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 total OPT per degree level. OPT can be used during a student's studies (pre-completion) or immediately after graduation (post-completion).
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 reduce their post-completion OPT eligibility, at a rate of half time from total OPT, e.g. If you work part-time 3 months you use up 1.5 months of OPT
Post-completion OPT is work authorization for up to 12 months after the completion of a student’s degree program
Master or Doctoral students may engage in post-completion OPT if s/he has completed all course work but still needs to complete a thesis or dissertation, or is studying for comprehensive exams
Dates must start within 60 days of the completion of program date.
Attend an OPT session. At these sessions, students learn about:
The documents and forms required for the OPT application and how to complete them
The rights and responsibilities of students engaged in OPT
The deadlines and processing time of OPT applications
Travel restrictions on OPT, and
Other issues pertaining to OPT
Bring a completed application packet to ISSS (after you have attended an OPT session):
Completed form I-765
Certification Form for Completion of Academic Program, completed by you and your academic advisor. Please note that pre-completion OPT start dates must begin and end before the completion of the degree program, while post-completion OPT dates must start within 60 days of the completion of program date.
All previous and current I-20s (including I-20s from other schools)
Valid passport (valid at least 6 months in the future)
I-94 (small white card stapled in passport OR a print-out from U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Previous Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card, if applicable
ISSS will review your entire OPT application and issue a new I-20 with OPT recommendation noted. This process can take 5-7 business days.
While ISSS is reviewing your OPT packet please prepare 2 passport sized photos and a Cashier’s Check, Personal Check or Money Order for $380.00 (payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security).
When your OPT packet is final ISSS will contact you to come pick it up. You will need to mail the packet, with new I-20, to USCIS. USCIS must receive your OPT application within 30 days of your new OPT I-20 issuance date. If not received within 30 days, OPT will be denied and appeal is not possible.
USCIS will 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.
Students generally receive their EAD cards within 8 -12 weeks. If 80 days have passed from the receipt date and you have not received your EAD card, contact ISSS immediately.
Students on post-completion OPT are allowed only 90 days total of unemployment during their OPT period. Please contact ISSS with any questions about the unemployment period and how volunteer work can count as employment.
It is not recommended to travel during OPT until after you have found and started employment. During your OPT never try to re-enter the US on any other visa status than F-1 (e.g. B-1/B-2 (tourist), Visa Waiver, etc) as this can result in losing your OPT.
If you travel outside the US while on OPT you will need:
EAD Card (the OPT card)
Letter of employment on company letter head and signed. If you do not have proof of employment, you may be denied re-entry to the US
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)
OPT I-20 with travel signature (signed within the last 6 months before the day you will re-enter the US)
Only Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) majors have an option for a 24-month extension of OPT (new rule in effect May 10, 2016). 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.
Students become eligible to apply for an additional 12 months of OPT per higher level of degree study completed. Example: A student completes a Bachelors degree and gets 12 months of OPT. S/He then completes a masters degree and is eligible for another 12 months of OPT because it is a higher degree level. The same student then completes a PhD and is eligible for a third 12 months of OPT.
If you are authorized for a total of 12 or more months of full-time Curricular Practical Training during your degree, you will lose your eligibility for OPT at that degree level (Note that this does not apply to part-time CPT).
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. For more information contact Edythe Cook in the Student Health Center (202-885-3201).