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F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training is a benefit that allows an F-1 Student to work in the U.S. for up to 12 months in a supervised professional position related to their field of study (major). Some F-1 students will qualify for an additional 17-month extension for science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors (STEM). Optional Practical Training is available once for each degree level (i.e. bachelor's, master's, doctoral).


As of March 2016 the U.S. Department of Homeland Security published amended regulations regarding optional practical training (OPT) for certain international students with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees. The amended regulations will go into effect May 10. Under the new regulations, eligible students can apply to have a STEM OPT extension of 24 months. The new regulations also enhance federal oversight of the training program.

In order to help school officials, students and employers understand the new regulations, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) unveiled a STEM OPT Hub on the Study in the States website.  This STEM OPT Hub includes all the information and resources you need to review to prepare and walk stakeholders through the amended regulations. Topics are also organized by intended audience on Web pages geared to employers, students and school officials.  

The Transition Plan section outlines what international students can expect during the next few months and highlights two categories of eligible F-1 students:

It also explains which international students are ineligible to benefit from the 24-month STEM OPT extension.

As part of the amended regulations, employers must develop a formal training plan that clearly identifies the STEM OPT student’s learning objectives and the employer’s commitments to helping the student achieve those goals. To capture this requirement, DHS introduced the Form I-983, “Training Plan for STEM OPT Students.”  The Training Plan section on the STEM OPT Hub provides an overview of this new requirement for employers and STEM OPT students.

STEM OPT students and their employers are subject to the terms of the Form I-983, effective as of the start date requested for STEM OPT, as indicated on the form. Student trainees may participate in entrepreneurial ventures; however, they may not fill out their own Form I-983, Sections 3 to 6, nor act as their own employer for the purposes of the form. The international student’s most recent designated school official will keep the form on file as part of the student’s official records.


Brief Overview

Types of OPT

  1. Pre-completion OPT (rare - please seek in-person immigration advising to discuss options)
  2. Post-Completion OPT (most common)
  3. 7-month extension of post-completion OPT for certain STEM degree holders

Eligibility

  • Student must have been enrolled full-time for one full academic year
  • Student must be in lawful F-1 status
  • Prior use of full-time Curricular Practical Training for one year or more eliminates eligibility for Optional Practical Training 

Note: Students in English language training programs (IELI) are not eligible for OPT.

Duration

  • Standard OPT is available for a cumulative maximum of 12 months per educational level;
  • Use of pre-completion OPT impacts availability of post-completion OPT - Full-time OPT is deducted from the 12 month cumulative limit at the full-time rate; Part-time pre-completion OPT is deducted from the 12 month cumulative limit at a 50% rate.
  • A one-time extension of 17 months (for a total of 29 months) is available to certain STEM degree recipients.

Employment

  • Must be directly related to the students major field of study.
  • No offer of employment is required to apply for OPT, but the student is expected to work. Students on OPT are limited to a maximum of 90 days of unemployment. Unemployment beyond the 90 day limit may result in the termination of OPT eligibility.

When to file

For standard post-completion OPT, Form I-765 and supporting documents can be filed with USCIS beginning 90 days prior to the program end date and up to 60 days after the program end date.


Applying for OPT
  1. Complete the Post-Completion Optional Practical Training Application Request Form, have it signed by your academic advisor, and prepare all other required documents listed on the form.
  2. Schedule an appointment to meet with your advisor in the Center for International Programs. A new I20 will be generated recommending OPT. Your immigration advisor will review all the documents at this appointment.
  3. Mail the complete packet to USCIS, as instructed on the Post-Completion OPT Application Request Form.

Checking Your Status

If you have an application receipt number, you may check your application case status online by visiting https://egov.uscis.gov/cris/jsps/index.jsp


Reporting Requirements/What to do after receiving OPT Approval
  1. Submit a copy of the Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) to the Center for International Programs immediately upon receiving it. The card copy can be scanned and sent by email to international [at] humboldt [dot] edu
  2. Employment: You must notify your immigration advisor in the Center for International Programs as soon as possible once you accept an offer of employment so that they can update your SEVIS record and stop the 90 day “clock”. You will need to report the following information:
  • Name and Address of Employer
  • Employers Employment Identification Number (EIN)
  • A statement of how the job is related to your field of study.
  • Start Date & End Date (if known)
  • Full-time or Part-time

To maintain status, students on Optional Practical Training must report to the Center for International Programs, within 10 days, any changes to the following information:

  • Changes to or additions of Employment  
  • Name
  • Address
  • Participation in OPT – if you return country and decide not to complete OPT.

Unemployment

Optional Practical Training students may not accrue a total of more than 90 days of unemployment during the 12-month period of OPT. Failure to secure a job within 90 days of approval may result in the automatic termination of your OPT eligibility.


Travel and OPT

Traveling outside the U.S while on OPT is not advised and can be very risky. There is no guarantee that you will be allowed to re-enter the US while your application is pending or if your application has been adjudicated. Students are advised to avoid traveling outside of the United States prior to adjudication of the EAD and secure employment. If leaving the US cannot be avoided before receiving an EAD and securing employment the student is risking forfeiture of his or her OPT opportunity.

If you have a job you may travel and reenter to resume work at the same job. Your I-20 must be endorsed for travel within the last six months and you must have the EAD in hand, along with a letter from the employer stating their expectation that you return to the position, upon your reentry to the US. There is no guarantee that you will be allowed to re-enter the US.

If your OPT has been approved and you depart before you get a job, you risk the cancelation of your OPT and may not be allowed to reenter.

Although traveling abroad in the context of OPT is discouraged, if it is unavoidable, be sure to have the following items with you when you travel to facilitate possible reentry to the United States:

  • Valid passport
  • Valid visa stamp in your passport
  • Original (not a photocopy) of SEVIS I-20 with:
    • Endorsement for post-completion practical training
    • DSO signature for re-entry obtained within the last six months
  • Employment Authorization Document (EAD)

If employed, a letter from your employer verifying your current employment and affirming their intention to have you resume employment upon your return to the US


Health and Medical Insurance

It is STRONGLY recommended that you obtain new health insurance coverage, or maintain your HSU health insurance coverage while waiting for approval and/or adjudication of OPT. Policies may be purchased at the Office of Extended Education (OEE) which is located in SBS 211. The phone number is (707) 826-3731.


Withdrawing/Canceling an OPT Application

You may withdraw/cancel a post-completion OPT application that has been filed with USCIS but not yet adjudicated (approved). If you request a withdrawal it may not be retracted and DHS's acknowledgement of a withdrawal may not be appealed. Your fee will not be refunded. You may or may not receive a response from USCIS.


Transferring While on OPT

F-1 Students on Optional Practical Training who wish to transfer out must begin their new course of study at the transfer-in school within five months of the end of OPT or the transfer release date, whichever is earlier. If the student has completed Optional Practical Training, the transfer must be completed before the end of the 60-day grace period.


STEM Extension

Not all majors are eligible for the 17-month Optional Practical Training STEM extension. A full list of   codes are available online. The Department of Homeland Security will announce any future changes to the list.

Eligibility and requirements

  • The student must be currently participating in a 12-month period of Optional Practical Training and working for a U.S. employer in a job directly related to the student's major area of study.
  • The student must have successfully completed a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree in a STEM eligible major from a SEVIS-certified school.
  • The student must have a job offer from an employer registered with the E-Verify employment verification system.
  • The student must not have previously received a 17-month STEM extension.
  • The immigration advisor will recommend the 17-month extension in SEVIS after eligibility has been verified and the student has made a commitment to maintain reporting responsibilities every six months while on the extension.
  • The student will apply for the 17-month extension by filing Form I-765 with the required fee to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
  • A student who timely and properly files an extension application with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services will be able to continue employment while the application is pending up to 180 days or until the final decision is made, whichever is earlier.

The Optional Practical Training STEM Extension Request form is accessible here.

As of March 2016 the U.S. Department of Homeland Security published amended regulations regarding optional practical training (OPT) for certain international students with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees. The amended regulations will go into effect May 10. Under the new regulations, eligible students can apply to have a STEM OPT extension of 24 months. The new regulations also enhance federal oversight of the training program.

In order to help school officials, students and employers understand the new regulations, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) unveiled a STEM OPT Hub on the Study in the States website.  This STEM OPT Hub includes all the information and resources you need to review to prepare and walk stakeholders through the amended regulations. Topics are also organized by intended audience on Web pages geared to employers, students and school officials.  

The Transition Plan section outlines what international students can expect during the next few months and highlights two categories of eligible F-1 students:

It also explains which international students are ineligible to benefit from the 24-month STEM OPT extension. 

As part of the amended regulations, employers must develop a formal training plan that clearly identifies the STEM OPT student’s learning objectives and the employer’s commitments to helping the student achieve those goals. To capture this requirement, DHS introduced the Form I-983, “Training Plan for STEM OPT Students.”  The Training Plan section on the STEM OPT Hub provides an overview of this new requirement for employers and STEM OPT students. 

STEM OPT students and their employers are subject to the terms of the Form I-983, effective as of the start date requested for STEM OPT, as indicated on the form. Student trainees may participate in entrepreneurial ventures; however, they may not fill out their own Form I-983, Sections 3 to 6, nor act as their own employer for the purposes of the form. The international student’s most recent designated school official will keep the form on file as part of the student’s official records. 


Pre-completion Optional Practical Training

Pre-completion Optional Practical Training authorizes employment related to the student's field of study before completion of all degree requirements. Most students prefer to apply for Curricular Practical Training rather than applying for pre-completion Optional Practical Training. If you are considering pre-completion OPT, please schedule an appointment with your immigration advisor in the Center for International Programs to discuss your situation.


Transferring while on Optional Practical Training

F-1 Students on Optional Practical Training who wish to transfer out must begin their new course of study at the transfer-in school within five months of the end of OPT or the transfer release date, whichever is earlier. If the student has completed Optional Practical Training, the transfer must be completed before the end of the 60-day grace period.