Optional practical training is an opportunity for F-1 students to gain work experience to complement their academic program. All F-1 students are entitled to one year of Optional Practical Training for each higher degree they receive. Students who complete a degree on STEM Designated Degree Program List may be entitled to a 17-month extension of OPT (29 months total). STEM refers to degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics and includes:
- Actuarial Science
- Computer Science (except data entry/microcomputer applications)
- Engineering Technologies
- Biological and Biomedical Sciences
- Mathematics and Statistics
- Military Technologies
- Physical Sciences
- Science Technologies
- Medical Scientist
To qualify for the 17-month extension the students’ employer must be enrolled in the E-Verify Employment Verification Program operated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Optional Practical Training for F-1 Students can happen under the following circumstances:
- During the student’s annual vacation and at other times when school is not in session if the student is eligible, and intends to register for the next term or session (pre-completion).
- While school is in session provided that optional practical training does not exceed 20 hours a week (pre-completion).
- Full-time after completion of all course requirements for the degree (excluding thesis or the equivalent), if the student is in a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree program (pre-completion).
- Full-time after completion of a program of study (post-completion).
To engage in Optional Practical Training employment the student must apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from the DHS center having jurisdiction over their place of residence. This is done with a recommendation through the student’s DSO.
Optional practical training employment must be related to the student's field of study. A communication major, for example, is not eligible to work as a computer programmer on OPT. The student may not start OPT employment until the DHS approves the application and provides the student with an EAD. Employers should be aware that the amount of time it takes the DHS to approve the EAD is beyond the control of the student or the school. Delays of 90 days or more are typical during the summer months.
In order to continue employment at the conclusion of OPT a student would need to have an approved change of status to one of the employment categories (H1B, TN, J-1, O, etc) or have obtained lawful permanent residence (or an EAD authorizing employment while adjustment of status is in process).
While on OPT a student may travel internationally if required/desired. The student will need the EAD, a letter from the employer certifying that the student is employed, and the student must have his/her form I-20 endorsed by the DSO within the previous 6 months. Unless going to Canada, Mexico or contiguous territories for 30 days or less, the student will also need a valid F-1 visa. Students with an expired F-1 visa are cautioned not to travel while on OPT. Obtaining an F-1 visa while on OPT is risky.
NOTE: College of Engineering students must have Julie Muenchen or Barb Carter complete the Optional Practical Training Eligibility Form.
You can view a video tutorial that outlines the process for the Optional Practical Training below: