Optional Practical Training (OPT) for International Students in the US

Table of Contents

  1. What is an OPT?
  2. Benefits of OPT
  3. Types of OPT
  4. STEM OPT Extension
  5. Eligibility for an OPT
  6. How to Apply for an OPT in the US?
  7. When to apply for an OPT?
  8. Unemployment After OPT Period: What is the Allowed Stay Duration?
  9. Frequently Asked Questions

OPT, or Optional Practical Training, is an opportunity for international students to continue their stay in the US after their student visa expires. Utilizing the OPT extension, students can find employment in their respective fields. Further, the OPT can be a way to explore permanent job opportunities and eventually settle in the US. 

What is an OPT?

In the US, the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program allows international students with an F-1 visa to work for up to 12 months after completing their academic studies (usually after completing a degree). Eligible students can apply for the employment authorization once they complete their study. In special cases, students with STEM degrees can apply for a 24-month extension, thus making a total of 36 months. 

Benefits of OPT

  • Extend your stay in the US: With OPT, international students can stay in the US for 12 – 24 months after completing their studies. Within this time, it is possible to get a new job and apply for a work visa in the US. 
  • Gain professional experience: OPT is a great opportunity to gain practical experience in your field of study. The hands-on experience will be advantageous for exploring your career paths. 
  • Broaden your network: The US is a cosmopolitan country where you can network with global talents. OPT is your path to network with exceptional professionals in your field. 

Types of OPT

  • Pre-completion OPT: If your admission to a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) certified institution is confirmed, you can apply for a pre-completion OPT. With this, you can work part-time in the US 20 hours a week and full day during holidays. 
  • Post-completion OPT: You can apply for a post-completion OPT after completing your study in the US. With this, you can work full-time or part-time (at least 20 hours a week) for 12 months. 

If you have completed one year of part-time (20 hours a week) work after applying for pre-completion OPT, you will have only 6 months to work after your studies. The remaining 6 months are to be used for full-time work. 

You have completed the authenticated work period if you work full-time (40 hours a week). You can’t apply for post-completion OPT in this case. 

STEM OPT Extension

Having a degree in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) discipline allows you to seek a 24-month extension of your post-completion OPT work permit in the US. The criteria for STEM OPT extension are given below:

  • Hold an F-1 student status and have earned a STEM degree listed on the STEM Designated Degree Program List.
  • Work for an employer enrolled in and utilizing E-Verify.
  • Previously received initial approval for post-completion OPT employment authorization based on your STEM degree.

Eligibility for an OPT 

F-1 visa holders enrolled in a minimum 9-month course are eligible to apply to U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) for up to 12 months of OPT work authorization. Most students are eligible for an OPT at each higher degree level. 

  • Ensure that your F-1 status remains valid at the time of application. 
  • Enroll for a full-time academic year in the U.S. 
  • Be there in the US when submitting the application online or by mail.

You can apply for OPT up to 90 days before the program end date (as on Form I-20) and or within 60 days after that date. Your OPT permit cannot be deferred for future use. Students are prohibited from commencing work on OPT until they have received the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) work card and its validity period starts.

How to Apply for an OPT in the US? 

For STEM degrees: 

  • Pre-completion OPT: The DSO must enter your details into the SEVIS record for the OPT application. It is mandatory you complete at least one year to apply for the OPT. You can apply for an OPT 90 days prior to completing your first year of study. 
  • Post-completion OPT: Submit your application within 30 days of your DSO, updating the OPT recommendation in your SEVIS record. The application must be completed within 90 days before the course ends and 60 days after your course completion. 
  • STEM OPT Extension: Once your DSO adds an OPT recommendation to your SEVIS record, you must apply within 60 days. You can apply for the extension 90 days before your current OPT period ends. 

For Non-STEM degrees:

  • Pre-completion OPT: It is mandatory to complete an academic year to apply for pre-completion OPT. You can apply for it 90 days before completing your first academic year.
  • Post-completion OPT: You can complete your application within 30 days once your DSO updates the OPT recommendation into your SEVIS record. The timeframe for the application is between 90 days before the course completion to 60 days after it. 
OPT Fee: 470 USD, which was 410 USD earlier. 

When to apply for an OPT? 

The initial post-completion OPT period available for application is 12 months, without including the time you worked before completing your study. Your OPT work start date must be within 60 days after your course completion. There will be an employment authorization on the requested date or upon approval of the employment authorization, whichever is later.

The authorisation for STEM OPT extension begins the day your initial OPT period ends. You can’t use the extension for more than the allowed period. 

Unemployment After OPT Period: What is the Allowed Stay Duration? 

A moderate unemployment period is allowed during post-completion OPT and STEM OPT. Students can remain without employment till 90 days after the end of their post-completion OPT period. For STEM OPT, the period is 150 days, including the post-completion OPT period. 

Note that paid or unpaid work during your OPT period is counted towards work. It includes volunteering and unpaid internships you take up in the initial 12 months. 

Conclusion

In short, an OPT permit allows you to stay back in the US after completing your studies. It is important that your work must align with your subject of study. The OPT duration is 12 months, but an extension of 24 months is available for STEM degrees. International students can apply for an OPT before or after course completion, and both paid or unpaid work is valid for an OPT application. 

Learn in-depth about your student visa application, study, and work in the US. Connect with Nomad Credit, your trusted education abroad partner. Explore customized guidance on admission, education loan options, and student visas at zero cost. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How an F-1 visa is different from an OPT? 

An F-1 visa is your ticket to study in the US, while an OPT permit is a benefit because you have an F-1 visa. Only F-1 visa holders are eligible for OPT permits. 

Who gives the OPT permit? 

It is the DSO (Designated School Official) who approves the OPT application submitted by international students. 

How CPT and OPT are different?

Both CPT (Curricular Practical Training) and OPT (Optional Practical Training) offer practical experience to international students. The CPT is taken before graduation, such as internships, while the OPT can be taken before or after graduation. It will be hard for international students to take both CPT and OPT since the 12-month CPT experience will terminate the OPT eligibility. 

Are H1-B and OPT the same? 

No. The H1-B visa is called a “working visa” as it is a separate classification for employment in the US. The OPT is exclusive to students in the US. 

Do STEM students find it easier to obtain Optional Practical Training (OPT) compared to non-STEM students?

Typically, it is easier for STEM students to find OPT opportunities than non-STEM students. However, it depends on the opportunities open every year to determine the ease of finding OPT opportunities. 

Can I get an OPT twice?

You can apply for OPT for a specific degree. If you are applying for a higher degree, you can get an OPT for that course separately. An OPT period for bachelor’s and master’s can be availed. 

Is there any fee for an OPT?

Yes. 470 USD is the fee for an OPT application, which was 410 USD earlier.

Copyright © Nomad Study Abroad Consultant Private Limited. All Rights Reserved 2024.