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** 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.