** This article about OPT Guide is part of series of articles about F1 Visa. Refer to Table of Contents at end of this article**

Today lets look at basic OPT rules for international students.

What is OPT?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is work authorization available to international students in USA.

To be eligible for OPT students should have been in valid F-1 status for at least two consecutive semesters.

OPT Application Deadline

The earliest you can apply for OPT is 90 days before your course completion date.

The latest date the USCIS will accept your application is 60 days after your course completion date.

Example

  • Your I-20 currently expires on  – Dec/9/2011
  • You can choose an OPT start date as early as – 12/10/2011
  • you can choose an OPT start date as late as – 2/7/2012

The rule sets new deadlines for filing Form I-765 for post-completion OPT. An I-765 for standard post-completion OPT can be filed up to 90 days before the program end-date and up to 60 days after the program end-date, provided that it is filed within 30 days of the date the DSO enters the OPT recommendation into SEVIS.

Applications for the 17-month STEM extension must be filed before the current OPT expires.

OPT Rules

  • 12 months of OPT is available after completing each higher level degree program.
    • Bachelors – 12 months
    • Masters – 12 months (MS, MBA, etc)
    • PhD – 12 months
  • If you complete MS and MBA, you can get only 12 months of OPT.
  • A job offer is not required to apply for OPT.
  • After you find a  job, you must inform your university international  office about you new job.
  • After OPT start date, you cannot stay unemployed for no more than 90 days (total and even between jobs).
  • There are no limits on job location within USA (Hawaii and Alaska counts)
  • If you change jobs during OPT, inform your univeristy international office about new job.
  • During OPT, you will be in F1visa (OPT is considered to be part of the program of study).
  • Check OPT processing and approval time by USCIS  in the processing center where your application will be submitted.
  • No premium processing for OPT is available.
  • OPT Card or Employment Authorization Document (EAD) that allows you to begin working on OPT.
  • After graduation, you cannot work until you have the EAD in your hand and start date of OPT.

STEM – 17 Months OPT Extension

  • OPT can only be extended beyond 12 months (for up to 17 additional months), if you meet the following three conditions:
    • Your OPT is based on a US Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral in a STEM major (Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics.
    • Your employer subscribes to E-Verify.
    • You are currently authorized for OPT and working in a job related to your field of study
  • Only one 17-month STEM extension is granted ONCE, regardless of additional degrees awarded or level of degrees.
  • New STEM extension EAD card begins the day after the expiration of the 12 month EAD card and ends 17 months later, no matter the date of adjudication.
  • 17-month extension will be granted in one EAD card period and cannot be split into smaller periods.
  • It is possible to change employers during the 17 months.  The new employment must meet the STEM extension requirements.
  • Students whose applications are received before the EAD card expires will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending until they receive the final decision from USCIS on the application or for 180 days, whichever comes first.  It is possible to change employment while application is pending, as long as the new employment meets STEM extension requirements.
  • If extension application is denied, student will still have the 60-day grace period after expiration of the 12-month EAD card.

More information at SEVIS Policy Guidance

STEM Extension Requirements

  • You must currently be on post completion 12-month OPT.
  • Verified completion of a degree on the STEM Designated Degree Programs List.
  • The CIP code is found on top of page 3 of the I-20, next to “Primary Major.”
  • Employment Requirements:
    • Paid or Unpaid
    • At least 20 hours per week
    • Directly related to field of study and appropriate to degree level obtained
  • Employer Requirements:
    • Registered with the U.S. Government E-Verify employment verification system
    • Agrees to report any termination of employment within 48 hours to OIS.
  • An additional 30 days of unemployment time will be available during the extension, combined with the 90 days granted during initial 12-month.  The aggregate total allowed is 120 days during the possible 29 months.

Travel while on OPT

Required documents to re-enter the U.S. while on OPT and STEM OPT

  • STEM extension OPT I-20 with page 3 endorsed for travel; travel endorsement cannot be more than 6 months old
  • Valid F-1 visa stamp
  • Valid passport
  • STEM Extension EAD card
  • Job offer letter or statement of employment from company

 What are the eligibility requirements for the 17-month extension of post-completion OPT?

  • The student must have a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree included in the STEM Designated Degree Program List.
  • The student must currently be in an approved post-completion OPT period based on a designated STEM degree.
  • The student’s employer must be enrolled in E-Verify.
  • The student must apply on time (i.e., before the current post-completion OPT expires).

Questions?

Post your questions about OPT, OPT STEM Extension and other related issue below.

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Series  – F1 Visa Rules

Following other related posted from F1 Visa Rules series.

Source of the contents for this article – USCIS, ICE.

 

Comments

  1. I have a question. I will be graduating on May 11 2013. i want to attend my sis wedding on may 29th in India and comeback to US. My OPT date starts on july3. I am planning to stay for 3 weeks in India. What options do i have regarding this.? and what are my chances in coming back to US without any problem. Did anyone face this type of situation.Please help.
    Thank You

  2. Can I get the OPT extension of 17 months after the 12 month OPT without valid visa at the period of extension?
    I am a STEM major.

  3. Hi,
    I’m currently doing MBA on H4 visa and planning to graduate in Dec 2013. I was planning to do a COS to F1 starting Fall 2013 so that I can get OPT upon graduation in Dec. But when I spoke to my university, they said, in order to receive OPT on graduating, I should be on F1 visa for at least 2 semesters. How far is this information true? Please advice is there any other way I can get OPT upon completion.

    Thanks
    Pearl

      • Not true. AS per USCIS we do not necesarily need to be on F-1 status for two semesters. Most schools don’t know this. All USCIS needs is ful-time registration over the last two semester unless it is the student’s final semester in which case you can just take whatever is left.

        I’m not sure how I can post the document here but there is a document by nafsa that outlines this statement very clearly. All you need is full-time enrolment. Some schools are strict that they need you to be on F-1 but you can talk to them about this.

        Good Luck

  4. Hi,

    Can we apply for a F-1 new stamp at home country if we are on F-1 OPT status with a valid EAD card and a job offer/job in progress?

    I might have to travel after my graduation and I won’t be able to re-enter because my visa has expired(however, my status is still F-1). So I was thinking of travel after receiving the OPT card and a job offer?

  5. Hi Raghu and every member
    Thank you for helping clueless people like me.
    My question is reagding OPT.
    I’m currently a full time student enrolled for Spring 2013.
    I’m on H4 visa. And i’m going to apply for change of status to F1.
    So i’ll be on F1 visa for Fall 2013.
    How soon am i eligible for OPT?
    Should i been on F1 for 2 semesters for getting OPT?
    Please let me know.
    Thank you for your time and valuable advice.
    Bumble.

    • You can study on H4 status but in order to be eligible for OPT, you should be on F1 status and should have completed an year as a full time student with the University you are enrolled to. I would suggest to get the change of status done soon to have sufficient time spent in this visa status to be eligible to apply for OPT.
      Good Luck!

      • Thank you for the reply. I just 1 more question. Should i be on F1 throughout the full time period? Or can i be on H4 for one semester and then be on F1 for the next and apply for OPT after that?

        • You can study on H4 visa status. Just make sure that you complete at least 9 months as a full time student which makes on academic year in order to apply for OPT.

  6. Hi,

    I am currently on OPT and will expire by the end of this month. I have decided to stay back in US, therefore extending my OPT for another 17 months. But the moment I made up my mind on staying back, it was already in the mid December. So I applied and there were some bumps but I managed to sort it out. It was probably around mid on Jan. And by that time I mailed out my application to USCIS, it was maybe one or one and half week before my OPT ends. Some of my friends told me it will be okay since I am extending my OPT and as long as my application is received by USCIS before the deadline. But still, it did not put my mind at ease. Is this going to affect my application?

  7. I have applied for OPT on Oct 28th 2012 and till date it shows its in initial reveiw. I am worried that it will take full 90 days its been already 75 Days. What should I do if it takes more than 90 days ?
    Can you let me know if you have any idea what is OPT trending date for this time frame same as mine ?

  8. Hi,
    I am on L1 visa and have enrolled for an MBA program. Can I straightaway apply for OPT after 12 months of study being on an L1 visa or is it mandatory to be on F1 visa before applying for OPT. Please advice.

    Thanks
    Amit

  9. Hello, My Post – OPT expires in may 2013 and my F-1 visa expires in August 2013.

    Say, i get a 17-month stem extension from May 2013 and i travel to India during Dec 2013, so for re- entering, will i again need to give an visa interview ?

    If, i have to give visa interview, what would be appropriate… having a 17 month extension or H-1B ??

    Please help.
    Thanks,
    Rohit

  10. Respected Sir/Mam,

    Had a request ! need some clarification on the below.

    I’m currently in the US on OPT (that expires on 7/5/2013) on my F-1 visa (expires on 5/2015), I also have the H1B approved to start from (Oct 1st 2012) – (currently has my visa status changed just by the approval of H1B ? or is still the same – F1 ? On the I 797 the only thing that was mentioned was the approval and nothing about the COS).

    I need to go to India for a marriage in the family in Jan 2013. Can I
    travel on OPT and enter back into the US without getting my visa changed ? Or is it a must that – in order to enter back in the US I need to have the H1B visa stamped.

    I also read the following that the moment your H1B is approved and becomes active (1st October 2012 in my case), your F1 visa becomes no longer valid as you cannot have 2 visa’s at the same time, is that true ?

    Please could you send some light on the above.

    I sincerely appreciate your help in this regard,

    Thank you,

    Venky

    • While your OPT valid, You can travle,but carry your employer letter that you are presently working with them.

      Mandava.

      • But in my case my H1B is approved and scheduled to start from Oct 1st 2012….. Can i still travel on OPT ?

  11. Hello,

    I am on OPT.I started working full time in last week on November 2012.I have an e-verified employer.I have to go to India in first week of may for 20 days.My OPT will end on June 25th 2013.I will apply for extension in march 2013. will there be any problem while coming back from India on OPT.Is there any specific documents or letters we need to carry with us. or is it good If I apply for H1-B in April 2013 and go to India if I get my H1.I am planning to apply for H1 in 2014 April. lease give any idea which is better to apply in 2013 or 2014.

    Thanks,
    Srikanth

  12. hello i have a question

    i am graduating in may 2013 and my f-1 visa also expiring in may 2013,, can i go back to india in dec 2012 and cme bak in jan 2013

    and i am joining consultancy in jan 2013 soo when can i start applying for opt
    can i stay back here even after my f-1 visa expires????????//////
    please help me regarding these?????///

  13. Hi, I am a graduate student and planning to go to India and return to U.S. after my graduation. And my situation is as follows

    1. I will be graduating this December 2012.
    2. I have an EAD card, and my start date on the card is from 4th Feb 2013. ( I had already been approved and received my EAD card)
    3. I have an employment offer with a start date 14th February 2013 and currently working as an intern for the same company ( working as an intern from past 5months for the same company and my CPT ends on 20th Dec 2012)
    4. I have a valid visa until 2016 and a valid Passport.
    5. In addition to an employment offer I can get a letter from the company stating to allow me to re-enter U.S so that I can return and start as a full time employee there ( as I am currently working as an intern there).

    So my question is , is it safe to travel out of U.S after my graduation and return after my OPT start date (i.e after 4th Feb 2013) and before my full time employment starts (i.e before 14th feb 2013). ??

    Can anyone please let me know how safe is to travel in my case? and what do you advise??? I am very confused what to do.. I already booked my tickets but now i am in a state where i am not able to decide if its safe to travel or not.

  14. hi all i would like to know that- A student CANNOT apply for OPT if:
    The student is enrolled in an intensive English-language or certificate program.is it true or not please provide me the information how to pbtain opt if they doesnt accep
    t it

  15. i LEFT u.s WHILE MY OPT EXTENSION IS IN PROCESSING. MY OPT EXTENSION GOT APPROVED EVEN WHEN I LEFT U.S. NOW I CAME BACK TO U.S. THEY DID NOT ASK ME FOR OPT EXTENSION CARD. THEY JUST ASKED ME FOR I-20 AND PASSPORT.

  16. Hi,
    I recently completed my Masters degree and have joined a full time position in an e-verified company. I would like to travel to India now. I have my EAD card valid till March 2013 and F-1 Visa valid till 2015. Is it safe to travel to India? If so, what documents would I need. to be allowed re-entry to the USA. I also heard that I need to get a signature from my International Advisor as well. Is this necessary?

  17. Hi,
    Is a student eligible to apply for OPT-extension when the current employer is not E-verified but the previous employer was E-verified? How long does it for an employer to become E-verified? I work for Halliburton (>55000 employees) which, to my greatest surprise, does not participate in E-verify?

  18. Hi I have a question
    I know that you have to inform to your international office after you find a job. My question is that what’s the purpose of it? Do they put it in somewhere? And do they call the company and make sure if you are really working?
    Thank you.

  19. Hi
    Im a MBA student I m graduating in this semester FALL2012.

    I really would to obtain an OPT visa so I can work and get experience here before go home. But I dont know how to find a job and what is the expected salary I will get ?
    I have 2 years experience in banking. Plus I do have an Arabic Language

  20. Hi…….I am gonna graduate by the end of june 2013 and planning to start my opt from august.However my grad walk would be in september. can i plan a visit to india in the month of july and re-enter us?

    • It is better to visit India once U have your OPT card and new I-20 in your hand. Many of my friends traveled like this and no one had any problem.

  21. Hello,

    I graduated in May 2012 & My Opt started on july 4th 2012. My DL will be expiring by the end of AUG 2012. Can any one plz tell me how to renew my DL?

  22. HELLO,
    I ve an OPT , thats gonna expire in the middle of October 2012.
    I m planning to travel in Europe for the first couple weeks of September and then come back to USA.
    Can i have any problem at the USA Custom….coz when i ll back i have only 1 months before my visa expires ???

    • Hi Marco, did you travel? I have a similar situation and would really appreciate if you share your experience.

  23. Hi , I have done my Masters from Pennsylvania University and I am in my OPT( expires Jan 2013), I came back to my country after completing my internship . Is there a necessity to inform the USCIS abt my immigration bak to my homeland?
    Also I have a student Visa for 5 yrs , I am plannin to take up another course nxt year from the same university , I20 with a valid F1 visa is that al I need, to reneter US ? Kindly reply.

  24. I came to the u.s with an f1 visa which is valid till 2014. my opt ends on sept, and i intend to study further and use my time in the u.s till 2014. However, I am not enrolled for any class currently. Does that mean I am illegal?

  25. Hello all,

    I’m currently doing an internship in a company while on my OPT, which expires in February 2013 and, since I studied a master in business, I´m not eligible to get a STEM extension.

    The company where I’m doing the internship wants to sponsor me for a H1 visa, but the cap for 2013 applications was filled couple of weeks ago. And applications for 2014 H1 visas won’t start until April 2013. Therefore, after February 2013 I will already be out of status.

    What can I do in order to stay legally authorized to work in the country after my OPT expires? I read there’s a possibility of extending your stay in the us through the I-539 application but I don’t kow if it is applicable to my situation.

    Can somebody help me?

  26. Can I avail of the “work from home” option for OPT if all my work can be done online, and my employer is agreeable to this?

  27. Hi,

    what is the minimum and max time taken by USCIS to process the Filed OPT 17 months STEM extension. I am not concerned about initial 12 months of OPT but about 17 months of OPT extension.

    Any one please let me know how many days it took you people to receive your new 17months STEM extended OPT card.

    Thanks

  28. Hello everyone,

    I have a question regarding my situation. I am planning to graduate in next year, probably in August. I will be graduating from MBA and I have a Computer Engineer title as a bachelor. If I find a job related with my bachelor, am I still able to extend my OPT to stay here in United States ?

    I know that my OPT will be based on the degree I am in now because the OPT follows my graduation. So it will be for my MBA.But;
    My other question is, let’s say the IT company wants to hire me immediately after I graduate as software developer, and they say they would be sponsor for my visa change.(from F1 to H1B) Is that means still I can’t work with them because I would be a new MBA graduate ?

  29. What does being unemployed means? If I do have an offer starting at a later time am I still unemployed?

    I want to accept a job offer but the first day of work would be the 92nd day since the beginning of my OPT. Does this mean that I accumulate 91 days of unemployment and I break the conditions of my OPT? I am going to accept the offer and announce the university’s official about this one month before the OPT deadline is reached.

    I am also in a STEM field, so I was thinking a solution would be to apply for a STEM extension in order to make sure everything is fine if I go 1 day over the 90 days.

    • You need to be actively working. Talk your school DSO, to avoid problems in your status.

      You must be employed by the 90th day after the start date listed on your EAD Card. The total number of days allowed for unemployment while on post-completion OPT is a maximum of 90 days.

  30. @HSB – Where does the H1 come into this whole picture? When we graduate, if we have an employer who can file H1 for us, do you suggest to file the H1 and continue working on OPT till the H1 gets confirmed? If not, what do we do?

  31. Hey Right now I am on my 12 months OPT which started from October 2011 and will be ended on October 2012. But now my problem is I planed to graduate in this summer but because of some thesis problem I wont and I am going to graduate in December 2012. So here my question is in the case if I will graduate in December 2012 am I eligible for OPT extension without graduation ,also is it possible to eligible for OPT extension that I complete all my thesis related tasks and all before October 2012 (before my OPT will expired)?
    Please guide me with this.

  32. Is it possible to submit the OPT extension a few days after the EAD card expiration? Financial problems prevented me from submitting my application for the extension prior to the EAD deadline.

  33. I applied for OPT Extension on March 12 2012. My 1st OPT period is coming to end on June 12 2012. I have just couple of weeks before my OPT expires, I am a little concerned as the online status on still says under initial review. Do USCIS issuse a temporary EAD card????

  34. In all my academic documents my name is MD. AKIBUL ISLAM. but making a machine readable passport in our country there is no short form could be written. so my name is in passport and IELTS certificate is MOHAMMAD AKIBUL ISLAM. So is it a major problem to get the student visa???

    • Absolutely no problem with your name in regards to get your visa. This is the same case with me also. I had my visa approved & Alhamdulillah I’m happy in US now on F1.

  35. In all my academic documents my name is MD. AKIBUL ISLAM. but making a machine readable passport in our country there is no short form could be written. so my name is in passport and IELTS certificate is MOHAMMAD AKIBUL ISLAM.. So is it a major problem to get the student visa???

  36. Hello, I have a question regarding OPT extension. I have completed my masters in chemistry last fall. I was on OPT till now still looking for jobs. My OPT will expire in August. I’m planning to do MBA. Can I apply for OPT extension after completing my MBA? Could you please help me figure out this problem!!

    • Hi Nick,

      You cannot apply for OPT extension once you exhausted with 12 months initially. MBA does’nt qualify under STEM Program.

  37. My STEM Extension (29 months) and the current job are expiring in June.
    If I do not have a job offer, what are the options I have to stay in the US after June?
    Can I apply for a visitors visa?
    Do I get a grace period after the 29 months expired period?

  38. I just graduated from college with AA degree and just got my OPT card. but I could only find server’s position. Can I use my opt for that or no? my major is Business Administration. Thank you

  39. Hi I am student in kansas ,usa. In month of may my first sem. will end and i am planing to go to philadelphia in my relatives house for summer break(3 months) . will you please tell me that can i work there or not ?

  40. HI Guys,

    I am doing my Master’s program, will be graduating in August 2012 and my Visa expires on May 2013. As I will get my OPT for 12 months, will I be able to work here even if my Visa expires in my OPT period and also for y extension.
    Thanks and Appreciate your Help,

    Kireeti

  41. I have option of extending my OPT for another 17 month or apply for H-1B visa (academic). Advice me on using my OPT extension vs going for H-1B visa. Thank you.

  42. Hey,

    If someone can help with this, I would indeed be very grateful. I’m applying for a masters in information systems program for Fall 2012. This i guess comes under STEM, however, I was wondering if an MBA in information systems comes under STEM as well.

    I read somewhere on HSB that this applies only for Bachelors, Masters and P.HDs.

    Thanks and Regards

  43. Hi, I applied for opt extension and got the receipt number on 01/23/2011. I am planning to travel to india on feb 25th and come back on mar 20th. Will there be any problem if i dont get my approval before approval. Thanks

    • Rahul, did you travel on OPT and return without any problems? Did you have to apply for a new F1 visa?

      Please advise.

  44. Hello All,

    I am on OPT right now!! I have travel Plans to India. can I travel to India and come back??
    I was informed by some of my friends that immigration officer may reject the reentry to US.
    Please let me know all details and facts. I am currently Employed.

  45. Can you also give information on what are the requirements for a company to sponsor H1b? Can any company meeting STEM requirement sopnsor H1b visa?

    Thanks
    Nav

    • Hello all,

      I’m currently doing an internship in a company while on my OPT, which expires in February 2013 and, since I studied a master in business, I´m not eligible to get a STEM extension. So my

      My problem is the company where I’m doing the internship wants to sponsor me for a H1 visa, but the cap for 2013 applications was filled couple of weeks ago. And applications for 2014 H1 visas won’t start until April 2013. Therefore, after February 2013 I will already be out of status.

      What can I do in order to stay legally authorized in the country after my OPT expires? I read there’s a possibility of extending your stay in the us through the I-539 application but I don’t kow if it is applicable to my situation.

      Can somebody help me?

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