An F-1 student may be eligible to obtain valuable on-the-job training that is related to her field of study. This work experience is known as Optional Practical Training (“OPT”).
Typically, an F-1 student can apply for OPT that will last 12 months. Some programs (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (“STEM”)) are eligible for an additional 17 months of OPT in addition to the initial 12 months.
OPT Eligibility Requirements
To be eligible for OPT, you must meet the following requirements:
- Have been lawfully enrolled in an academic program on a full-time basis for one full year;
- Currently in valid F-1 status and maintaining your full-time program of study;
- Work in a job directly related to your field of study (some fields of study, such as English language training, are not eligible for OPT); and
- For standard post-completion OPT, have not accumulated more than 90 days of unemployment.
Types of OPT
There are different types of OPT available to qualifying applicants:
- For those students who intend to register for classes the following semester, OPT is available on either a part-time or full-time basis during the summer break, or at other times when school is not in session;
- Part-time OPT when school is in session;
- Part-time or full-time OPT between the time of completing graduating coursework and submission of a thesis or dissertation; and
- Full-time after completing the program of study.
Tips on applying for OPT
First, the OPT application must be received by USCIS no more than 30 days after your international advisor signed your OPT Form I-20. It is best to submit your OPT application as soon as your OPT Form I-20 is issued by your university’s international office.
Second, be sure to send all of your prior Forms I-20 to USCIS with your OPT application.
Third, make sure your timing is right. You shouldn’t submit your OPT application too early, and you shouldn’t submit it too late. You should submit it 89 days prior to your requested start date. For post-completion OPT, the application must be received by USCIS within 60 days of the completion date listed on your OPT Form I-20. USCIS typically takes 2-3 months to process OPT applications. Thus, it is best to submit your OPT application before you graduate so that you don’t inadvertently delay your valuable OPT experience.
Fourth, if you submit your OPT application and then you receive a Request for Evidence (“RFE”) from USCIS, you must strictly comply with the RFE, or else your application will be denied. It’s best to see a Seattle OPT immigration lawyer to handle this RFE.
Fifth, if you see errors on any correspondence to you from USCIS, such as if USCIS spelled your name wrong, or they typed your birthday wrong, then you must notify USCIS immediately of the mistake.
Sixth, your OPT application must be sent to USCIS before you leave the U.S. If you leave the U.S. without applying for OPT, you will become ineligible to apply for OPT.
Seventh, if in doubt about any of the procedures involved in applying for OPT, consult with an immigration lawyer.
Traveling while on OPT
- Pre-completion OPT: You must travel using your valid passport, valid F-1 visa stamp, and your OPT Form I-20 endorsed by your university international office advisor within the last 12 months.
- Post-completion OPT: You must travel using your valid passport, valid F-1 visa stamp, your OPT Form I-20 endorsed for reentry by your university international office advisor within the last six months, your valid EAD for OPT, and evidence of your employment (job offer or employment verification letter).
H-1B Cap-Gap Extension
If on OPT, your F-1 status and EAD may be extended if your employer files an H-1B petition requesting a change of nonimmigrant status with an employment start date of October 1 of the following federal fiscal year (October through September). However, the extension of the duration of status and EAD will be terminated if the H-1B petition is rejected by USCIS.
If you need a new Form I-20 for a cap-gap extension, consult your university international office advisor.
Note that this extension is not available if your employer is cap-exempt.