Optional Practical Training (OPT)
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, unless ineligible from using over a year of full-time CPT.
Find a Job in the U.S.
Part of the OPT process will involve finding a job in the United States. While you may use other connections and websites to find positions, UC has a resource for its students called Handshake. Using this portal, you can find co-ops, internships and post-graduation jobs that best match your career path.
In this video from Experience-Based Learning and Career Education, learn how to use Handshake to find employers who will sponsor international students, don't require a U.S. work visa and accept students on OPT.
Apply for OPT
To use OPT, you must apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with a recommendation through UC International. You may apply for OPT after completing one academic year (two semesters) as a full-time F-1 student.
Your job must be related to your field of study. A communication major, for example, is not eligible to work as a computer programmer on OPT.
- You must have a degree in a STEM field. You can check if your degree qualifies by comparing the CIP code number of your major (on page 1 of your I-20 under "Program of Study - Major 1") to the DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List.
- You must be paid while on the STEM OPT extension. You may not "volunteer" for the employer. There must be a direct employer/employee relationship, so you cannot be your own employer.
- The employer may not be your "employer" in name only. The employer must complete an I-983 OPT Training Plan and identify a staff person who will monitor your progress while on the STEM OPT extension.
- The "personnel" who provides and supervises the training experience may be either employees of the employer, or contractors who the employer has retained to provide services to the employer; they may not be employees or contractors of the employer's clients or customers.
- The employer may not fulfill its training obligation by having the student make periodic telephone calls or send periodic emails to describe and discuss their experiences at a client or customer of the employer.
- The STEM OPT employer must be an E-Verify Employer. E-Verify is an Internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States.
- The training experience must take place on-site at the employer's place of business or worksite(s). U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has authority to conduct employer site visits to ensure that the employer is meeting program requirements; if the student is sent to different worksite locations as part of the training opportunity, ICE must be able to access such worksite locations.
- Online or distance learning arrangements may not be used to fulfill the employer's training obligation to the student.
- Staffing and temporary agencies may employ students under the STEM OPT program only if they will be the entity that provides the practical training to the student at its own place of business and have a bona fide employer-employee relationship with the student. For instance, a student could work for such an entity's IT department. Such entities may not, however, assign or contract out students to work for one of their customers or clients, and assign, or otherwise delegate, their training responsibilities to the customer or client.
When to Apply
When you apply for OPT depends on the type of OPT you are applying for:
- Apply for Pre-Completion OPT if you intend to work before you finish your degree program.
- Apply for Post-Completion OPT if you intend to work after your degree program has ended or as you are finishing your thesis / dissertation.
- Apply for the 24 Month STEM extension if you:
- have already been working on OPT
- wish to extend your OPT
- are in a STEM field and working for an employer who uses E-Verify
If you are applying for pre-completion OPT, you can file your application 90 days before you wish to start working. You can only work:
- During your annual vacation or when school is not in session if you intend to register for the next term or session.
- While school is in session provided that you do not work more than 20 hours a week.
- Full-time after completion of all course requirements for your degree (excluding thesis/dissertation or equivalent).
If you are an undergraduate student applying for post-completion OPT, you may apply 90 days prior to graduation and no later than 60 days after the end of your academic program.
You may only work after you have fully completed your program of study.
If you are a graduate student applying for post-completion OPT, you can apply 90 days prior to graduation and no later than 60 days after the end of your academic program. Your program completion date can be one of the following:
- The last day of your last term
- The date that all requirements (thesis/dissertation) have been completed
- The date that all coursework has been completed, but not your thesis/dissertation
In cases where the requested OPT start will be after the last day of your last term of study, the program completion date will be your term graduation date.
If you are applying for the 24 month STEM extension, you may apply 90 days prior to the expiration of your Employment Authorization Document (EAD), and no later than your EAD's expiration.
All international students must read through our UC International OPT Seminar prior to applying for OPT. There are no exceptions to this policy.
You will be asked to provide the following information:
- Whether you are filing for pre-completion OPT, post-completion OPT, or the STEM extension
- Your degree level
- Your proposed start and end date for employment
- If you have a current job offer
- If you have applied for OPT before
As a part of the application, you will scan and upload the following documents as one PDF:
- All previous I-20s, including any Curricular Practical Training documents
- Printed I-94
- Official University Transcript
- 2 New Passport Photos
STEM OPT Extension applicants will need to complete an I-983 Training Plan.
The application will explain who you need to contact for your degree level and college. Email your academic advisor to let them know that you are sending the request.
Advisor approval is not required for STEM OPT Extension applications.
You must send this request within 30 days of your OPT appointment (60 days for STEM OPT Extension applicants), but no more than 90 days prior to the expiration date listed on the new I-20 you received during that appointment.
It may take around 90 days for your OPT request to be processed. You can check your status on the USCIS website.
Upload a copy of the EAD using the "Update Immigration/Visa Documents" form in the Biographical Information tab.
You may not start OPT employment until DHS approves the application and provides you with an EAD.
During Your OPT Employment
- If you remain unemployed for 90 (regular OPT) or 150 days (STEM OPT), your F-1 status will be terminated. You must keep UC International Services informed of any loss of employment on OPT.
- Every 6 months you are required to verify your employment status with UC International Services.
- Students on the STEM OPT extension are required to have an evaluation using the I-983 form at the 12 and 24-month points of their STEM OPT training period.
- If you decide to stop working on OPT and return to school, you must notify UC International Services immediately and give us the name of the school you will attend. Your OPT ends when your SEVIS record is transferred.
If your immigration status changes while on OPT (i.e. H-1B, Permanent Residence), you must inform UC International Services immediately.
Fill out the Notification of Change of Immigration Status eForm at iBearcatsGlobal, under the Biographical Information tab.
You may NOT travel outside the United States while your 12-month OPT application is pending at the USCIS. You can travel while the 24-month STEM OPT application is pending. You may travel once you receive your EAD card.
You will need the following in order to re-enter the US:
- Unexpired passport
- Unexpired F-1 visa* (unless visa exempt)
- The back of your I-20 signed for travel (signed within the past six months)
- Your EAD card (or receipt)
- A letter from your employer stating you are currently employed (or a recently dated paycheck).
*If your visa has expired, you will need to present all the documents above (except #2 and include salary in #5) to the US Consulate/Embassy to obtain a new visa stamp. Please consult with a UC International advisor prior to traveling in such circumstances. Obtaining a new visa at this stage may be difficult.
This scenario is known as the H-1B "Cap Gap": when you've received an approved H-1B petition, but your F-1 status expires before your H-1B.
If this happens to you, you do not need to leave the United States. Instead, provide UC International with proof that you have received an H-1B approval using the Cap Gap I-20 eForm in iBearcatsGlobal. We will issue a new I-20 showing an OPT recommendation that covers the "cap-gap" period.
The US government considers starting your own business in the United States, also known as entrepreneurship, as work.
If you are an F-1 student who plans to start your own business in the United States, you must obtain work authorization to start the business. Optional Practical Training (OPT) is the only realistic work authorization that can be used to start your own business.
- You cannot be your own employer for the purpose of the STEM OPT extension.
- You cannot operate your own business, engage in business, or receive revenue, compensation or salary until you have work authorization.
- You need work authorization to run your own business, even if you forego any compensation, revenue, or salary.
- You cannot write books or blogs to generate income without work authorization.
If you want to start your own business while on OPT, do your research.