OPT, which stands for Optional Practical Training, is temporary employment that is directly related to an F1 student’s major area of study. OPT allows international students to work in the USA for an initial period of 12 months plus a possible H-1B cap-gap extension OR a 24-Month extension for those who qualify. OPT is authorized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The authorization process takes an average of 3-5 months.
However, all periods of pre-completion OPT will be deducted from the available period of post-completion OPT.
OPT can be completed before or after graduation, while CPT must be completed before graduation. CPT employment is part of your major curriculum and must receive course credit. Only certain employers participate in CPT. Alternately, OPT is not employer specific and does not need to receive course credit. CPT is approved by the school and noted on the student’s I-20 form; OPT is approved by USCIS and issued with work authorization (EAD).
To be eligible for post-completion OPT, you must:
24-month Extension: Students who major in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields can get a 24-month OPT extension.
To be eligible for a 24-month extension, you must:
Cap-gap occurs because an employer may not file, and USCIS may not accept, a cap-subject H-1B petition submitted more than six months in advance of the date of actual need for the beneficiary’s services or training.
The “cap-gap” period starts when an F-1 student’s status and employment authorization expires and, unless terminated, ends on Oct. 1, the required start date of the H-1B cap-subject petition filed on their behalf if seeking cap-gap authorization.
Initial post-completion OPT
Can I work while my STEM OPT application is pending?
If you file your STEM OPT extension application on time and your OPT period expires while your extension application is pending, USCIS will automatically extend your employment authorization for 180 days.
Once an OPT request status changes to Pending, the student must write USCIS to withdraw the OPT application.
You may engage in paid employment that is directly related to your major field of study.
You may also serve as a volunteer, unpaid intern, researcher, community service worker, etc., where this does not violate any labor laws. We would advise that you obtain evidence from your volunteer organization that you performed services at least 20 hours per week.
You may work for more than one employer. For active OPT, all jobs combined must total 20 hours per week or more.
If you hold a job as a musician or other performing artist, you may work for multiple short-term employers. You should maintain a list of all employers, the dates and duration. If requested by DHS, you should be prepared to provide evidence showing the list.
You may be engaged in work for hire (commonly referred to as working as a 1099 independent contractor), performing a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by DHS, you must be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
You may start a business and be self-employed. In this situation, you must be able to prove that you have the proper business licenses and that you are actively engaged in a business related to your degree program.
If you are employed through an agency, you must be able to provide evidence showing that you are working an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.
Difference between the employer type of OPT and STEM OPT extension
You can not engage in unpaid work during the STEM extension. All employment must be paid and payment should be commensurate with that provided to similarly situated U.S. workers.
Positions that may not provide students with a bona fide employer-employee relationship during the STEM extension include but are not limited to:
Can I work from home?
According to SEVP guidance, “Students currently participating in OPT, including STEM OPT, may work remotely if their employer has an office outside of the United States or the employer can assess student engagement using electronic means.
Can I change jobs during my OPT?
Yes, an OPT change of employer is perfectly legal and does not violate any of the terms of your F-1 OPT visa. But you must report the change to your DSO.
Initial post-completion OPT： Up to 90 days
STEM 24-month extension: Additional 60 days（A total of 150 days)
If your OPT/STEM OPT Extension is rejected, you must file a completely new application with USCIS. If the application is rejected after your filing deadline (the end of the 60-day grace period for OPT; end of the OPT EAD for STEM OPT) refiling would normally be denied.
How long does it take to get authorization for OPT and when should I apply?
Authorization for OPT is granted by USCIS and can take 1 – 3 months to obtain. Therefore it is important that you apply 3 months before the date you wish to start working.
Do I need to have a job to apply for optional practical training?
You do not need to have a job offer before applying for the first 12 months of optional practical training.
When can I start working on OPT?
As soon as you receive your EAD card and the start date has passed
Travel and Re-entry to the U.S. While on OPT
After graduation, in order to re-enter the U.S., you must have:
After my post-completion OPT ends, do I have a grace period?
Yes, you have a grace period of 60 days. The grace period is only applicable for those who have not exceeded the 90 days of unemployment during the OPT period or the 150 days of unemployment during OPT and the STEM OPT extension. You may not depart and return to the United States during your grace period. If you depart the United States before the end of your grace period, the rest of the grace period is lost.