while on your original 12-month post-completion OPT, but it must be at least 20 hours per week and related to your degree program to count.

  1. Paid employment for one or multiple employers (all must be related to your degree program).
  2. Self-employment, if you start your own business, have the proper business licenses, and are actively engaged in a business related to your degree program. You must be very careful to document full-time work.
  3. Employment through an agency
  4. Unpaid (volunteer) employment as interns or volunteers provided this does not violate any labor laws. Your "employer" must provide evidence that you worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.
  5. Work for hire - that is, work you do based on a contract rather than an employment relationship.

28

Do all these things count as employment for a STEM extension, too?

No, STEM extension employment must be paid work related to your degree with an employer registered in E-Verify.

29

If I have a dual major, do both have to be STEM fields for me to qualify?

No, you may qualify for a STEM extension on the major that is a STEM major if you are working in that field.

30

Can I change jobs if I'm on a STEM extension?

Yes, but you may work only for employers registered with E-Verify. You may also work for more than one employer in order to work at least 20 hours per week, but every employer must be registered with E-Verify.

31

When do I have to report employment changes?

You are required by law to report any changes to employment status within 10 days. Use the IPS employment update form on our website. Keep records of all updates you send.

32

What else do I have to report to IPS while I'm on OPT or a STEM or Cap Gap extension?

You must report legal name changes, change in residential or mailing address, loss of employment. You must report these within 10 days of the change becoming effective.

33

Does a minor in business mean that I can work at a business-related job on OPT?

No, OPT must be related to a major (or to either major if you have a double major), but it can't be related to a minor.

34

What if my EAD expires before my STEM extension is approved?

You may continue working for up to 180 days while your STEM extension application is pending.

35

Can I travel outside the US while my STEM extension is pending?

You must wait to receive your new EAD card if your old one will have expired before your return to the US.

36

Do I have to worry about unemployment days once I'm on a STEM extension?

Yes, students with a STEM extension are allowed no more than 120 days of unemployment from the beginning of their original OPT.

37

I've heard the "cap gap" extension is automatic. Is there anything I have to do?

YES! You must request that your immigration advisor document the extension in SEVIS. In order to do this, your immigration advisor will need proof that the H1-B petition has been timely filed, received by the USCIS Service Center, that you've been wait listed, or that the H1-B has been approved.

38

How do I know the status of my H1-B petition?

You won't be personally notified of actions on your H1-B petition. You must remain in regular contact with the sponsoring employer.

39

What if I forget to report? Or forget to notify my immigration advisor that I've got an H1-B petition pending? Isn't it the advisor's responsibility to remind me?

NO, it is not the immigration advisor's responsibility to remind you to report changes. IPS will do all we can to send reminders and provide information (like this FAQ), but it is your responsibility to remember to keep us updated.

Questions? email an immigration advisor: mjvogler@mtu.edu

Links

SEVP Policy Guidance 0801-1 Post-Completion OPT, intended to assist DSOs in applying the regulatory requirements in the course of their duties as a DSO.

CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) related to F-1 student employment . Look in 214.2; you can search on "Optional Practical Training" to find the sections of interest.