What is OPT?
OPT is defined as “temporary employment for practical training directly related to the student’s major area of study.” [8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(ii)] OPT allows F-1 students to gain practical experience in their field of study for one year following program completion. All students are eligible to apply for OPT as long as application procedures are followed. Students who study English are not eligible for OPT.
What are the pre-conditions for OPT?
- You must be in F-1 status at the time of the application.
- You must be in good F-1 status.
- You must have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis at a DHS-approved school for one full academic year.
- It is available before and after completion of your educational objective, but different rules apply to pre- and post-completion OPT.
- Students in English language training programs are not eligible.
How do I maintain status while on OPT?
While you were a student you maintained status by taking 12 units every semester and not engaging in unauthorized employment. On OPT, you must also follow the following guidelines to maintain your student status:
- Do not have more than 90 days of unemployment. Unemployment is counted during the validity period (from-to dates) on the EAD card.
- Employment must be at least 20 hours per week and may include:
- Paid employment
- Multiple employers
- Contract or independent contract
- Self-employed business owner (must show business license and evidence of engaging in business)
- Employment agency
- Unpaid or volunteer employment
Be aware that if you travel for long periods of time (more than 30 days) outside the US, or if you do not have a job offer when you attempt to re-enter the US, the port of entry officer at the airport may question your true intentions. It is within the power of the official at the port of entry to deny you admittance.
NOTE: It is your responsibility to keep your SEVIS record updated while in OPT status: The address you use on the OPT application form (I-765) will be temporarily entered in SEVIS for processing purposes. Once you receive the EAD (I-797D) from the USCIS, you must report your current address to the Office of International Services immediately. Again, you need to report any change of address within 10 days of that change.
How do I apply for OPT?
- You must apply for and receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD/I-797D) from USCIS with the assistance of the DSO in OIS before you can begin work.
- The application must be properly filed with the USCIS before the end of your 60-day grace period following your program of study. Download Form I-765 from the USCIS website. Click on the Immigration Forms tab and scroll down to Form I-765.
- You must begin the application process sufficiently in advance to allow the DSO to update the SEVIS record with the recommendation, and to ensure that the I-765 is accepted by USCIS prior to your program completion date. USCIS will accept applications up to 90 days before the end of your program.
Where can you work while in OPT?
You can engage in OPT for any employer in the US. as long as the employment is related to your field of study and the work is appropriate for master level's work. You may work for more than one employer and/or change employers without USCIS authorization during your authorized OPT period, but you must remember to report your employment to OIS. The work may be paid or unpaid. You may work as an independent contractor or even your own business.
Can I travel outside the US while my OPT application is pending?
You should wait for your OPT to be approved and be in receipt of the actual card before traveling outside of the U.S. If you must leave the country while your OPT application is pending, then you should be sure to carry your receipt notice from USCIS as well as a letter of support from the Office of International Services. If you do not have a valid visa and your OPT application is still pending, it is strongly recommended that you wait for the approval before applying for a new visa.
Can I travel outside the US while I am on OPT?
A student engaged in OPT before completion of studies follows the same procedure for visits abroad and re-entry as all F-1 students.If you engage in OPT following the completion of your studies and you travel outside the US temporarily (less than 5 months), you can be readmitted to resume employment for the remainder of the period authorized on your EAD card provided you present the following:
- Your valid Form I-20 signed by one of the designated school officials at MIIS within the last 6 months at the time of re-entry
- Your unexpired EAD,
- A valid passport with a valid F-1 visa, and
- A letter from your employer verifying your employment
What is the processing time for the employment application with USCIS
It can vary but it is important to expect 45 to 70 days. Check your application status.
How long is the employment authorizaion while on OPT? Can it be extended?
You can do OPT for a cumulative maximum of 12 months during any uninterrupted stay in F-1 status. You may be authorized to do 12 months of OPT following each educational level, e.g., MA→PhD. For students who majored in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics), there is an additional 17-month extension; however, MIIS majors to not qualify. There may also be an extension of OPT if you have an approved or receipted H-1b application. Ask the OIS for more information on this.