Optional Practical Training

OPT

Definition

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a temporary job training opportunity that must be directly related to an F-1 student's major area of study. It is intended to provide a student with practical experience in his or her field of study upon completion of a degree program.

You may apply for OPT and, if approved, you will be authorized to engage in OPT on the dates listed on your Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

The two types of OPT are:

1. OPT for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) field students. These students are eligible for an initial 12 months of post-completion OPT and may be eligible for a 24-month STEM extension.

2. Non-STEM field students. These students are eligible for 12 months of post-completion OPT. There is no extension available.

  • OPT is available to you, if you are a F-1 student who has completed a degree program.
  • OPT is available to you, if you have been in valid immigration status for nine months.
  • If you are eligible and wish to apply for post-completion OPT, you must complete an online OPT workshop offered by the Office of International and Cultural Affairs (OICA). You must also pass an OPT quiz following the OPT workshop. The workshop and quiz can be logged into in your Canvas account.

Regular paid employment

  • You must work at least 20 hours per week.
  • You may work for multiple employers, as long as all employment is directly related to your program of study.

Work for hire

  • Student and Exchange Visitor Program regulations (SEVP) state, "This work for hire is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by Department of Homeland Security (DHS), students should be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company."

Self-employed business owner

  • SEVP regulations state, "Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. The student should be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to his or her degree program."

Employment through an agency or consulting firm

  • SEVP regulations state, "Students on post-completion OPT must be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency."
  • STEM OPT extensions are not allowed for multiple employer arrangements, sole proprietorships, employment through “temp” agencies, employment through consulting firm arrangements that provide labor for hire, and other relationships that do not constitute a bona fide employer-employee relationship. STEM OPT rule states that "students cannot qualify for STEM OPT extensions unless they will be bona fide employees of the employer signing the Training Plan, and the employer that signs the Training Plan must be the same entity that employs the student and provides the practical training experience.”

Volunteers or unpaid interns

  • SEVP OPT policy guidance states that "Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this practice does not violate any labor laws. The work should be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. A student should be able to provide evidence, acquired from the student's employer, to verify that he or she worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment."
  • Although volunteering may appear simple, it can be very complex and could have many pitfalls that could result in risking your international immigration status. Please refer to the OICA's Employment and Volunteering page.
  • You may apply for post-completion OPT up to 90 days before your program end date and up to 60 days after your program end date. The application must be properly filed and in a timely manner with the correct USCIS Service Center.
  • If the application is not received by USCIS by the 60-day deadline, you will lose OPT eligibility. In addition, the application must be properly filed within 30 days of the date your International Student Advisor recommends OPT in SEVIS and creates an OPT I-20.
  • Once you have completed your academic program, you may not engage in any type of unpaid/paid employment until you have received your approved OPT/EAD card.
  • If you are an undergraduate or non-thesis MS graduate student, the completion date for you is the date of graduation for that semester.
  • If you are a MS or PhD graduate student in a thesis or dissertation program, the completion date for you is defined as the date when you submit the library copy of your thesis or dissertation.
  • You may only work during the dates authorized on your EAD.
  • You may not accrue more than 90 days of unemployment during the initial 12 month OPT period in order to remain in valid F-1 status.
  • Participate in the online OPT workshop offered by the OICA in your Canvas account.
  • Pass the OPT quiz which follows the Canvas workshop.
  • Obtain the OPT application packet from the OPT workshop.
  • Complete the OPT application using black ink.
  • Obtain required signatures from your academic advisor, your department chair, and the Office of Graduate Studies. (Signatures from the Office of Graduate Studies are only required for graduate students.)
  • Submit completed forms to either the front desk of the OICA or directly to your International Student Advisor. Your advisor will review the OPT packet and, if accurate and complete, will process an OPT I-20.
  • When the I-20 is complete, you will collect the new OPT I-20.
  • You are responsible for mailing OPT application and other required documents to USCIS.

If mailing by U.S. Postal Service send to:       

USCIS-Phoenix Lockbox
P.O. Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ  85036

If mailing by FedEx or UPS send to:               

USCIS, Attn: AOS
1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S
Suite 100
Phoenix, AZ  85034

  • USCIS issues I-797C, Notice of Actions (OPT receipt), which will contain your case number.
  • The OICA will email you when the EAD card arrives in our office.
  • When the OICA receives the OPT card, you will receive an email from our office. There is a delivery lag time between USCIS online delivery notice and actual arrival at the OICA.
  • The OICA will confirm the degree completion before issuance of the EAD.
    • If you are a graduate student with thesis or dissertation option, your International Student Advisor will contact your Graduate Studies Specialist and request the dates you defended and submitted your library thesis or dissertation before issuing the EAD.
    • If you are a non-thesis graduate student or an undergraduate student, your International Student Advisor will verify the graduation date in PeopleSoft before issuing the EAD.
    • After your International Student Advisor confirms your program completion, and emails you, you should visit the OICA during walk-in advising hours to receive the EAD and complete the Missouri S&T Exit Form .
  • You must report here  any change in employment, unemployment, or personal information within 10 days of a change. Information must include:
    • Employer’s Name.
    • Employer’s Address.
    • Employment start date.
    • If unemployed for more than 10 days, report the date unemployment began.
    • Any change in your name.
    • Any change in your SEVIS address (home country address).
    • You must report in Joe’ss any change in local address.

While OPT is pending

  • If you travel outside the United States before the OPT application is approved, you must have the current I-20 signed for travel. You should also have your OPT receipt, employment offer letter, or proof of offer of employment from your employer, if available.
  • Travel during the application pending period is not advised since the your OPT application could be considered abandoned and, therefore, invalid. This could result in you not being allowed re-entry to the United States.

 After OPT is approved

  • If you travel outside the United States after the OPT is approved and you do not have a job offer, you may be denied re-entry into the United States.
  • If you are employed, time spent outside the United States during OPT counts as unemployment against the 90-day limit, unless you are either:
    • Employed during a period of leave authorized by an employer.
    • Traveling as part of your employment.
  • While traveling outside the U.S. you should have in your possession your original I-20 with travel authorization signature, OPT/EAD card, and proof of employment (letter from employer or most recent pay stub).
  • Academic department contacts
  • Internet search
  • Networking

On March 11, 2016 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published new regulations for F-1 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) OPT employment authorization. The new regulations became effective on May 10, 2016. In summary, key aspects of the new regulations consist of the following:

  • STEM extension was increased to 24 months from 17 months previously. That means that total OPT time is 36 months (12 for the original post-completion OPT benefit and 24 months for the STEM extension).
  • There is a second STEM extension after a student completes a subsequent higher STEM degree. The new 24-month extension permits students to have two STEM extensions in their lifetimes based on two separate STEM eligible degrees. For example, if a student has received a STEM extension for a BS degree, and then completes a higher degree in a STEM field, the student will qualify for a second STEM extension in the higher degree field.
  • STEM extensions may be based on a previous degree. In short, if a student has never applied for the STEM extension for a lower STEM-based degree, the student can qualify for a STEM extension as long as he/she is eligible for post-completion OPT for the new non-STEM based degree. Please review the number 4 criteria below to determine if you qualify for a STEM extension based on a previous degree.
  • The limit on unemployment has been expanded from 30 days to 60 days for the  24-month STEM OPT extension period.
  • Consulting, self-employment, and volunteering do not qualify as eligible employment for STEM. NAFSA-81 FR 13079 – “There are several aspects of the STEM OPT extension that do not make it apt for certain types of arrangements, including multiple employer arrangements, sole proprietorships, employment through “temp” agencies, employment through consulting firm arrangements that provide labor for hire, and other relationships that do not constitute a bona fide employer-employee relationship”.
  • The I-765 filing deadline is increased from 30 to 60 days after the Designated School Official’s (International Student Advisor’s) recommendation on the OPT I-20.
  • A new Form I-983 Training Plan is required to be completed by the OPT STEM extension employer in order to qualify both the student and the employer for STEM OPT eligibility.

You are currently eligible to apply for the 24-month STEM OPT extension

The new rules governing STEM OPT extension took effect on May 10, 2016. If you are currently on post-completion OPT and you are in a STEM field and you applied on or after May 10, 2016, you are eligible for the STEM OPT 24-month benefit.

  • You must apply for the STEM OPT extension prior to the expiration of your current OPT.
  • Your employer will have to complete the Form I-983, Training Plan, before you can submit the STEM OPT application to USCIS.

How to qualify for a STEM extension based on a prior STEM degree

  • You received both degrees from currently accredited and SEVP-certified institutions.
  • Your previous degree cannot have been conferred more than ten years ago at the time of your OPT extension application.
  • You have not already received STEM OPT extension based on this previous degree.
  • Your practical training opportunity is directly related to the previous obtained STEM degree.
  • With the exception of the requirement that your employer participate in the eVerify program and the employer’s completion in the I-983 Training Plan, the process for the STEM extension is the same as the process of the post-completion OPT.
  • If you are eligible and interested in applying for the 24-month STEM OPT extension, it is important that you and your employer begin working on the Form I-983 Training Plan now, as it will require additional time to prepare the form for submission with the rest of the STEM OPT extension application. For more information about the new Form I-983 Training Plan for STEM OPT students, you may visit Form I-983 Overview
  • Once you have completed your STEM OPT application packet, and your employer has completed the Form I-983, you may submit the packet to your International Student Advisor. Your International Student Advisor will review all forms for completion and accuracy, and will begin preparing your recommended updated I-20 for the additional time you request or for the 24-month period.
  • You will be contacted by the OICA when your STEM OPT I-20 form is ready. 
  • For more information about the new STEM OPT extension regulations, and a step-by-step guide to completing the Form I-983 Training Plan, you may visit the STEM OPT hub
  • You, the student, are responsible for mailing the OPT application and other required documents to USCIS.

If mailing by U.S. Postal Service send to:       

USCIS-Phoenix Lockbox
P.O. Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ  85036

If mailing by FedEx or UPS send to:               

USCIS, Attn: AOS
1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S
Suite 100
Phoenix, AZ  85034

  • To maintain valid F-1 status you are required to submit a STEM OPT Validation Report to the OICA every six months starting from the date your STEM OPT extension is approved. The report is due within 10 days of the required reporting date.
  • In addition to the validation report, every 6 months you are also required to submit two evaluations on the I-983 form. The first evaluation is due within 10 days of completing the first 12 months of the STEM extension period and the final evalaution is due within 10 days of completing the final 12 months of the STEM extension period.
  • Please submit the two I-983 evaluations found in your application packet at the times noted above to your International Student Advisor.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

This document contains Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) that many students have about OPT. 

Note that all information in the FAQ can be found throughout the drop-down tabs on this page.