International students in the U.S. in valid F-1 immigration status are permitted to work off-campus in optional practical training status. Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. Eligible students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization.
- Pre-completion OPT: F-1 international students may apply to participate in pre-completion OPT after they have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year at a college, university, conservatory, or seminary. If you are authorized to participate in pre-completion OPT, you may work part time (20 hours or less per week) while school is in session. You may work full time when school is not in session.
- Post-completion OPT: Students may apply to participate in post-completion OPT after completing their studies. If you are authorized for post-completion OPT, you may work part time (20 hours or less per week) or full time.
Note: If you participated in pre-completion OPT, USCIS will deduct that amount of time from your post-completion OPT authorization period.
- STEM OPT Extension: International students enrolled in certain science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, may apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion OPT employment authorization.
In order to apply for OPT you must:
- Request that your designated school official (DSO) at your academic institution recommend the OPT. Your DSO will make the recommendation by endorsing your Form I‑20, Certification of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, and making the appropriate notation in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
- Properly file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization with USCIS, accompanied by the required fee and the supporting documentation as described in the form instructions.
OPT Process at a Glance
General OPT Requirements:
- Employment must be “directly related” to the student’s major
- Students must maintain lawful F-1 status
- Students must apply for OPT before completion of all work towards a degree
- Students who have engaged in 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) are not eligible for OPT
- Regular (not STEM) OPT is permitted for up to 12 months full-time in total.
On September 27, 2019, ICE released “SEVP [Student and Exchange Visitor Program] Policy Guidance:Practical Training – Determining a Direct Relationship Between Employment and a Student’s Major Area of Study.”
The guidance reminds that a student’s employment during practical training should be “directly related to their major area of study.” “Nonimmigrant students are responsible for providing a description of how their practical training opportunity relates to their major area of study, which the DSO [Designated School Official for SEVIS] must review and retain,” states the guidance.
ICE explains, “When a DSO recommends a student for OPT or STEM OPT, the school assumes additional responsibilities to monitor and update the student’s SEVIS record. Consistent with those responsibilities, a DSO must make a determination of whether there is a direct relationship between the job and the major area of study.” ICE states that in most cases, a Designated School Official should be able to make an assessment based on the documentation the student provides.
Additionally, S. Department of Homeland Security’s (“DHS”) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) is now conducting on-site inspections for STEM OPT Employment. These inspections, also known as “site visits,” are a new practice in DHS’ increasing scrutiny of the activities of foreign students on F-1 visas, and are conducted by officers from ICE’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program.