Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING WHAT IS IT?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is off-campus employment authorization which lets J-1 students get work experience in their major field of study. The amount of work permitted is a maximum of 12 months of full-time employment for each educational level (undergraduate, graduate, doctoral) during which you are an J-1 student. You can use it during or after your studies in whatever portions you choose. You can work for any employer, anywhere.
HOW CAN IT BE USED?
Summer vacation and semester break – either part-time or full-time employment
While school is in session – part-time employment only
After completion of all course requirements for a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree, excluding the thesis or equivalent – part- or full-time employment
After completion of ALL requirements for the course of study – full-time employment only
You MAY change jobs during the 12 months
If there is a strike or labor dispute you must stop working for that employer
HOW DO YOU QUALIFY?
You must have been enrolled full-time for at least one full academic year.
You must be able to describe how the type of work you are seeking directly relates to your major. You do not have to have a job offer to apply for OPT. If you are applying for before-completion-of-studies OPT, however, it is wise that you be as sure as possible of a job so that you don’t waste any of your OPT “account.”
You cannot already have used 12 months of full-time Curricular or Optional Practical Training.
HOW DO YOU APPLY?
You must apply before your program end date.
Pick up an application packet from the International Student Advisor and fill out all the materials.
Submit all completed application materials to the International Student Advisor.
Allow seven working days for processing this paperwork, and then return to the International Student Advisor’s office to pick up your Form DS-2019 with the recommendation notation. The Advisor will review the application process with you and provide an envelope for mailing your application to USCIS.
WHEN DO YOU APPLY?
You can apply 120 days before the date you want to start working. Your application must be received and accepted by USCIS prior to your program end date, so be sure to allow enough time.
Timing of your application and advance planning are very important. You cannot work until the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is issued by USCIS, yet you must be sure of your completion date. Currently you may request a starting date that is up to 60 days after your completion date. Once that date has arrived, the EAD is in effect and cannot be canceled or postponed, so it is best to have employment secured by the start date, if possible.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?
After you send your application, plan that it will take about three months for your EAD to be returned to you from USCIS. It could take less or more depending on USCIS’s workload. Unfortunately, there is no way to make the process go faster.
It’s important to take USCIS processing time into consideration when planning the date you want to start working! YOU CANNOT BEGIN TO WORK UNTIL YOU HAVE YOUR EAD CARD!!
CAN YOU TRAVEL BEFORE RECEIVING YOUR EAD?
NO. If you leave the U.S. before you have received your authorization card (EAD), your application will be considered abandoned and you will not be able to apply for another. You are required to have the EAD and a job to which you are returning. You must have a letter from your employer stating that you are resuming employment, as well as your Form DS-2019 endorsed by the International Student Advisor, in order to re-enter the U.S.
WHAT IF YOU DON’T FIND A JOB?
If you don’t find a job and want to cancel your EAD to use at another time, the ONLY way this can be done without losing your authorized OPT is for us to return your EAD to USCIS BEFORE the printed date that your authorized employment is to begin.
It is a good idea to have some job prospects before you apply for the EAD because the dates printed on the card cannot be changed and time spent looking for a job after the printed start date is still charged against your 12-month allotment. Remember: 12 months of OPT must be used within 14 months of your completion of studies date.
Important: You must begin employment within 90 days of your start date to remain in legal status.