Optional practical training (OPT) is employment designed to provide you with an opportunity to gain actual experience in your chosen profession for a maximum of one year. Its purpose is to "round off" or complement your academic work. It differs from curricular practical training in that it does not have to be required for your degree, nor does it have to be for academic credit. Optional practical training may be done before you complete your studies, and/or after you complete your studies, but may not exceed a total of 12 months. OPT will be granted for the major and degree level listed on the I-20 form at the time of application. An eligible student who has been granted 12 months of optional practical training becomes eligible for another 12 months of optional practical training after changing to a higher educational level.
Please note that certain science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degree holders may be eligible for an additional 17 months of OPT in addition to the regular 12 months of OPT. Only students with STEM majors listed on their I-20 at the time of their Initial OPT application can apply for a 17 month STEM extension. Students with double majors and dual degrees should review their I-20 and request that ISSS update their I-20 to reflect their STEM major (ISSS will update only if warranted) if they intend to apply for STEM extension. The OPT extension for STEM degree holders will not be discussed in this handout. Please refer to the Optional Practical Training Extension for STEM Degree Holders section for further information.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently published its final rule to strengthen and enhance the optional practical training (OPT) program for F-1 international students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
The new STEM OPT extension is a 24-month period of temporary training that directly relates to an F-1 student’s program of study in an approved STEM field and effectively replaces the 17 month STEM OPT extension.
The 17-month STEM OPT regulations remain in effect through May 9, 2016. The 2016 STEM OPT 24-month extension final rule is effective beginning May 10, 2016.
Study in the States launched the STEM OPT Hub in coordination with this new rule to help school officials, F-1 students and interested employers understand the new regulation.
Basic Eligibility Requirements
In order for you to be eligible to apply for OPT, the following criteria have to be met:
- You must have been enrolled as a full-time student in valid, lawful status for one full academic year directly preceding the training;
- You must be currently in the United States and in valid F-1 status at the time you submit your application and continue to maintain valid F-1 status;
- The employment must be directly related to your major field of study, and
- The employment must be appropriate for someone having your level of education.
You may submit an application for optional practical training up to 90 days prior to being enrolled for one full academic year, provided that the period of employment will not begin until the completion of the full academic year as indicated by your Advisor at International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS).
The F-1 regulations are very clear on who qualifies for off-campus employment authorization and who does not. Students in exchange programs and students in special/executive programs (i.e. Global Executive MBA, Higher Education Leadership), do not qualify for any type of off-campus paid employment before or after their studies (with the exception of Internship with an International Organization Employment for exchange students) since they do not meet the eligibility requirements for these Immigration benefits.
Exchange program students: In order to qualify for Optional Practical Training (OPT), a student must complete one full academic year (excluding time spent in F-1 status in Intensive English Programs) in F-1 status. In the case of pre-completion OPT, a student must be returning to study in the U.S. after employment. In the case of post-completion OPT, a student must receive a U.S. degree. Exchange Students are not eligible for employment at the end of their exchange year because they are neither returning to study in the U.S. after the employment, nor will they receive a U.S. degree.
Special/Executive program students: In order to qualify for off-campus employment, a student must complete one full academic year (excluding time spent in F-1 status in Intensive English Programs) in F-1 status. Special/Executive program students are not eligible for employment upon completion of their degree because they will not have completed one full academic year in F-1 status.
Types of Optional Practical Training:
OPT is available in the following cases:
(A) Before Completion of Studies:
- Part-time (20 hours per week) or full-time (40 hours per week) during your annual vacation and at other times when school is not in session if you are currently enrolled and intend to register for the next term; or
- Part-time (20 hours per week) while school is in session; or
- Part-time (20 hours per week) or full-time (40 hours per week) after completion of graduate course requirements (but before completion of a course of study), excluding a thesis or dissertation.
You may apply no earlier than 90 days prior to being enrolled for one full academic year, provided that the period of employment will not begin until the completion of the full academic year, and no earlier than 120 days before the requested OPT start date. The OPT application must be filed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within 30 days of the OPT recommendation being entered in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.
Click here for a comprehensive timeline of the Pre-completion OPT Application and Approval Process.
(B) After Completion of Studies:
Provided you are completing a Bachelor's, Master's or Doctoral Degree Program at the U.S. institution you are authorized to attend. Post-completion OPT must be at least 20 hours of activity per week.
You may apply no earlier than up to 90 days prior to being enrolled for one full academic year and 90 days before the expected degree completion date, provided that the period of employment will not begin until the completion of the full academic year, and no later than 60 days after the degree completion date. If you apply for OPT during the 60-day grace period after degree completion, you must submit your OPT application no less than 15 business days before the end of the 60-day grace period in order for USCIS to receive your application by the filing deadline. The OPT application must be filed with USCIS within 30 days of the OPT recommendation being entered in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.
Click here for a comprehensive timeline of the Post-completion OPT Application and Approval Process.
NOTE: You must continue to be registered even if you are preparing a thesis or dissertation and have finished all your course work, including during a summer session if you expect to complete your degree in that summer session. If you fail to maintain your registration, you will forfeit your opportunity for optional practical training.
Application and Authorization Procedures
Applicants must complete the online ISSS Employment Session (www.miami.edu/employmentsession
) prior to submitting the application and supporting documents. The items listed below are required to apply for OPT:
- Optional Practical Training (OPT) Request.
- Form G-1145, “E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance.”
- Form I-765 Item #3 indicates ISSS address as U.S. Mailing Address in order to ensure timely delivery and for ISSS to review documents for accuracy upon receipt from USCIS and issue you a new Form I-20 if your OPT is approved. We strongly suggest that you do not change the ISSS address to your personal address. Enter eligibility code (c)(3)(A) in item #16 for pre-completion OPT, and (c)(3)(B) for post-completion OPT.
- Two U.S. Passport-Style Photos. Follow specifications on I-765 instructions . Write your name and I-94 number on back of both photos.
- Original SEVIS Form I-20. Signed by student on page 1.
- Copy of all previous Form I-20s. Signed by student on page 1.
- Form I-94. Go to https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov to download.
- Copy of Passport Pages. Need biographic data, photo, F-1 visa, and passport page with last entry stamp.
- Copy of Previously Issued EAD(s). Only if applicable.
- Money order or cashier’s check for $380.00. Must be made payable to the Department of Homeland Security. You can obtain from your bank, any US Post Office, CVS, or Western Union.
- OPT Advisor Memo. Must follow format of sample advisor letter. Document must be on letterhead and signed. (Required only if you are completing your degree and applying for post-completion OPT.)
Applications for optional practical training authorization must be submitted to ISSS for processing before they can be sent by ISSS to USCIS Dallas Lockbox for adjudication. Please be aware that it will take USCIS from 120 to 150 days to adjudicate OPT applications, and that you may not begin employment until you have received your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS and until the start date on the EAD has arrived.
Other Important Information
Definition of OPT
OPT is employment that is related to the student's degree major and appropriate for the degree level. The location of the OPT employment must be within the US. OPT may be in any of these forms:
- Working for one or multiple employers (short or long term).
- Working on a contractual basis.
- Working as a self-employed business owner on a full-time basis (with evidence of the proper business license).
- Working through an agency.
- Volunteering or holding an unpaid internship (as long as the position does not violate any labor laws).
Reporting of Employer Information and Changes in Address
For the duration of your OPT, you must report your employer information and changes in your local and/or permanent address to ISSS immediately using the Change of Student and Employer Information Form for Students in F-1 Status. ISSS will update this information in SEVIS. If you fail to report your employment, your SEVIS record will auto-terminate after 90 days of your OPT start date.
Limited Periods of Unemployment during Optional Practical Training after Completion of Studies
During post-completion OPT, your F-1 status is dependent upon employment. Once your post-completion OPT begins, you are not allowed to accrue an aggregate of more than 90 days of unemployment during any post-completion OPT carried out under the initial post-completion OPT authorization. Exceeding this limit may negatively affect your immigration status and future immigration benefits. You are allowed to volunteer or engage in unpaid internships during your post-completion OPT carried out under the initial post-completion OPT authorization, provided that no labor laws are violated and that the volunteer work or internship is for at least 20 hours per week. Volunteering or engaging in unpaid internships will be considered employment during your post-completion OPT carried out under the initial post-completion OPT authorization.
Health insurance through United Health Care
International students who are no longer enrolled at the University but remain in the United States to engage in post-completion F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) may still be insured under the Student Insurance policy if they originally purchased a plan that continues beyond the completion of their studies. To verify the termination date of your insurance plan, please call (800) 436-7709 or log on to www.myuhc.com. If your insurance is no longer in effect, you may enroll for continued insurance.
Enrollments for OPT students for 2014-2015 will be done via Wells Fargo Insurance Services.
- Complete the appropriate enrollment form and mail or fax to:
10940 White Rock Road, 2nd Floor
Rancho Cordova, CA 95670
Fax: (877) 612-7966
- Enrollments can also be taken by phone by calling Wells Fargo Insurance Services at (800) 853-5899. Customer care representatives are available Monday – Friday, 8am-5pm (PST).
- Once your request is processed (approximately 3 weeks after sending the form), you will receive the insurance card in the mail. Once payment is accepted and enrollment has been competed, you will be able to print a temporary card at www.myuhc.com . You will need your United Healthcare subscriber number which can be obtained by calling (800) 436-7709. Please refer to group # 709872 when calling to obtain your subscriber number.
- Wells Fargo Insurance Services will verify your eligibility with the Office of International Students and Scholar Services, and if unable to verify will return any paid premium. (requires employment authorization document (EAD) from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for F-1, Form I-20 Form for F-1 students.
- Wells Fargo Insurance Services will notify you only if there is an issue with the form or if you are denied by sending you a cancellation letter and payment will be returned.
Although insurance coverage can continue during OPT, access to the Student Health Service is limited to enrolled students. Expenses incurred off-campus will be subject to deductibles, co-payments and co-insurance. Please review the United Healthcare schedule of benefits for information on benefits, exclusions and limitations of coverage or contact the Student Health Service at email@example.com for additional information.
Travel Outside of U.S. While Engage in Optional Practical Training before Completion of Studies
Before completing your studies, you must present the following documents to USCIS at the port-of-entry in order to seek reentry to the U.S.:
- SEVIS Form I-20, endorsed for travel by your ISSS advisor within the last 12 months;
- Valid passport; and
- Valid F-1 visa.
You do not need evidence of a job or a valid EAD issued for OPT to return to the U.S.
Travel Outside the U.S. While Engaged in Optional Practical Training after Completion of Studies
After completing your studies and before
your EAD has arrived, you must present the following documents to USCIS at the port-of-entry in order to seek reentry to the U.S.:
- SEVIS Form I-20, endorsed for travel by your ISSS advisor;
- Form I-797 receipt notice for pending application for EAD issued by USCIS;
- Valid passport; and
- Valid F-1 visa.
Absence from the US during OPT is limited to 90 days. After completing your studies and after
your EAD has arrived, you must present the following documents to USCIS at the port-of-entry in order to seek reentry to the U.S.:
Students who do not meet these requirements may not be allowed to re-enter the U.S.
- SEVIS Form I-20, endorsed for travel by your ISSS advisor within the last six months;
- EAD issued by USCIS;
- Valid passport;
- Valid F-1 visa; and
- A letter from the U.S. employer regarding the employment for optional practical training.
Be sure to consult with ISSS when contemplating travel outside the U.S. and reentry to continue optional practical training after completion of studies.
Importance of the Actual Date You Complete Your Program of Study
USCIS regulations refer to the date you complete all requirements for a program of study, not to the date you participate in graduation ceremonies and receive a certificate or diploma. USCIS ignores your graduation date because it realizes that many students, especially graduate students in thesis or dissertation programs, may complete requirements for a degree any day during the year. This means that the last day of an academic term may not be the date you complete program requirements. Your lawful F 1 status expires 60 days after the date you complete degree requirements, and you are expected to leave the country by that date unless you have filed a timely application for optional practical training or made other arrangements to lawfully remain in the U.S.
Actual Date Optional Practical Training Employment May Begin and End
You may not begin work until the following requirements are satisfied: (1) you have obtained an EAD from USCIS, and (2) the date is reached when the EAD authorizes employment to begin. Your beginning date will be the date USCIS assigns at the time it processes your application. This is the date from which your optional practical training time starts counting, not from the date you begin employment.
All Optional Practical Training must be completed during the 14-month window following date of completion of studies. Therefore, depending on when you apply, you may not be granted the full 12 months of optional practical training.
Change of Employer after Optional Practical Training Has Been Authorized
You may change employers after you have begun authorized employment provided the new job is (1) directly related to your major field of study and (2) appropriate for someone having your level of education.
You must immediately report any change of name or address, or disruption of employment during OPT to ISSS for the duration of the authorized training. Complete the Change of Student and Employer Information Form for Students in F-1 Status
H-1B Cap-Gap Extension
Duration of status and work authorization will be automatically extended for a student on OPT who is the beneficiary of a timely-filed H-1B petition requesting change of status and an employment start date of October 1 of the following fiscal year. The extension of duration of status and work authorization automatically terminates upon the rejection, denial, or revocation of the H-B petition filed on the student’s behalf.
To request an updated I-20 for H-1B cap-gap extension, your SEVIS record must indicate that you are on active H-1B cap-gap.
Students on H-1B cap-gap extension must continue to report all changes of name and address, and interruptions of employment just like all other students on OPT.
Making a Decision Regarding Optional Practical Training
12 Months of Optional Practical Training is Available After Change to a Higher Educational Level.
If you have used 12 months of OPT, you will be eligible for another 12 months after changing to a higher educational level (i.e., if you use the entire 12 months for a Bachelor's Degree, you will be eligible for 12 more months after your Master's Degree).
Authorization May Not Be Rescinded.
Once authorization to engage in optional practical training is granted, it may not be rescinded or canceled. This means that after optional practical training is authorized by the USCIS, unexpected delays in completing degree requirements, inability to find an appropriate job or loss of a job may result in loss of otherwise eligible time to work. Once permission to work has been given, it cannot be taken back regardless of subsequent occurrences.
Termination of Optional Practical Training.
Authorization to engage in optional practical training is automatically terminated when you transfer to another school or begin study at another educational level.
Employment Eligibility Verification and Form I-9 Information for F-1 Students.
Employment Eligibility Verification and Form I-9 Information for Employers of Students in F-1 Status.
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