Optional Practical Training (OPT) is defined in the Federal Regulations as temporary employment directly related to a student’s field of study. During OPT, a student remains in F-1 status, the SEVIS record remains active, and the student must report changes in address and employment to International Student Affairs. When OPT is approved by US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the student receives an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) which authorizes employment for a specific time period. Below are some important points regarding OPT.
Non-STEM OPT is limited to an equivalent of 12 months full-time per degree level. Extensions are not allowable and students cannot “bank” previously unused time for use during or after a subsequent degree level.
- Pre-completion OPT can be authorized for either part-time (during the academic term) or full-time (during academic breaks and vacation periods).
- Limited to 20 hours per week during the academic term and authorized time is deducted from the 12-month limit at 50%.
- During the academic year (fall and spring terms), you may apply for full-time pre-completion OPT provided all coursework has been completed and you are working full-time on a thesis; otherwise, you may only apply for part-time OPT (20 hours or less).
- An F-1 visa holder may become eligible for another 12 months of OPT if he/she advances to a higher educational level.
- CAUTION: Students are strongly advised to consult with International Student Affairs before proceeding with pre-completion OPT, since it will reduce the time available post-degree.
- Provides authorization to seek full-time employment following degree completion.
- Application does not require a job offer and international travel is allowable when supported by proof of current employment.
- Application must be filed no later than 90 days prior to degree completion and no longer than 30 days after the signed endorsement on the I-20. Requested start date must be no later than 60 days following degree completion.
- Unemployed time exceeding 90 days results in termination of employment authorization and F-1 status.
- No extension allowable unless initial authorization is in a STEM field.
Eligibility Criteria for OPT:
- Be in valid F-1 immigration status
- Have completed at least one academic year (two semesters) of full-time study
- Be present in the US at the time of filing of your OPT Application
Note: If an F-1 student has engaged in 12 months or more of full-time curricular practical training (CPT), he/she is ineligible for OPT. Any amount of part-time CPT does not have any effect on eligibility for OPT.
OPT Application Process
Step 1: Meet with your academic adviser and confirm your degree completion date. If applying for post-completion OPT, please note that the normal federal processing time is 90 days.
Step 2: Have your academic adviser send an email to International Student Affairs confirming the projected date you will complete degree requirements and recommending practical training.
Step 3: Prepare your application and make an appointment with International Student Affairs to review the application and to issue a new I-20 endorsed for OPT.
Step 4: Mail your application to USCIS. Remember, you cannot start work until you have received the EAD and will be working within its valid dates.
Step 5: Receive EAD card within 2-3 months and begin working after start date printed on the card. Please provide International Student Affairs a scanned copy.
While you are on OPT:
- During your period of Post-Completion OPT, you are still in F-1 student status.
- You must notify International Student Affairs with:
- Changes in your name, physical address, contact phone number and/or email address.
- Your employer’s name, address, employment status and start date.
- Any other pertinent information about your stay in the United States (i.e. change of status, transfer to a new degree program, requesting OPT STEM Extension).
- You will have a 60-day grace period after the expiration date on your EAD.
- You are expected to be employed in your field of study during OPT and you are required to submit employer information to SEVIS.
- You must have the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) in your possession and the start date on the EAD must be reached before you may engage in employment.
- After your I-20 end-date and before you receive your EAD Card, you may not work in any This includes on-campus employment.
- The maximum period of unemployment is 90 days.
- You must stop your employment when the end date on the EAD card is reached, but may remain in the U.S. for a 60-day grace period following your period of OPT.
OPT Employment Requirements and Reporting:
The EAD is not employer specific, so you may change employers at will. However, employment must be directly related to the field of study in your degree program. Any employment outside your field of study is unauthorized and is a substantive violation of your status.
It is recommended that you keep documentation of all of your places of employment. In the future, you may be asked to provide proof that your employment during OPT was in your field of study or that you did not exceed 90 days of unemployment. You should maintain evidence — for each job — of the position held, proof of the duration of that position, the job title, contact information for your supervisor or manager, and description of the work.
Full-time, part-time, and unpaid volunteer or internship opportunities are permissible under OPT.
If you cannot find employment that meets the definition of OPT employment, you may have the following options:
- Depart the United States. Please notify International Student Affairs if you decide to depart the US and abandon any remaining OPT. Your SEVIS record will be deactivated.
- Apply to Shepherd University or another university to continue your education by a change of level or transferring to another institution.
- If you begin a new full-time degree program during your authorized EAD period, whether at Shepherd or elsewhere, you will lose any time remaining on your EAD. You will be required to cease employment upon release of your SEVIS record from Shepherd University to the new institution or upon issuance of a new Form I-20 for a different program.
- Change status to another legal status, if eligible. Please notify International Student Affairs upon approval of your new status, so that your SEVIS record can be deactivated, if necessary. Please provide a copy of the Change of Status Approval notice.
If you do not yet have a Social Security Number (SSN), you may apply for one after you have received the EAD card and the begin date on the card has been reached. If you already have a SSN, do not apply for a new one. Social Security Numbers are unique and issued for life.
You do not need your SSN to begin working. On your first day of employment, you will be asked to complete employment paperwork. If you do not yet have your SSN, you may write “applied for” in the space where the SSN is to be provided. Once you receive the Social Security Card in the mail, provide the number to your employer.
Options After Post-Completion OPT
- The 24-month OPT STEM Extension may be available for students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields, provided certain criteria are met. Please consult the Study in the States website International Student Affairs.
- Change of Status to a different visa status. When the 12 months of OPT has ended, unless eligible for the OPT STEM Extension, you must seek either a different visa status or begin a new degree program (F-1 Student visa status), if you wish to remain in the US either to continue employment or to continue studies. If you desire to begin another degree program, please contact International Student Affairs for advice and procedures.
- Departure from the US. Please notify International Student Affairs of your plans to permanently depart the U.S.