Step-by-Step OPT Guide for International Students

Optional Practical Training 101

In this Guide

For international students in the United States, Optional Practical Training (OPT) offers a valuable opportunity to gain practical work experience related to their field of study. OPT allows eligible F-1 visa students to work in the U.S. for up to 12 months after completing their academic program, with the possibility of a STEM OPT extension for qualifying majors. Applying for OPT is crucial in launching your career and making the most of your education in the United States.

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Part I

Overview of OPT

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment directly related to an F-1 student's major study area. F-1 students can apply for up to 12 months of OPT before (pre-completion) or after (post-completion) completing their academic studies. Any pre-completion OPT is deducted from the available post-completion OPT period. Students with STEM degrees may qualify for a 24-month extension of post-completion OPT.

To be eligible for OPT, students must:

  • have been lawfully enrolled full-time for one academic year,
  • have valid F-1 status,
  • and intend to work in a role directly related to their major.

The application process involves requesting a recommendation from the Designated School Official (DSO), who endorses the Form I-20 and makes a notation in SEVIS. Students then file Form I-765 with USCIS, along with submitting the required fee and supporting documentation. Employment can begin only after USCIS approves the application and the student receives the Employment Authorization Document (EAD).


Part 2

Key Differences Between CPT and OPT

During academic program
Before or after completion of the degree
Depends on the program
12 months per education level
Authorized by DSO; Job offer required
Recommended by DSO; Authorized by USCIS
Normally after one year of academic year you can be integrated into CPT.
(Day 1 CPT could let you start working on the first day of your program)
Normally after one year of academic year you can be integrated into CPT.
(Day 1 CPT could let you start working on the first day of your program)
- You are entitled to apply for multiple part-time CPTs or 1 part-time and 1 full-time CPT.
- Can be part-time or full-time
- Any employer related to field of study
- Company must be E-Verified
STEM Extension
Not eligible
Additional 24 months for qualifying STEM degrees


* CPT is typically used for internships during the academic program, while OPT is used for gaining experience before or after graduation.


Part 3

Eligibility for Optional Practical Training (OPT)

To be eligible for OPT for international students, F-1 visa students must meet certain requirements:

🌟 Full-Time Enrollment

F-1 students must have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year at a SEVP-certified college, university, conservatory, or seminary.

🌟 Field of Study Requirements

The OPT employment must be directly related to the student's major study area. Students cannot qualify for OPT in a field which differs from what they have studied.

🌟 English Language Study Exclusion

Students in English language training programs are not eligible for OPT. OPT is only available to students pursuing academic and professional degrees.

🌟 OPT Requirements

In addition to these OPT requirements, students must maintain valid F-1 status at the time of application and must not have used more than 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT). Part-time pre-completion OPT and part-time CPT do not count towards this 12-month limit.



Part 4

Applying for OPT by STEPS

The OPT application process for F-1 students involves several important steps. Here's a streamlined guide to help you navigate through it:

Remember, you cannot begin your OPT until the start date specified on your employment authorization document (EAD card). 


Part 5

After Submitting the OPT Application

USCIS typically requires more than 90 days to process OPT applications; therefore, we recommend planning accordingly. The International Center has no control over the processing time of your OPT application by USCIS.

Part 6

Solutions for OPT Cases Exceeding Normal Processing Times

If your OPT application is taking longer than expected and falls outside the normal processing times, you can take several steps to request assistance from USCIS. Here's how you can proceed:

1. Check Case Status Online

  • What to Do: Regularly check the status of your case online to stay updated on any changes or actions required.

  • How to Check: Go to the USCIS Case Status Online page and enter your receipt number.

2. Update Your Mailing Address

  • Importance: Ensure USCIS has your current mailing address to avoid missing correspondence.

  • How to Update: Use the USCIS Change of Address page to update your address if necessary.

3. Request a Premium Processing

  • How to Request:

    • Explain the reason for your expedited request and provide your receipt number. You may need to submit documentary evidence supporting your expedited request.

4. Correct Typographical Errors

  • Why?: If there are any typographical errors in your application or notices, correct them promptly to avoid delays.

  • How to Correct: Visit the Request Typographic Error Corrections page on the USCIS website.

5. Additional Resources


Part 7

Employment While on OPT

During your OPT period, you must work in a job related to your field of study. Your employment must be for at least 20 hours per week, considered full-time by the U.S. government. The work can be paid or unpaid as long as it does not violate labor laws.

Several types of employment are permissible on both pre-completion and standard post-completion OPT:

  1. Regular paid employment
  2. Multiple short-term employers or gigs
  3. Work for hire as an independent contractor
  4. Self-employed business owner
  5. Employment through an agency
  6. Unpaid internships or volunteer work

It's crucial to maintain records of your employment, such as offer letters, contracts, and pay stubs, in case you need to provide evidence of your OPT activities.Remember that you have a limited number of unemployment days during post-completion OPT. You may not accrue more than 90 days of unemployment within your authorized OPT period. Exceeding this limit may jeopardize your legal status in the United States.


Part 8


1. When is the best time for international students to apply for OPT?

International students are advised to apply for OPT as early as possible. For example, if your program ends in May, you should start your application process by the end of February, which is 90 days before your program concludes.

2. How can F-1 students apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD)?

F-1 students need to collaborate with their school's international students office to submit the I-765 Application for Employment Authorization to USCIS. While the EAD is valid, the student will maintain their F-1 status and have a 60-day grace period following its expiration.

3. What is the recommended timeline for applying for OPT?

The processing of OPT authorization by USCIS can take approximately 3-5 months. Therefore, applying well before the date you intend to start working is crucial. Applications can be submitted as early as 90 days before your study program is completed and must be filed no later than 60 days after completion of your studies.

4. Is opt valid for 3 years?
If you have a STEM degree, you'll receive one year of initial OPT and two years of OPT extension.
5. Is OPT still in f1 status?


6. Can I apply for a green card on OPT?

Yes, you can, as long as your employer sponsors you.

7. How long will the OPT EAD be valid?

Usually within 1 year. 

8. What majors count as STEM OPT?
  1. Biological Sciences: Biology, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Botany, Zoology, etc.
  2. Physical Sciences: Physics, Chemistry, Earth Sciences, Atmospheric Sciences, etc.
  3. Mathematics and Statistics: Mathematics, Applied Mathematics, Statistics, Actuarial Science, etc.
  4. Engineering: Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Computer Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, etc.
  5. Computer and Information Sciences: Computer Science, Information Technology, Cybersecurity, Data Science, etc.
  6. Environmental Science: Environmental Science, Environmental Studies, Environmental Engineering, etc.
  7. Agricultural Sciences: Agronomy, Horticulture, Animal Sciences, Soil Sciences, etc.
  8. Health Sciences: Biotechnology, Bioinformatics, Public Health (if it includes significant quantitative analysis), etc.
  9. Psychology: Only certain programs like Cognitive Psychology or Psychometrics.
  10. Management Science and Quantitative Methods: Operations Research, Management Science, Business Analytics, etc.
  • ❗️When handling OPT-related issues, be sure to be cautious and consult the advice of your school's DSO.



Note: All the information above are time sensitive. We recommend contacting professional lawyers before making any decisions. None of the information in this article is intended to provide legal advice.

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