Optional practical training (OPT) is an employment training benefit for work that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. It is intended to provide a student (or: recent graduate) with practical experience in their field of study during or upon completion of a degree program.
There are three kinds of OPT
- pre-completion OPT (use of pre-completion OPT reduces the availability of post-completion OPT);
- post-completion OPT; and
- STEM OPT, a 24-month extension of post-completion OPT for students in select fields in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
At Oberlin, students seeking employment opportunities typically use curricular practical training prior to graduation and OPT after graduation. The initial post-completion OPT period allows a student to work up to 12 months. OPT is closely regulated by the Department of Homeland Security, and students are required to apply for the position and update a designated school official (DSO) in the International Student Resource Center on a regular basis, as needed.
The basic OPT application process consists of a DSO recommendation in SEVIS, a new I-20, and the student’s filing of form I-765 (with supporting documents, see below) with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). When approved, the student receives an employment authorization document (EAD) from USCIS.
Conditions and Eligibility
To be eligible for post-completion OPT, the student must:
be in good F-1 status;
have worked fewer than 12 months, full-time, in curricular practical training;
receive an EAD before beginning employment;
be working—or seeking work—that is directly related to the major field of study and appropriate for the level of education during the authorized period of OPT; and
not accumulate more than 90 cumulative days of unemployment during the authorized period of OPT.
Any prior authorized periods of pre-completion OPT or post-completion OPT at the same degree level are to be deducted from the 12-month post-completion OPT authorization period.
Timing and Duration
- Students may apply as early as 90 days before their program end date. It can take up to four months for notice of adjudication—i.e., the receipt of the EAD.
- Students may not request a start date that is more than 60 days after their program end date.
- Post-completion OPT is authorized for up to 12 months of employment. Any prior authorized periods of pre-graduation OPT is to be deducted from this period.
- A student cannot begin OPT employment until the start date indicated on the EAD card issued by the USCIS.
- The 12-month clock starts ticking on the start date of the EAD, regardless of whether the student is employed.
- F-1 visa students approved for OPT are responsible for providing up-to-date information regarding their address, their employer’s name, address, and any periods of unemployment while on OPT to one of the designated school officials at Oberlin within 10 days of any change.
- How does a student show that employment is directly related to their degree program?
- It is recommended that the student maintain evidence for each job documenting the position held, proof of the duration of that position, the job title, contact information for the student’s supervisor or manager, and a description of the work. If it is not clear from the job description that the work is related to the student’s degree, SEVP may ask that the student obtain a signed letter from their hiring official, supervisor, or manager stating how the student’s degree is related to the work performed.
- What is the earliest date a student can apply?
- Students can apply for post-completion OPT no more than 90 days before their program end date.
- A student can apply for the STEM extension no more than 90 days before the end of the original period of post-completion OPT.
- How many hours per week are considered full time?
- Students must work at least 20 hours per week to be considered full time and avoid accumulating days of unemployment.