Frequently Asked Questions About Optional Practical Training (OPT)
What kind of employment is allowed while I am on my initial 12-months of OPT?
While on the first 12-months of approved OPT, a student may work as a paid regular employee, a paid employee under a short-term contract, a paid employee working through a temp staffing agency or consultancy, or a contractor under Form 1099 for services provided, a self-employed business owner with proper licenses, an unpaid intern, or a volunteer. The student may also work for multiple employers at the same time. However, in each case the employment must be clearly documented, follow all relevant labor laws, be reported to the university, and be related to the student’s field of study.
What kind of employment is allowed when I am applying for or working during a STEM Extension?
When applying for a STEM Extension or working on an approved STEM Extension, a student may work as a paid employee with an E-Verify employer under a regular, contract, or Form 1099 employment. However, a volunteer position, unpaid internship, self-employed business owner, or employment through a temp staffing agency or consultancy is not supported for a 24-month STEM Extension. Students who are already approved for a 17-month STEM extension and are a self-employed business owner or working through a temp staffing agency or consultancy are permitted to continue that employment for the remainder of that 17-month period if the E-Verify requirement has otherwise been met. The student may also work for multiple employers at the same time if they meet these conditions. In each case, the employment must be clearly documented, follow all relevant labor laws, be reported to the university, and be related to the student’s field of study.
How many hours a week must I be employed for OPT?
To meet USCIS requirements for OPT or STEM Extension employment, a position must be at least 20 hours per week.
Can I travel abroad while on OPT or STEM Extension?
Yes, F-1 students can travel abroad during either period. In such cases, students bring the same documents as they would during any other trip (i.e., passport, valid/unexpired visa, transcripts, verification of financial resources, and an I-20 recently endorsed on the back page by a DSO). In addition to these documents, they would also bring the EAD card and a letter from their employer confirming they have ongoing employment to return to. Such letters are to be signed and printed on the employer’s official stationary. Students should also make sure that their I-20 has been endorsed on the back page by the DSO within the last 6-months. Students who do have a pending application or who no longer have an employer should contact the ISO for advising before making such a trip.
Questions About the Application Process
What happens if the OPT start date I chose was the day after graduation, but my application is still pending with USCIS at that time?
An F-1 student visa holder can request a start date as late as 60-days after the end of the academic program, although we recommend a date that is a few days earlier to avoid possible confusion. Many students chose the later date to ensure the maximum time possible for USCIS processing. However, if a student’s requested start date has passed, the student must wait until receiving approval and the EAD card before employment can begin. Start dates are generally shifted forward by USCIS if approval is delayed past the requested start date, but dates will not be set later than 60-days after the end of the academic program. This can lead to the OPT period being shortened.
I am on the initial 12 months of OPT and I have already filed my STEM application, but the STEM application is still pending. Is it true that I can continue working while I wait for the decision by USCIS?
Yes, as noted on the USCIS website a student who has filed a STEM Extension application with USCIS before the current OPT period ends are allowed up to 180-days of additional work authorization beyond the EAD card end date. However, if the STEM extension is denied then the student may no longer use that provision.
What information should be in my OPT employment reporting letter?
What is a Form I-983 training plan and what do I do with it?
The Form I-983 training plan is a new part of the requirements for a 24-month STEM Extension. It is a 7-page document that the student completes with the STEM Extension employer to show the relationship between the training opportunity and the student’s growth in the field of study. Students applying to USCIS for a 24-month STEM Extension or who have been awarded a 24-month STEM Extension and are reporting a new STEM Extension employer must submit a completed and signed copy of this plan to the university. This document is retained by the university and does not need to be included with the STEM application that is sent to USCIS. Students on a 17-month STEM Extension are not required to submit this training plan.
Who do I send my Form I-983 training plan to?
The Form I-983 training plan was added to the STEM Extension application process in 2016. The training plan is completed by the student and the proposed STEM Extension employer and is submitted to the university when completing the STEM Extension Request Form. You do not need to submit the Form I-983 training plan with your application sent to USCIS, but the document will be retained by the university and made available to USCIS if requested.
Can I begin working if I have received an approval notice, but not the EAD card?
No. An F-1 student must wait until an Employment Authorization Document (i.e., an EAD card) arrives. Employment may only begin on or after the start date on that EAD card.
Questions About Eligibility
Can I apply for OPT if I have already been approved for it before?
An F-1 student visa holder cannot receive another 12-months of OPT authorization from USCIS at the same degree level. If you have completed a master’s degree prior to attending ITU and received 12-months of OPT authorization for that degree program, you would only be eligible for more OPT after completing a new education level (e.g., a doctoral program). This is also true for students who received 12-months of OPT authorization from USCIS, but did not use all of it. However, if your prior degree and OPT authorization were issued at the bachelor’s degree level only, then you would be eligible to apply for OPT authorization again at the master’s level.
Is it true that taking more than 12-months of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) at the same degree level will make me ineligible to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT)?
Yes, that is true. A student who completes a total of 365 days or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) at the same degree level, even if done with different schools, will lose eligibility to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT) at that level. However, part-time CPT would not count towards this limit.
Can I still seek a STEM Extension if I previously took OPT at the masters level?
An F-1 student visa holder can only request a STEM Extension during a period of OPT. Once the OPT period has ended, the student is no longer eligible to request a STEM Extension at that level.
Can I still seek a STEM Extension if my OPT is already finished?
No, that is not allowed. An F-1 student visa holder can request a STEM Extension only while a period of OPT is active. Once the OPT period has ended, the student is no longer eligible to request a STEM Extension at that level, even if the student earns another degree at that same level.
Can I still apply for OPT if I was approved for F-1 status during my academic program?
Students enrolled full-time while on another non-immigrant visa status that allowed it can count that time towards the requirement of having completed ‘one academic year’ for OPT eligibility. Part-time enrollment would not count towards this.
Can I still apply for OPT if I was approved for reinstatement of F-1 status during my academic program?
Students who applied to USCIS by mail for reinstatement of F-1 status and were approved will be issued an updated I-20 with an OPT recommendation. USCIS approval of the OPT application would be treated on a case-by-case basis. The full-time enrollment a student had completed in F-1 status before losing that status or while awaiting reinstatement is often considered as part of the one academic year requirement. Students who left the U.S. and returned under a new I-20 to resume studies will be considered by USCIS to have started a new F-1 program and would not be eligible to apply for OPT until having completed one academic year of study in that new program.
Can I apply for a STEM Extension if I am studying in a non-STEM field?
Usually the answer is no. The exception is when an F-1 student visa holder is on OPT for a non-STEM field, but previously earned a U.S. degree in a STEM field from an accredited and SEVP-certified school. In that case, the student could apply for a STEM extension for a position related to the earlier degree, but only during an OPT period.
Is it true that I can apply for a STEM Extension twice?
It is true that a student can apply for a total of two STEM Extensions at different degree levels (e.g., Masters and Doctoral). However, only one STEM Extension is allowed for each degree level (i.e., they cannot be used consecutively).
Other Related Topics
What is the 7-month extension I heard about?
When USCIS updated the STEM Extension rule from a 17-month to a 24-month authorization, those students who were already approved for 17-months were given the option to apply for the extra 7-months. Many of these students did so in May 2016 when the application window first opened and the university contacted the rest with instructions if they wished to apply before the deadline in August 2016.
If I decide to go to attend another school for a new academic program, how will that affect my OPT or STEM Extension?
An F-1 student on OPT or STEM Extension may attend school part-time while employed. However, if admitted to a full-time academic program the student will need to end all employment and transfer the F-1 SEVIS record to that new school before the new program begins. When such a transfer is requested, the student will choose a “release date on which the F-1 SEVIS record will be moved from ITU to the new school. On this transfer release date in SEVIS, any previously approved OPT or STEM Extension is interrupted and the remaining period cannot be saved for the future. Students should carefully plan the end of their employment and also allow sufficient time for the new school to receive the SEVIS record and process a new I-20. To request a transfer from ITU to another school, please complete and submit a SEVIS Transfer Request Form.
Can I apply for pre-completion OPT?
Pre-completion OPT is a type of OPT that is requested before graduation. An F-1 student visa holder must hold F-1 status for at least 12-months to qualify for any type of OPT. Students from Canada or Mexico are not eligible for pre-completion OPT, only post-completion OPT and STEM Extensions. Any time that is requested for pre-completion OPT is deducted from future requests for post-completion OPT. Students approved for pre-completion OPT are limited to part-time employment off-campus until all coursework for the program is completed. Also, because this application is reviewed by the U.S. government and not the university, the processing time by USCIS is typically 90-days from the time the application is submitted and students would not be allowed to begin employment until they receive approval from USCIS and an EAD card.
Is it true that USCIS may ask for my training plan or visit my employer?
Yes, this is true. USCIS can request a copy of the training plan at any time, either randomly or based on a specific interest. USCIS has also confirmed that they will usually notify the OPT or STEM Extension Employer 48-hours in advance if they intend to make an in-person site visit. The university would not be informed about a USCIS site visit.