Optional Practical Training (OPT) provides F-1 students with an opportunity for hands-on work experience (work authorization) related to the academic field of study.

You are eligible to apply if you meet the following criteria:

  • You are currently in F-1 status.

  • You have been enrolled in a full course of study for one academic year (three quarters, including final exams weeks) or will complete one academic year by the date the OPT approval begins.

  • You have not exceeded 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) authorization. (Part-time CPT does not affect OPT eligibility.)

  • You do not need a job offer first; you can apply for the 12-month OPT authorization without a job offer.

  • You have not previously completed 12 months of OPT at the same degree level.

  • You are eligible for 12 months of full-time OPT per academic level. For example, you may apply for 12 months of OPT after completing a bachelor's degree and then another 12 months after completing a master's degree.

  • You may apply for OPT authorization during your academic program, after your program completion, or a combination of both.

Post-completion OPT

OPT authorization that begins after completion of your academic program is called “post-completion” OPT. This is the most common type of OPT. Post-completion OPT is full-time, and it can begin:

  • after you complete your degree or exchange program*

  • after you complete all course requirements for your degree, excluding thesis or equivalent**

Pre-completion OPT

OPT used while you are still enrolled in your course of study is called "pre-completion" OPT. Pre-completion OPT is rather uncommon. Usually current students are eligible for alternate employment authorization, such as Curricular Practical Training. Because pre-completion OPT is deducted from the 12 months of OPT eligibility, most students prefer to save OPT for after program completion. You may start the OPT application process up to 120 days before your requested employment start date. Pre-completion OPT can be approved for different rates:

  • Full-time (more than 20 hours per week) or part-time (20 hours per week or less) during your annual vacation quarter and between quarter  breaks

  • Part-time (20 hours per week or less) while enrolled in a full course of study

STEM OPT Extension

Students in their 12-month OPT authorization period, with a qualifying STEM degree and working for an E-Verify registered employer, may apply for an extension of their OPT.

24-Month STEM OPT Extension

The 24-month STEM OPT extension benefit went into effect Monday, May 10, 2016. This new benefit replaces the previous 17-month OPT extension option.

The STEM OPT extension allows some students with science, technology, engineering, or math degrees to apply to extend their post-completion OPT authorization. Students with STEM degrees and currently in their 12-month OPT period should review the eligibility requirements, application timeline, and instructions below.

Eligibility

To qualify for the 24-month STEM OPT extension, you must:

  • Be in F-1 status

  • Be currently working in a period of post-completion OPT

  • Have a bachelor's degree or higher degree in an eligible STEM field

    • You may be eligible use a prior STEM degree earned in the U.S. for this requirement; to use a prior STEM degree, you must:

      • Have received your most recent degree (which does not need to be STEM-related) from a currently accredited Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school in the U.S.

      • Have received your prior, qualifying STEM degree in the U.S. within 10 years of applying for the STEM OPT extension.

      • The qualifying STEM degree must be on the Department of Homeland Security's STEM Designated Degree Program List at the time you submit your STEM OPT extension application (rather than at the time you received the degree).

  • Have a job offer that meets the following requirements:

    • The job is with an employer enrolled in the USCIS E-Verify program 

    • The job offers at least 20 hours of work per week

    • The job will provide formal training and learning objectives directly related to your qualifying STEM degree

  • Complete the I-983 Training Plan with your employer
     

Employment Requirements During the 24-month STEM OPT Extension

You must work at least 20 hours per week for an employer that a) participates in the E-Verify program and b) agrees to follow all the employer requirements in the 24-month STEM rule.

Unlike the 12 month OPT, volunteer/unpaid work or self-employment is not permitted under the 24 month STEM OPT Extension regulation.

When to Apply

Students with a STEM degree and currently in the 12-month OPT period:

  • USCIS must receive your STEM OPT extension application before your current 12-month OPT EAD card expiration date.

  • Apply as early as 90 days before your current 12-month OPT EAD card expiration date.

  • Take into consideration:

  •  Your DSO will need time to process your new I-20.

    • Allow sufficient time to mail your application to USCIS.

H-1B "Cap Gap" OPT Extension

H-1B is a work visa that is sponsored by an employer. Students commonly transition from Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization, part of F-1 status, to H-1B status. There are a limited number of H-1Bs available each fiscal year, for most employers, and this limit is often called the "H-1B cap."

New H-1Bs become effective each October 1, but the application period for most employers begins six months earlier, April 1. The "cap gap" occurs when a student's F-1 status and/or OPT expire before their approved H-1B begins October 1. See our H-1B page for more information. 

The Cap Gap Extension

The H-1B Cap Gap Extension allows certain students with pending or approved H-1B petitions to remain in the U.S. in F-1 status until the start date of their approved H-1B employment period, even if the OPT authorization and/or F-1 grace period would have otherwise expired before October 1.

Eligibility

You are eligible for the cap gap extension if both:

  • Your employer files an H-1B petition for you, on or after April 1, and requests a change of status to H-1B to begin October 1.

  • You are still within your OPT authorization period, or 60-day grace period following the OPT expiration, when your employer submits the H-1B petition on your behalf (on or after April 1).

If your OPT authorization is still valid when your employer submits your H-1B petition to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), your OPT authorization is extended. You can continue working in F-1 status through the extension date.

If your OPT authorization is expired but you are in your 60-day grace period when your employer submits your H-1B petition to USCIS, your F-1 status is extended. You cannot work but you can remain in the U.S. through the extension date.

Extension Dates

The length of your extension depends on your H-1B petition phase:

  • Filed: If your H-1B petition is properly filed (but not yet receipted or approved), your OPT authorization is extended to June 1. If your OPT authorization already expired but you were in your 60-day grace period at the time of filing, your F-1 status is extended to June 1.

  • Selected for receipting: If your H-1B petition is selected for receipting, your OPT authorization is extended to September 30. If your OPT authorization already expired but you were in your 60-day grace period at the time of filing, your F-1 status is extended to September 30.

  • Approved: If your H-1B petition is approved, your OPT authorization is extended to September 30. If your OPT authorization already expired but you were in your 60-day grace period at the time of filing, your F-1 status is extended to September 30. 

The cap gap extension of F-1 status is automatic. It begins when your employer submits the H-1B petition to USCIS.  

F-1 STUDENT OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING (OPT)

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