What is Optional Practical Training?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) work authorization is designed to provide opportunities for employment to international students with F-1 visas who wish to work in their field of study. During the period of OPT, a student will maintain F-1 visa status since it is considered to be part of the program of study. Any work (on- or off-campus) after the completion of one’s academic program requires applying for OPT and getting INS approval, which can take up to three months. Work cannot begin until after receiving employment authorization from the INS.
To be considered for OPT, international students must have maintained valid F-1 status for at least nine months and the proposed employment must be related to the student's field of study. The employment may occur anywhere in the U.S. A job offer at the time of application is not required. There is no penalty for failure to obtain employment during the authorization period. However, for post-completion (of the student's degree in the U.S.) OPT, the INS expects that the student will be actively seeking employment during the period of authorization. Changing employers is allowed, with no special permission from the INS as long as the new employment is related to the field of study.
How long can one work?
Only 12 months of OPT are available during the student's length of stay as an F-1 in the U.S., even if more than one degree is received. Some students have been successful in applying for OPT after completing a second degree, if they had been out of the U.S. for more than five months before beginning the second degree program. However, a student in this situation will need to discuss this situation with the international student advisers at the second university.
OPT may be used during the student's studies, or immediately after completing the degree. The 12 months can be broken into smaller units of time. For example, if OPT permission is obtained for three months during a summer break, only nine months will remain for a later date, such as after completing a degree, or during/after another degree. If the employment is prior to the completion of one’s degree and is only part-time (20 hours or less per week), the time will be deducted from the total 12 month allotment at 50% rate (two months part-time = a one-month deduction).
If the student is in school while the fall and spring semesters are in session, OPT is limited to part-time employment (no more than 20 hours per week). Employment during vacation breaks, such as winter break, spring break, and summer, may be full-time or part-time. Graduate students who have completed all coursework and are working on research for theses or dissertations may be employed full-time or part-time at any time of the year. Students using OPT after completing their degree are expected to be pursuing full-time employment, but there is no penalty for part-time employment.
Travel restrictions and health insurance
If you plan to leave the U.S. after completing your degree program, you must apply for OPT before your departure or you will forfeit your eligibility for OPT until you complete another degree program in the U.S. Students may travel freely outside the U.S. and then re-enter the U.S. after they have obtained their OPT Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from INS. Remember, it can take up to three months to receive your EAD.
Students who complete a program of study and obtain OPT are no longer eligible for the Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) administered by the University Health Service. However, students should take steps to continue their health insurance while they are on OPT.
Optional Practical Training application instructions
THE APPLICATION PROCESS MAY TAKE UP TO THREE MONTHS TO COMPLETE! Employment may not begin until the student has received permission to work. All students are encouraged to apply for OPT as early as possible to ensure they receive work permission for the time they wish to work.
For OPT after completion of a program of study, the application can be submitted to the international student adviser 120 days before and within 60 days after the completion date. For undergraduate students, the date of completion is the last day of final exams of the semester in which degree requirements are fulfilled. For graduates, completion is the day on which all degree requirements are fulfilled, such as filing the thesis or dissertation in the Graduate Division.
There is no application deadline for OPT which occurs before completing the program of study. An application may be submitted to the international adviser as soon as a firm job offer is available. A job offer is not required, but is prudent to avoid wasting OPT time looking for a job.
Step I: Gathering your documents
You will need to ask for a recommendation letter on departmental letterhead stationary from the faculty person or academic adviser most directly involved with your degree program.
Step II: Filling out forms
Make an appointment with the international student advisor and she will help you to fill the required forms.
Step III: Mailing your application
You will then be able to mail the completed application to INS. The application fee to INS is $180. The INS will mail the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) directly to you within approximately 90 days.
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