International Student Services

Optional Practical Training

If you are an F-1 student, you have the option of training in the United States by engaging in practical training during your program or after it ends. Practical training can provide valuable work experience by sharpening and adding to the skills you are learning in school. There are two types of practical training available for F-1 students: curricular practical training (CPT) and optional practical training (OPT).

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a benefit for F-1 visa holders to gain practical work experience in a position directly related to their field of study. Students are eligible for 12 months of OPT per degree level. The application process has two parts:

  1. OPT recommendation from IPO. Please make an appointment with a DSO at the International Programs Office once you have all of your materials for the application process gathered, the I-765 form complete and all fees arranged.
  2. OPT application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

After filing the OPT application with USCIS and upon approval, an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) will be issued and is valid for a specific period. You may not work before you receive your EAD card and it will be mailed to the address you indicate on your application. The EAD is your work permit; you may work only during the dates indicated on the card. Students enrolled in full-time English as a Second Language (ESL) classes are not eligible for OPT.

OPT is a benefit of your F-1 status. Applying for OPT is similar to applying for other benefits, such as a driver's license or a Social Security Number. As long as you are follow the directions closely, submit all of the required documents within the specified timeframe, and are otherwise eligible, your application should be approved.

Filing Deadlines for Initial OPT Applications

A student will be able to file the OPT application 90 days prior to the end date of the degree program, and up to 60 days after the end date of the degree program. However, the application for OPT must be submitted to the USCIS Service Center within 30 days of the date the DSO enters the recommendation for OPT into the SEVIS record.

Beginning and Ending Dates of Post-Completion OPT

The start date of OPT will be the requested date at the time of filing or the date of EAD approval, whichever comes later. If the student applies at the end of the 60 day grace period the date of approval may not extend more than a total of 14 months from the student’s program end date.

Employment Allowed While on OPT

All OPT employment must be in a job that is related to the student’s degree program. This employment may include:

  • Paid employment - Students may work part-time (20 hours per week) or full-time
  • Multiple employers - Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be in the student’s degree program
  • Self-employed business owner - Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. Student must work full-time and be able to prove the proper business licenses and engaged in business related to student’s degree program.
  • Employment through an agency - Students must provide evidence from the employer that the student worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employme
  • Unpaid employment - Student may work as volunteers or unpaid interns. The position must be at least 20 hours a week and it is suggested that you obtain a letter from the employer for evidence of the volunteering.

Limits Periods of Unemployment During OPT

Students on post-completion OPT may not accrue more than 90-days of unemployment under the initial 12-month period of OPT. The DSO must report the unemployment dates in SEVIS. Students who have exceeded the 90 days of unemployment while on OPT must be advised to prepare to transfer to another U.S. institution, change educational levels at the same institution, change immigration status, or depart the U.S. If the period of unemployment is exceeded DHS enforcement may cause a denial in future benefits such as an H-1b, or ICE/SEVP may select an individual or groups of students and request proof of employment. You are encouraged to keep records of all unemployment, volunteerism, and employment.

Traveling outside of the U.S. does impact the period of unemployment. If the student is out of the U.S. while unemployed the days spent outside the U.S. will count against the 90-day unemployment.

Reporting Requirements for Students While on OPT

The USCIS recently activated a portal for students to create an account, log on and update their basic address and contact details in the system during the OPT application process. Students will also receive a SEVP Student Portal log in after OPT approval to update and maintain their contact and employer information. We recommend students change this information on their own and report to the GOODWIN International Programs Office the following information:

  • Any change in name or address
  • The start date of employment
  • The name and address of the employer
  • Any change to the name and address of the employer
  • The start date of the new employment
  • Any unemployment periods of time
  • Any volunteer positions
  • The Employer Identification Number (EIN) for the current employment

You must report your company information upon the start date of the employment and any changes with your employment. It is your responsibility as a student to confirm that your SEVIS record is up to date. You are welcome to contact the IPO to verify your student status in SEVIS.

In order to be eligible for OPT, you must have been enrolled FULL-TIME in your current degree program for one full academic year.

You must not have been authorized for full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) for more than 12 months cumulatively in the current degree level.

You have not already been approved for OPT based on a degree level that is higher than your current degree level.

Further criteria while applying for OPT

  • OPT must relate to your major or course of study.
  • You can apply for 12 months of OPT at each education level, (i.e., you may have 12 months of OPT at the bachelor’s level and another 12 months of OPT at the master’s level).
  • Your DSO will provide you with a new Form I-20 that shows the DSO recommendation for this employment.
  • For work authorization, you must mail a completed Form I-765, "Application for Employment Authorization," to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and pay a filing fee. USCIS will send you a Form I-766, "Employment Authorization Document," (EAD) upon approving your Form I-765.
  • Wait to start work until after you receive your EAD.
  • While school is in session, you may only work 20 hours per week. OPT after your degree completion may be full time.
  • You must report changes in name, address, employer and loss of employment to your DSO within 10 days of any change.

24-Month STEM OPT Extension

All F-1 students who are currently on a regular period of OPT and are eligible for a STEM OPT extension may apply for the 24-month STEM OPT extension. Please apply for this STEM extension at least 90-30 days before your OPT end date. This will allow USCIS to process your application materials. Please plan your application process carefully and engage your Goodwin P/DSO in the process. The IPO has plenty of information on the process and you will need the P/DSO engaged in the extension application.

  • You may qualify for an additional 24 months of OPT under the following circumstances:
    • You are currently participating in a regular period of OPT.
    • You received a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) degree at an undergraduate level or higher and seek a training opportunity related to this degree.
    • You received your qualifying STEM degree from a currently accredited SEVP-certified college or university.
    • The employer from which you are seeking employment uses the E-Verify program.
    • You and your prospective employer have completed and signed the Form I-983, "Training Plan for STEM OPT Students."
  • For more information about the specific eligibility requirements for the 24-month STEM OPT extension, please visit the STEM OPT Hub on Study in the States.
  • Once your DSO verifies that your Form I-983 is complete and keeps it in your student record, they will provide you with a new Form I-20 that shows their recommendation for this training opportunity.
  • You must apply for work authorization by electronically filing a Form I-765 with USCIS and paying a filing fee. USCIS will send you an EAD upon approving your petition.
  • You may continue to work on your expired EAD for OPT up to 180 days while your 24-month extension petition is pending if you meet the following conditions:
    • You are currently in a period of post-completion OPT.
    • You properly and in a timely manner filed your application for the 24-month extension with USCIS.
  • You must report changes in name, address, employer and loss of employment to your DSO within 10 days of any change.