Optional Practical Training (OPT) gives an F1 student to engage in a temporary employment authorization to get work experience in their field of study. The time period you are allowed to work is a maximum of 12 months (29 months if you are a STEM graduate) for each higher education level you obtain from the U.S. university. An individual has an option to use part or all of 12 months of OPT (Pre-Completion OPT) during the course of study or to save all 12 months to use after graduation (Post-Completion OPT). Generally, it is not recommended to use any of the OPT time during studies.

Pre-Completion OPT

You must be currently enrolled as full time student in a valid F1 status at least one academic year

The job you will be engaging must be directly related to your major of study

You are not allowed to work more than 20 years a week while school is in session

Post-Completion OPT

When to apply:

The earliest you can apply for OPT is 90 days prior to the degree completion date and the latest is within 60 days after the degree completion. The start date of OPT must no later than 60 days after the day of completion. USCIS normally takes 90 days to process the OPT application. So, it is recommended to apply 3 months before the OPT start date.

Example: For suppose, you will be done with your course work by May 1st, 2013 and would like to start OPT starting June 1st 2013.  In this case, you would need to apply around March 1st, 2013.

Required Documents:

 Here is the complete documents checklist for applying OPT:

Points to Remember:

  • No premium processing is available for OPT
  • No job offer is required to apply for OPT
  • Once after OPT starts, you can not be without job for more than 90 days
  • You must update your University’s international student office after you obtain OPT
  • You can not start working until the start of your OPT
  • You are required to work more than 20 hours a week

STEM OPT – 17 Months Extension

OPT can be extended for an additional 17 months at the end of the initial 12 months OPT, for a total of 29 months, if you meet the following requirements:

Graduated with US Bachelor’s, Master’s or Doctoral in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM)

You must be currently on OPT and engaged in work related to your STEM major

Your current employer must be registered as E-Verified

When to Apply:

The earliest you can apply is 120 days prior to the completion of your initial OPT. Just as initial OPT, USCIS takes 90 days to process STEM OPT. So it’s always better to apply at least 90 days prior to the end date of your initial OPT.

Required Documents:

 Here is the complete documents checklist for applying STEM OPT:

Points to Remember:

  • No premium processing is available for OPT
  • STEM OPT individuals get an additional 30 days unemployment period, for total of   120 days from the start date of initial OPT
  • You are required to work more than 20 hours a week

H1B Gap Relief

It is a known fact that students start on F1 status and end up changing to H1B status eventually. Most F1 students graduate in May and then work for one year on OPT before getting on to H1B status. Since H1B visa starts on October 1st, we often see a gap between OPT end date and H1B start date. To cover up this gap, USCIS provides a temporary extension of F1 status and also, work authorization (OPT) while the H1B petition is still under process – known as H1B Gap Relief.

Points to Remember:

  • H1B gap relief begins the day after OPT ends till the first day of H1B status (October 1st)
  • Your status will still be F1 until H1B starts
  • You can request a new I-20 for this gap relief
  • Gap relief extension on status and work authorization is automatic with filing H1B petition