CampusLife

International Student & Scholar Services

Questions?

  • Int'l Student / Scholar Svcs
    202-885-3350
    Fax: 202-885-3354
    Butler Pavilion, Room 410

    Open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. ISSS advisors are available at the front desk for walk-in appointments.

    Bakar, Senem S
    Director, International Student & Scholar Services

Mailing Address

OPT: Optional Practical Training Employment Authorization

What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?
Should I take pre- or post-completion OPT?
Am I eligible for OPT?
Filing Deadlines
How do I apply for OPT?
How long does the application approval take?
What documents prove that I have approval to work under OPT?
What happens once I get my OPT card (also called an EAD card)?
Within how many days do I have to get a job?
What if I don’t get a job within the allotted time?
What reporting requirements are there?
What should I do if I start or end my employment?
What happens if I move?
Can I travel while on OPT?
Can I extend my OPT?
Can I have an additional OPT?
What if I end my OPT early and leave the US?
Does CPT affect my OPT?
Can I keep my AU health insurance after I graduate while on OPT?

What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an employment option for F-1 students who wish to gain work experience directly related to their field of study. Eligible students may be authorized for up to 12 months of OPT per program level.

OPT can be used during a student's studies (pre-completion) or immediately after graduation (post-completion).

Pre-completion OPT is work authorization for a student who is enrolled in a full-time degree program and who has not completed his or her program. Pre-completion OPT is work authorization for a period that will begin and end before the completion of the degree program. Students are allowed to work part-time (up to 20 hours a week) while school is in session and full-time (more than 20 hours per week) on approved school breaks and vacation periods. Students who engage in pre-completion OPT will use up some of their 12 months of OPT.
Example: If you work full-time 3 months you use up 3 full months of OPT. If you work part-time 3 months you use up 1.5 months of OPT.

Post-completion OPT is OPT work authorization after the completion of a student’s degree program. Note that a MA or PhD student may engage in post-completion OPT if s/he has completed all course work and is completing a thesis or dissertation, or is studying for comprehensive exams. Post-completion OPT dates must start within 60 days of the completion of program date. The completion of program date is determined from the Certification Form for Completion of Academic Program.

Back to top

Should I take pre- or post-completion OPT?
  • Full-time pre-completion OPT authorized during vacation periods will be deducted from the total 12 months, and will reduce the OPT time you have available to use after graduation.
  • Part-time pre-completion OPT (up to 20 hours per week) can be authorized for students using OPT before graduation while school is in session (during vacation periods full-time OPT can be authorized).

Graduate students who have completed all class requirements and only have a thesis or dissertation remaining may take pre- or post-completion OPT.  Please talk with an ISSS adviser about whether pre-completion or post-completion OPT is best for your situation.

Back to top

Am I eligible for OPT?
To be eligible for Optional Practical Training, you must meet all the following requirements:

  • be in F-1 status

  • have completed one academic year of full time study (2 consecutive semesters, not including summer. For example, fall then spring semesters or spring then fall)

  • currently be enrolled in a degree or certificate program, or within 60 days after the completion of degree or certificate program

  • have a Student Account Balance under $1000

(note that you do NOT need to have a job offer to apply for OPT)

Back to top

How do I apply for OPT?
Please click here to review entire application process. Please also note that you must attend an ISSS OPT Session before applying.

Back to top

Filing Deadlines:
Pre-completion OPT can be filed 120 days before the OPT start date if the student has completed 1 academic year of study. If the student has not completed 1 academic year of study, s/he can apply up to 90 days before the end of the full academic year.

Post-completion OPT can be filed 90 days prior to the completion of program date (listed on the Certification Form for Completion of Academic Program) and up to 60 days after the completion of program end-date. Because the government system is not updated to allow for applications after the student's completion date, we recommend that the student apply before s/he completes her/his program.

Pre/Post-completion OPT applications MUST be received by USCIS within 30 days of OPT recommendation from ISSS (the issuing date on the new I-20).

Applications received before or after the above filing dates may be DENIED by the adjudicating Service Center.

Back to top

How long does the application approval take?
From the time ISSS receives a complete application, it takes 7-10 business days to process. You then pick it up from the ISSS office and mail it to USCIS. 
USCIS should notify you by mail within 2 to 3 weeks that they have received your application. Please save this receipt as it will include your USCIS file number. With your USCIS file number, you can monitor progress on your application at the USCIS Case Status Service website You should receive your EAD card by mail within 4 months. Your OPT Card (Employment Authorization Document or EAD) will be mailed to you at the address on you indicated on your I-765.

Back to top

What documents prove that I have approval to work under OPT?
An EAD (Employment Authorization Document) card will be issued by USCIS. The card will indicate the dates when you are authorized to work. This card, along with your OPT I-20, prove that you have OPT work authorization. Please remember that ISSS will need a copy of your EAD card.

Back to top

What happens once I get my OPT card (also called an EAD card)?
Bring your EAD card to ISSS to be copied for your file within one week of receiving it so SEVIS can be updated. Failure to do so may affect your F-1 status.

Back to top

Within how many days do I have to get a job?
Starting April 08, 2008, students on post-completion OPT are allowed only 90 total days of unemployment during their OPT period. Please contact ISSS with any questions about the unemployment period and how volunteer work can count as employment.

Back to top

What if I don’t get a job within the allotted time?
After 90 days of unemployment the student can be considered in violation of maintaining their status unless s/he has:
1) Transferred to continue your education at the same or another educational institution;
2) Departed the US; or
3) Changed visa status

Back to top

What reporting requirements are there?
All students on OPT must report the following information to ISSS within 10 days of beginning, changing, or ending new job:
• Employer's name
• Employer's address
• Start and end dates of employment
Click here to report this information.
All students on OPT must also report any address changes through my.american.edu within 10 days of the change.

Back to top

What should I do if I start or end my employment?
Immigration regulations require you to notify ISSS (e-mail isssemployment@american.edu) within 10 days of being hired or losing your employment. We will need to have the name, address, start and end dates of your employment.

Back to top

What happens if I move?
Immigration regulations require you report your change of address within 10 days of being of moving. We will need to have your complete mailing address. Email this information to isssemployment@american.edu.

Back to top

Can I travel while on OPT?

  • If you travel outside the US while on OPT you will need: 

  • EAD Card (the OPT card)

  • Letter of employment. If you do not have proof of employment, you may be denied re-entry to the US

  • Valid Passport

  • Valid F-1 visa (if your F-1 visa has expired you will need to apply for a new F-1 visa while you are outside the US)

  • Post-completion OPT travel BEFORE you receive your EAD card may result in cancellation of your OPT application.

  • If you enter the US in B-1/B-2 (tourist), Visa Waiver, or any other status while you are on OPT, you will lose your OPT.

Back to top

Can I extend my OPT?
Only if you are a Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics STEM major (see quick links). A minor in a STEM field does not make you eligible for STEM extension. If you are not a STEM student, then a maximum 12 months of full-time OPT per degree is allowed.

Back to top

Can I have an additional OPT?
You may have up to 12 months of full-time OPT per higher level of degree program.

Example: A student completes a Bachelor's degree and gets 12 months of OPT. S/He then completes a Master's degree and is eligible to get an additional 12 months of OPT because it is a higher degree level. The same student then completes a PhD and is eligible for another round of 12 month OPT.

Back to top

What if I end my OPT early and leave the US?
Immigration regulations require you to report this information to ISSS. E-mail isssemployment@american.edu within 10 days of leaving the US.

Back to top

Does CPT affect my OPT?
If you are authorized for a total of 12 or more months of full-time Curricular Practical Training, you will lose your eligibility for OPT. (Note that this does not apply to part-time CPT).

Back to top

Can I keep my AU health insurance after I graduate while on OPT?
Yes, you can extend your AU Health Insurance coverage as long as you apply for the extension before you graduate and before the end of your current coverage (generally August of each year). Coverage extensions while on OPT must be paid by check or credit card directly to the insurance company and may not be charged to your student account. For more information and to apply, please complete the Student Health Insurance Enrollment Form and contact Edythe Cook  in the Student Health Center (+1-202-885-3201).

Back to top