Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an employment authorization available for F-1 visa holder for the purpose of looking for or obtaining a practical working experience in the US.
OPT is good for 12 months, and it can be used before (pre-completion OPT) or after the completion (post-completion OPT) of your program. You can also use part of your OPT before the completion of your program, and use the other part after the completion of your program. The OPT is granted by the USCIS.
You are eligible to apply for an OPT if:
- You are a full-time student for at least one academic year
- You maintain your valid F-1 status
- You intend to work in a field that is in accordance with your field of study (and degree)
Note: Job offer is NOT required to apply for an OPT
- Students that are enrolled in English language training only is not eligible for OPT
- If you have already utilized your CPT for more than one year, you can no longer apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT)
- Your last date of OPT cannot go beyond 14 month after completion of your program.
For instance, if you do not use your pre-completion OPT, you will have 12 months OPT after you complete your program. In order to satisfy this requirement, you can start your OPT as late as 2 month after the completion date of your program.
- When you apply for an OPT, you can put your start date for your OPT as late as 2 month after the completion of your program. However, you must apply for the OPT within 120 days of your graduation. Application cannot be submitted at the end of your program or after graduation.
Pre-completion OPT v. Post-completion OPT
- Under the pre-completion OPT, during the regular semester you can only work part time (up to 20 hours per week). During the school vacation, you are allowed to work part time or full time (up to 40 hours per week).
- Part-time OPT is counted as half of full-time OPT, for example, if you are working for 6 months under part-time OPT, it means that you still have 9 month of full-time OPT (12 – (6 : 2) = 9).
- If you have not enrolled in your program for one full academic year, you can only start applying for an OPT no earlier than 90 days prior to being enroll for one full academic year.
Example: if you start your education in spring 2006, your first academic year will be complete in mid December 2006. That means you can start applying for your OPT in mid September 2006.
- If you have enroll in your program for one full academic year or more, you can start applying for an OPT no earlier than 120 days prior to the start date of the employment authorization start date that you select.
Example: you start your education in spring 2006, and now is February 2007. If you are planning to put July 1, 2007 as your start date in your employment authorization document, you can start applying for your OPT in the beginning of March 2007.
- Under the post-completion OPT, you can work both part-time and full-time.
- You can start applying for your OPT no earlier than 120 days prior to the start date of the employment authorization start date that you select. However, if you enroll in a one-year program, you can only start applying for your OPT as early as 90 days prior to the completion of your program
- You cannot apply for an OPT after the completion of your program. However, you can put the start date of your employment authorization as late as 60 days after the completion of your program
How to Obtain an OPT?
Visit your International Student Office, and request an OPT application packet. Normally, as instructed in the packet, you are required to submit these following documents to your International Student Office:
- OPT recommendation request form from your academic advisor
- Current 1-20 and all of previously issued I-20
- Your last EAD card - if applicable
Your International Student Office will review your eligibility to apply for an OPT. If you are eligible, the International Student Office will update your SEVIS record, to include a recommendation for an OPT with the starting employment authorization date that you select, and print a new I-20 for you. You will have to sign and date this new I-20. Later, you should include the copy of this new I-20 in the OPT application packet sent to the USCIS.
Your International Student Office might help you to send the OPT application packet to USCIS, so you don’t have to worry about it. However, if you have to send it by yourself, make sure that you send your application to the right USCIS service center (the one that has jurisdiction over your residence that you put in the I-765 form). Consult with your international student office to ensure that you send it to the proper USCIS service center.
Documents that you need to send to the USCIS are:
- Original and completed I-765 Form (put it in the front of the application packet)
- Copies of current I-20 (the I-20 with OPT recommendation status) and all of previously issued I-20 (all pages)
- Copy of passport (the identification page and visa page)
- Copy of the I-94 form (front and back)
- Copy of your last EAD card - if applicable (front and back)
- Two current passport-style photos with your name and passport number / SEVIS number on the back of the photos
- OPT application fee – currently $180 (please check with your international student office for the current application fee)
It is advisable that you send the OPT application packet by certified mail with return receipt or via courier such as FedEx or UPS.
Receiving the EAD Card
If your OPT application is approved by the USCIS, you will be sent an EAD (Employment Authorization Document) card. Your authorized employment start and end date is shown on your EAD card. You cannot start working before the start date shown on your EAD card.
The processing time for the OPT application is between 1.5 months to 3 months. Be sure that you put the correct and reliable address on the I-765 form, and that you stay there until you receive your EAD card. If you move, the post officer will not forward a US Government mail even if you already request a forwarding service with the US Postal Service. In addition, the post officer will not deliver your mail if he or she does not see your name on the mailbox. Therefore, if you put your family’s / friend’s / landlord’s address, put both of your name with a c/o (care of) in front of your family’s / friend’s / landlord’s name when you write the address, for example:
c/o Mike Smith
123 Any Street #1
Los Angeles , CA 12345
Tax and SSN
As an international student you are not eligible for social security benefits. Therefore, you are not required to deduct the social security tax (FICA) from your paycheck while you are working under OPT. However, you should pay the Federal tax, State tax, and City tax. In order to do so, you need to have a Social Security Number.
It is advisable that you do not go out of the country when your OPT application is being processed, especially for the post-completion OPT, because you may be denied to re-enter.
If you have received your EAD card you are eligible to travel out of the US given that you have:
- Valid I-20 signed by your international student office within the last six months
However, you are traveled at your own risk, which means, there is no guarantee that you will be able to re-enter the US.