Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. OPT is designed to give the foreign student an opportunity to further their education by gaining practical experience.
OPT is usually available after the successful completion of an academic program (post-completion OPT). However, it is possible to do pre-completion OPT in certain circumstances as described below. The total duration of pre-completion and post-completion OPT is 12 months, unless eligible for STEM OPT extension of 24 months (for a total duration of 36 months). In other words, any period of pre-completion OPT is deducted from the available periods of post-completion OPT.
Work performed under post-completion OPT must be directly related to the student’s course of study.
Pre-completion OPT is available in the following circumstances:
- Student has been enrolled for one full academic year.
- Work must be directly related to the student’s course of study.
- Student can work full-time when the school is not in session, as long has the student is eligible for the next academic semester and intends to register.
- Student must work part-time (20 hours or less per week) while the school is in session.
Applying for OPT
- Student initiates a request by having their Designated School Official (DSO) recommend the OPT.
- DSO recommends OPT by performing following two actions:
- endorsing Form I-20
- making an appropriate notation in SEVIS, the system used to track F-1 students.
- endorsing Form I-20
- Student files Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization Document (EAD). I-765 for standard post-completion OPT can be filed up to 90 days before the program end-date and up to 60 days after the program end-date, provided that it is filed within 30 days of the date the DSO enters the OPT recommendation into SEVIS.
- If approved, student is issued an EAD.
- If the USCIS does not adjudicate the request within 90 days, the student may go to the local USCIS office and upon presenting the receipt notice from the Service Center, receive an interim employment authorization document that will be valid for 240 days.
- Student starts working on pre-completion or post-completion OPT after the EAD has been issued.
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H-1B Cap Gap
Many employers file H-1B petitions on behalf of F-1 students after their post-completion OPT expires. However, new H-1B petitions are subject to the H-1B annual cap and approved applications subject to the cap allows to start work only from October 1. And cap-subject H-1B applications can be made earliest on April 1. Therefore, in absence of any other rule, after the period of authorized stay (including authorized periods of post-completion OPT and the subsequent 60-day departure preparation period), the student would not be allowed to work until October 1 even if the H1-B petition is accepted and approved. Therefore, the student would have to leave the United States and return when the H-1B status becomes effective at the beginning of the next fiscal year. This is called the cap gap.
However, the law addresses the cap gap by authorizing an extension of the student’s authorized stay and work authorization as long as the students on post-completion OPT maintain valid F-1 status until the expiration of their OPT, as long as the H-1B petition has been timely filed during the acceptance period and has been accepted and approved. This extension applies to all students on OPT, not just STEM students.
However, if the H-1B petition is not selected during the acceptance period, the automatic extension terminates when USCIS announces the completion of the random selection on its public web site.
Change of Status
Petitioners (or their authorized representatives) of F-1 students whose H1-B petition was selected for the visa allocation for the next fiscal year (Oct 1 onwards) can request the change of status in the U.S. itself in lieu of consular notification. This request can only be made within 30 days of getting the receipt notice and not before getting the receipt notice.
Such requests must be sent via email to the service center where the petition is pending.
The request must include the receipt number, petitioner’s name, beneficiary’s name and date of birth, I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record) number, and Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) number.