Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is off-campus employment authorization that lets F-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 F-1 student. You can use it during or after your studies in whatever portions you choose. You can work for any employer, anywhere.
To be eligible for OPT you must:
- Be registered full-time in a degree program for at least one academic year (three quarters) in valid F-1 status
- Have not used 12 months of OPT for a previous degree at the same level (e.g. you are doing an MBA and have already used your Master’s level OPT after a previous MA/MS degree)
- Have not used OPT at a higher-degree level (e.g. you previously finished a MA and now you are pursuing a BA etc)
- Be present in the U.S. in valid F-1 status at the time of application
OPT Application Checklist
- Form I-765: Application for Employment Authorization
- Fee: $410 (Check/Money Order) payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
- Photocopies of all previous I-20’s
- Two Passport format photos (Taken within 30 days of filling the application) (Print name on the back with SEVIS ID# in pencil)
- Photocopies of previous EAD’s and Passport ID pages, Visa, I-94 (paper or electronic form www.cbp.gov/I9)
Pre-Completion OPT (Before program end date listed on I-20):
- Not very common
- Usually used for summer internships that do not fit into program’s CPT option, startups, and independently found jobs
- Part-time while classes are in session (20 hours or fewer per week, cannot be averaged)
- Full time or part time during breaks or vacation quarters
- Master’s/Doctoral Students ONLY: Full-time or part-time after courses finished while working on a thesis.
Post-Completion OPT (After graduation, or after completion of course requirements for BA/MA students):
- Very common
- Used for jobs after completion of your program or graduation
- Granted on a full time basis only (over 20 hours a week)
- All previous periods of OPT at the same level are deducted from the 12-month total. Part-time OPT is counted at a half-rate. Example: Four months part time OPT is subtracted from the total as two months.Eligibility for Pre- and Post-Completion OPT is based on program end date listed on your I-20, which might be different from your actual graduation date/quarter. If your current I-20 end date does not currently reflect the actual end of your program, it must be adjusted.
- You do not need a job offer to apply for OPT.
- You may not pursue a new course of full-time study while on OPT.
- The application is approved by United States Citizenship & Immigration Service (USCIS), but OPT must first be recommended by the Center for Intercultural Advancement Office.
- The approval process for USCIS takes between three and four months. USCIS is allowed up to 90 days to process your application once it is received; it will take additional time for USCIS to receive your document, receipt it, and mail it back to you.
- You must be in a degree program to be eligible. Students in non-degree programs (e.g. short-term exchange programs) are not eligible for OPT.
- You must not have used OPT at a higher degree level. For example, if you do a Ph.D., then use OPT, and then do a Master’s-level program (lower degree level), you will not be eligible for OPT for the Master’s level.
- You must be in the U.S. to apply. You will not be eligible to apply for OPT if you are outside of the U.S. at the time of application.
- You are eligible for 12 months OPT per education level. If you do two Master’s degrees, you will still only be eligible for 12 total months of OPT. If you used all of your OPT time during a previous degree program at the same education level, you will not be eligible for additional OPT time.
- Each segment and type of OPT requires separate, complete applications to USCIS.
- As long as they otherwise meet all employment criteria, you can work for multiple employers simultaneously
If your major is a STEM field, then you may apply for a 24-month extension for your Post-Completion OPT employment authorization. You can check if that applies to you by looking into STEM Designated Degree Program List.
- Have maintained F-1 status during your initial OPT
- Have a degree CIP code on page 1 of your current OPT I-20 is on the STEM List
- Have a paid, full-time job or job offer from an employer enrolled in E-Verify
- Are or will be a bona fide employee of the employer signing the Training Plan. The employer that signs the Training Plan must be the same entity that employs you and provides the practical training experience.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
Curricular practical training (CPT) is an F-1 off-campus work authorization option for employment which might be:
- directly related to your major
- required for all students in your degree program
- required for a credit-bearing course that will count towards your degree,
- for an established cooperative educational agreement between your department and employer.
Non-degree students or students in non-degree exchange programs are not eligible for CPT. Note that CPT is approved by the Center for Intercultural Advancement, not the government, and the application is free.
You cannot begin work until your CPT has been approved, you have the I-20 showing CPT in hand, and the CPT start date printed on your I-20 has been reached.
The requirements are
- Valid F-1 status
- Full-time enrollment for one academic year (three quarters) prior to a quarter when work is performed
- Enrollment in a degree program (non-degree students are not eligible for CPT)
- A specific job offer that meets your major course of study CPT requirements
- The job occurs before your I-20 end date
- A letter from your department chair affirming that employment is a requirement for your major course of study.
There are two types of CPT:
Differences between them are
- With full-time CPT you work for more than 20 hours a week, whereas with part-time CPT you work for 20 or less.
- You cannot be enrolled in Full-Time CPT and OPT at the same time.
Note-1: A year of full-time CPT eliminates your eligibility for OPT after graduation
Note-2: If any of the information related to the CPT (such as the number of working hours, employer, job, etc) has changed, you must email inform Ellen Navarro, Director of the Intercultural Office: firstname.lastname@example.org
F-1 Student Off-Campus Employment Based Severe Economic Hardship
Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns without additional authorization, where this practice does not violate U.S. labor law. Refusing or delaying payment to make a position “unpaid” is considered a violation of your F-1 or J-1 student status.
Unpaid internships are a very specific type of opportunity in labor law that is of benefit to the intern and not necessarily the company. With bona fide unpaid internships, no one would get paid—international or domestic, it is advertised as unpaid, the position is usually called ‘unpaid intern’, you are not refusing or delaying payment to make it ‘unpaid,’ and it does not violate any labor laws.
As it is not considered ‘employment’ you do not need work authorization for it. It is recommended that you keep thorough documentation, such as a copy of the original position posting and/or a letter from the organization, showing that the position is a true unpaid internship or volunteer opportunity.
If you are changing anything about the opportunity to “make” it an unpaid internship, or if you will eventually get paid for doing the same job, then it is most likely not a bona fide unpaid internship and you would need approved work authorization to do it.
See the Department of Labor Unpaid Internship Factsheet for more information.