Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a period during which undergraduate and graduate students with F-1 status who have completed or have been pursuing their degrees for more than nine months are permitted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to work for at most one year on a student visa without needing to acquire a work H-1B visa towards getting a practical training to complement their field of studies. F-1 students are permitted a total of 12 months towards practical training, on being certified by the advisor of the usefulness of the work towards goals of the degree, which can be distributed between Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and OPT. M-1 students are also permitted to engage in post-completion OPT. They are entitled to one month of training for every four months of study, with a maximum length of six months.
On April 4, 2008, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released an interim final rule extending the period of OPT from 12 to 29 months for qualified F-1 non-immigrant students. The extension will be available to students who are employed by businesses enrolled in the E-Verify program. E-Verify is a free internet-based system operated by USCIS in partnership with the Social Security Administration which determines a new employee's eligibility to work. To be eligible for the 17-month OPT extension, a student must have received a Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics degree in one of the following:
This new interim final rule provides a permanent solution to the H-1B "cap-gap", when an academic foreign student's (F-1) status and work authorization expire during the current fiscal year before the student can start approved H-1B employment during the next fiscal year beginning on October 1. Previous cap-gap provisions extended only the stay but not the employment authorization.
Unemployment Period in OPT
The time spent without a qualifying job during post-completion OPT. Each day the student is not employed in a qualifying job is counted toward the limit on unemployment time. The limit is 90 days for students on post-completion OPT, including those with a cap-gap extension, except that students with a STEM OPT extension are given an additional 30 days of unemployment time for a maximum of 120 days.
The 60-day period of time given to F-1 Visa students after the completion of a program of study or an authorized period of post-completion OPT allowing the student time to prepare for departure from the United States, apply for a transfer to another SEVP-certified school, request a change of level to continue at the current school, or take steps to otherwise maintain legal status.
What does the Law say: 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(A) (ii) Optional practical training
(A) General. A student may apply to the Service for authorization for temporary employment for optional practical training directly related to the student’s major area of study. The student may not begin optional practical training until the date indicated on his or her employment authorization document, Form I–766 or Form 688B. A student may submit an application for authorization to engage in optional practical training up to 90 days prior to being enrolled for one full academic year, provided that the period of employment will not begin until after the completion of the full academic year as indicated by the DSO. A student may be granted authorization to engage in temporary employment for optional practical training:
(1) During the student’s annual vacation and at other times when school is not in session, if the student is currently enrolled, and is eligible for registration and intends to register for the next term or session;
(2) While school is in session, provided that practical training does not exceed 20 hours a week while school is in session; or
(3) After completion of the course of study, or, for a student in a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree program, after completion of all course requirements for the degree (excluding thesis or equivalent). Continued enrollment, for the school’s administrative purposes, after all requirements for the degree have been met does not preclude eligibility for optional practical training. However, optional practical training must be requested prior to the completion of all course requirements for the degree or prior to the completion of the course of study. A student must complete all practical training within a 14-month period following the completion of study.
(B) Termination of practical training. Authorization to engage in optional practical training employment is automatically terminated when the student transfers to another school or begins study at another educational level.
(C) Request for authorization for practical training. A request for authorization to accept practical training must be made to the designated school official (DSO) of the school the student is authorized to attend on Form I–538, accompanied by his or her current Form I–20 ID.
(D) Action of the DSO-Non SEVIS schools. No longer applies
(E) SEVIS process. In making a recommendation for optional practical training under SEVIS, the DSO will update the student’s record in SEVIS as having been recommended for optional practical training. A DSO who recommends a student for optional practical training is responsible for maintaining the record of the student for the duration of the time that training is authorized. The DSO will indicate in SEVIS whether the employment is to be full-time or part-time, and note in SEVIS the start and end date of employment. The DSO will then print the employment page of the student’s SEVIS Form I–20, and sign and date the form to indicate that optional practical training has been recommended. The student must file with the service center for an Employment Authorization Document, on Form I– 765, with fee and the SEVIS Form I–20 employment page indicating that optional practical training has been recommended by the DSO.
(11) Employment authorization. The total periods of authorization for optional practical training under paragraph (f)(10) of this section shall not exceed a maximum of twelve months. Part-time practical training, 20 hours per week or less, shall be deducted from the available practical training at one-half the full-time rate. As required by the regulations at 8 CFR part 274a, an F–1 student seeking practical training (excluding curricular practical training) under paragraph (f)(10) of this section may not accept employment until he or she has been issued an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) by the Service. An F–1 student must apply to the USCIS for the EAD by filing the Form 1–765. The application for employment authorization must include the following documents:
(i) A completed Form I–765, with the fee required by § 103.7(b)(1); and
(ii) A DSO’s recommendation for optional practical training on an updated SEVIS Form I–20.
(12) Decision on application for employment authorization. The Service shall adjudicate the Form I–765 and issue an EAD on the basis of the DSO’s recommendation unless the student is found otherwise ineligible. The Service shall notify the applicant of the decision and, if the application is denied, of the reason or reasons for the denial. The applicant may not appeal the decision. An F–1 student authorized by the Service to engage in practical training is required to report any change of name or address, or interruption of such employment to the DSO for the duration of the authorized training. A DSO who recommends a student for optional practical training is responsible for updating the student’s record to reflect these reported changes for the duration of the time that training is authorized.
(13) Temporary absence from the United States of F–1 student granted employment authorization..
(i) A student returning from a temporary trip abroad with an unexpired off-campus employment authorization on his or her I–20 ID may resume employment only if the student is readmitted to attend the same school which granted the employment authorization.
(ii) An F–1 student who has an unexpired EAD issued for post-completion practical training and who is otherwise admissible may return to the United States to resume employment after a period of temporary absence. The EAD must be used in combination with an I– 20 ID endorsed for reentry by the DSO within the last six months.
(14) Effect of strike or other labor dispute. Any employment authorization, whether or not part of an academic program, is automatically suspended upon certification by the Secretary of Labor or the Secretary’s designee to the Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service or the Commissioner’s designee, that a strike or other labor dispute involving a work stoppage of workers is in progress in the occupation at the place of employment. As used in this paragraph, ‘‘place of employment’’ means the facility or facilities where a labor dispute exists. The employer is prohibited from transferring F–1 students working at other facilities to the facility where the work stoppage is occurring.
What is the Process and Procedure: The application for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) takes between 90-120 days or longer to be processed. Students cannot begin work until they obtained the EAD from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Students will need to apply well ahead of their anticipated start dates for employment.
MAIL-IN APPLICATION PROCEDURES
Obtain the following from the Office of International Services:
• Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization.
• Form I-538 Certification by Designated School official.
• Sample of letter to be written by Academic Advisor, Director, Department Head, or Dean.
Submit the following documents to the Office of International Services:
• Form I-20.
• Letter from Academic Advisor, Director, Department Head, or Dean.
• Completed form I-538
• Completed form I-765
• Completed form I-765 Signature Card. Your signature is required, your fingerprint is not. (This will be given to you at the time you submit the others forms)
• When submitting these documents please leave a phone number where you can be reached in case there are problems with your application. Your application for an endorsement will take 5 working days.
Collect your documents from the Office of International Services. The following documents will need to be mailed to the USCIS Nebraska Service Center. We strongly suggest that you copy the documents for your own records, then send the application by certified mail or overnight express. Please assemble the documents in the following order:
• Check or money order for $340.00 (made payable to "U.S. Department of Homeland Security, USCIS"). DO NOT SEND CASH.
• Completed Form I-765 • Completed Form I-765 Signature Card (Sign the card in the blue box marked "signature". Your signature must fit completely inside the blue box.)
• Two (2) color photos with a white background taken no earlier than 30 days before submission to INS. They should be unmounted; on thin paper; glossy; and unretouched. The photos should show a three-quarter front profile of the right side of your face, with your right ear visible. Your head should be bare unless you are wearing a headdress as required by a religious order to which you belong. The photo should not be larger than 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches, with the distance from the top of the head to just below the chin about 1 1/4 inches. Lightly print your I-94 # and name on the back of each photo with a pencil.
• Photocopy of I-94 Card (front and back even if there is nothing written on the back)
• Photocopy of I-20 Card (pages 3 and 4 including the recommendation for OPT signed by OIS on page 4)
• Photocopy of any previous EADs (clear, clean, legible copies)
• Photocopy of passport pages (picture and information pages, visa page; clear, clean, legible copies)
• Photocopy of I-538
• USCIS ins will send you a Receipt Notice within 2-3 weeks. It is important to keep this in case a problem arises. If you have not received a Receipt Notice after four weeks, contact OIS.
• Once you receive your EAD, please bring it to OIS so a photocopy can make for your file. This is not mandatory.