Optional Practical Training Program (OPT) for Graduates with Student Visas
August 1st, 2023
If you are a foreign student studying in the United States, you might qualify for Optional Practical Training (OPT) after you have completed your studies, which will allow you to extend your stay in the U.S. and to obtain an Employment Authorization Document. This is referred to as Post-Completion Optional Practical Training and it will permit you to seek employment and obtain work experience before departing the U.S.
Under an Optional Practical Training program referred to as Pre-Completion OPT, some foreign students can begin working before they have completed their studies. This will allow a student to obtain valuable work experience in their field early and potentially create additional opportunities for them after school.
In addition to the standard OPT periods, a student may be eligible to extend their training for an additional two years, if they are pursuing a degree in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM).
Our immigration and student visa attorneys at FitzGerald Law Company can help you learn about your legal options and make informed decisions. Contact us to schedule a consultation at (617) 303-2600.
What is Optional Practical Training for F-1 Students?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a program that provides students with an employment authorization document that will allow them to engage in employment directly related to their major area of study.
Eligible students may be issued an EAD for up to 12 months either before completing their academic studies (Pre-Completion OPT) and/or after completing their academic studies (Post-Completion OPT). However, all periods of Pre-Completion OPT will be deducted from the available period of Post-Completion OPT and according to the regulations, 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(A)(3). Additionally, students must complete all practical training within a 14-month period following the completion of studies.
Types of Optional Practical Training for F-1 Students
All OPT employment must be directly related to your major area of study. If you are an F-1 student, you may be eligible to participate in OPT in two different ways, known as Pre-Completion and Post-Completion OPT:
Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training
You may apply to participate in Pre-Completion OPT, generally, after you have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year at a college, university, conservatory, or seminary that has been certified to enroll F-1 students, by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency.
If you are authorized to participate in Pre-Completion OPT, you may work (20 hours or less per week) while school is in session. You may work full-time when school is not in session.
Post-Completion Optional Practical Training
You may apply to participate in Post-Completion OPT after completing your studies. If you are authorized for Post-Completion OPT, you must work at least part-time (which is 20 hours per week or more) or full-time.
If you have already received 1 year of part-time (20 hours per week) Pre-Completion OPT, the total time of full-time OPT still available would be reduced by 6 months, 50% of the previously authorized year at the same education level. In this scenario, you would only be entitled to a remaining period of 6 months of full-time Post-Completion OPT employment authorization.
If you have already received 1 year of full-time (40 hours per week) Pre-Completion OPT, the total time of full-time optional practical training still available would be reduced by 1 year, 100% of the previously authorized year at the same education level. In this scenario, you would not be entitled to any period of Post-Completion OPT employment authorization.
OPT employment includes Self-employment & Internships (Full Time and Part Time)
While an F-1 Visa Holder with Optional Practical Training will be issued an Employment Authorization Document and a Social Security Number to work in the U.S., there are naturally some restrictions on what type of employment will be permitted. The regulation states that the employment must be “practical training in a position that is directly related to the student’s major area of study.”
This employment may be for a business created by the student, so long as the work that they perform is directly related to their studies. For example, a student with a business degree in Marketing, could open a Marketing Consulting business and work for themselves. An OPT position maybe a full-time position, but that is not required to be full-time. A part-time position will still qualify as acceptable employment for the purpose of maintaining one’s OPT. There are actually situations in which full-time employment is not permitted at all, for example, while school is in session, practical training is not allowed to exceed 20 hours a week, so only part-time employment legally qualifies for OPT.
“OPT employment” does not require that the F-1 Visa Holder have a paid position. An unpaid internship may properly qualify as employment for the purposes of maintaining OPT status.
What is the STEM Optional Practical Training Extension?
If you possess a degree in specific fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), you may be eligible to request a 24-month extension of your OPT employment authorization under certain conditions. These include being an F-1 student who has completed a STEM degree program listed in the STEM Designated Degree Program List (PDF) of ICE, working for an employer who is registered with and utilizing E-Verify, and having received an initial grant of OPT employment authorization based on your STEM degree.
Unemployment while on Optional Practical Training
According to the regulations, 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(10)(E), during a period of Post Completion OPT, the status of an F-1 Visa Holder is dependent upon their employment. F-1 visa holders under OPT must remain employed and may not accrue an aggregate of more than 90 days of unemployment during any Post-Completion OPT period. Students granted a 24-month OPT extension for STEM degrees may not be unemployed for more than 150 days in aggregate, including any post-completion OPT period or subsequent extension period. described in 8 CFR 274a.12(c)(3)(i)(B)
How to Apply for Optional Practical Training
Generally, you must request that your designated school official (DSO) at your academic institution recommend OPT. Your DSO will make the recommendation by endorsing your Form I‑20, Certification of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, and making the appropriate notation in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
Next, you must properly file a Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization with USCIS, accompanied by the required fee and the supporting documentation as described in the form’s instructions and corresponding regulations.
What Options Do I Have If I Want to Stay Longer in the U.S. and/or My Optional Practical Training Status is Expiring Soon?
A person whose OPT is expiring may apply for any non-immigrant visa status that they qualify for, including an extension of their F-1 student visa if they are going to continue to study in the United States, as well as Legal Permanent Residency, in some situations. Generally, any non-immigrant visa application must be filed prior to the expiration of the person’s OPT status in order to remain lawfully present in the U.S., and that lawful presence will continue until the application is decided. It is important to utilize the assistance of an experienced immigration lawyer, as if the new application you file is denied you may be left out of legal status.
Our immigration and visa lawyers have experience assisting you to obtain all types of non-immigrant U.S. visas for foreigners who are coming on a temporary basis for a specific period of time or purpose. These visas include H (H-1B) Visas for Professionals in Specialty Occupations; TN Visas for certain Canadia and Mexican Professionals; E (E-1, E-2) Visas for Treaty Traders and Treaty Investors; L (L1b) Visas for Employee Transfers within a Company; K (K-1) Visas for Fiancé / Fiancée; O (O-1) Visas for Foreigners with Outstanding Abilities; U visas for Victims of Crime; R Visas for Religious Workers; P for Internationally Recognized Athletes; Artists and Entertainers; and their corresponding derivative visas for immediate family members of the primary beneficiary of the visas listed above.
What Happens If I Transfer to a Different School or Begin Studying at Another Educational Level?
If you transfer to another school or begin studies at another educational level (for example, you completed a bachelor’s degree and are starting a master’s program), your authorization to engage in OPT employment will automatically terminate. SEVP will inform USCIS of the termination date, and USCIS will terminate your EAD accordingly.
Although your authorization to engage in optional practical training will end, as long as you comply with all requirements for maintaining your student status, your F-1 status will not be affected by USCIS terminating your EAD. Maintaining your student status includes not working on a terminated EAD, as the termination means that you are no longer authorized to work in the United States using that OPT EAD.
Working in the United States without authorization has serious consequences, including removal from the country and reentry bars. Also, remaining in the United States in violation of your lawful nonimmigrant status could lead to an accrual of unlawful presence. Please see USCIS Policy on Accrued Unlawful Presence by Nonimmigrant Students and Exchange Visitors for more information regarding the termination of your employment authorization under OPT and any impacts on your student status, including the possible accrual of unlawful presence.
Our Immigration and Visa Attorneys Can Help
For a case consultation with our experienced immigration and visa lawyers, contact the FitzGerald Law Company today at (617) 303-2600.