Optional Practical Training (F-1 Students)
This page provides you with information about:
- General Description of OPT
- OPT Employment and Reporting Requirements
- Ending OPT Early
- STEM Extension
OPT is a benefit of F-1 student status. It is not a separate visa. Students on OPT are still F-1 students.
To be eligible for OPT, a student must have been in F-1 status for one full academic year and completed all coursework relevant to their degree.
Students who only have their capstone or equivalent requirement left are considered to have completed courses and are eligible for OPT.
Students are allowed to study while on OPT, but this study is limited to taking courses to complete their degree or courses that are not part of their degree program, such as GRE or CPA preparation courses. Students may not begin a new degree-seeking program while on OPT.
Students who apply for OPT before graduation, but find themselves unable to graduate are permitted to retake necessary courses while on OPT.
Because OPT is benefit of F-1 status, students must be in the United States in F-1 status in order to apply. Students planning to spend their final semester abroad should consider this before making the decision to be abroad in the final semester. A student must be in the United States to be in F-1 status.
Applying for OPT
Students who are interested in applying for OPT must attend a CIS workshop that will explain in detail the process of applying for OPT, reporting on OPT, what kinds of work are permissible, and other important OPT regulations. These workshops will be announced in the CIS weekly announcements, so be sure to check them!
Once students have attended the OPT workshop, they should make an appointment with the immigration liaison at the CIS to go over their application. The immigration liaison will explain the application and make sure that it has been correctly filled. Once the application has been reviewed by the immigration liaison and the international student advisor, the student will receive a pre-addressed envelope to mail the application to USCIS. USCIS will send a receipt for the application with a tracking number within a few weeks of receiving the documents. Students can use this number to track the status of their applications.
It generally takes approximately 90 days from the date the application is receipted (the day that the receipt of the application is registered in USCIS system). Approval can occasionally take longer than 90 days. It some cases it can take less than, but those are extremely rare.
An application must be receipted within 30 days of the date of OPT I-20 issuance. Note that 'receipted' is not the same as received. Just because the online tracking information shows that the package was delivered does not mean it has been receipted. It can take up to one additional week for USCIS to record that they have received the application.
Once the application is approved, USCIS will issue an EAD (Employment Authorization Document) card. It will arrive at the CIS. For students in Kirksville, they can pick it up at the CIS office. CIS staff will make a copy of the card and ask the student to sign and date the copy. For students outside of Kirksville, the CIS will mail the card to the student at a cost of $5-$10.
F-1 status continues through the OPT period.
All employment must stop when the end date on the EAD card is reached, but may remain in the U.S. for the 60-day grace period.
Employment may begin once
- The student receives the EAD card (Employment is not authorized if OPT has been approved but the EAD card has not yet arrived)
- and the start date on the card has been reached.
The EAD card is not employer specific, so students may change employers at will. However, employment must be directly related to the student's field of study (major). Any employment outside a student's field of study is unauthorized and is a substantive violation of F-1 status.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security Address Notification Requirement
All students on OPT are required to update any changes in address, or employment (including any changes in location of employment) using the OPT Update Form within 10 days of any change.
Insurance on OPT
For students who wish to retain their Lewer insurance coverage, they should fill out the Insurance Application for OPT and return it to the CIS.
Travel Outside the U.S. and Reentry
Students are advised not to travel outside the US while they are waiting for employment authorization. Regulations state that students may return to the US "to resume employment." Some students might encounter difficulties re-entering the US if they have graduated and are trying to return to the US without an EAD card. Once a student has an EAD card, we suggest that they travel with a letter from their employer confirming that they will resume employment.
OPT Employment Requirements and Reporting
OPT students are expected to be employed in their field of study during OPT, and are required to submit employer information to the CIS. The maximum period of unemployment is 90 days (STEM extensions provide an additional 30 days).
Documenting OPT Employment
It is recommended that OPT students keep documentation of all employment. In the future, students may be asked to provide proof that their employment during OPT was in their field of study.
Specifically, students should maintain evidence — for each job — of the position held, proof of the duration of that position, the job title, contact information for the supervisor or manager, and description of the work
If it is not clear from the job description that the work is related to their degree, the CIS highly recommend that students obtain a signed letter from the employer's hiring official, supervisor, or manager stating how the student's degree is related to the work performed, provide this letter to the CIS and keep in student's personal records
Types of employment allowed during pre- and post- completion OPT
All OPT employment, including post-completion OPT, must be in a job that is related to the student's degree program.
This employment may include the following (does not apply to students on a STEM extension):
- Paid employment
- Students authorized for post-completion OPT may work part time (at least 20 hours per week) or full time.
- Multiple employers
- Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to the student's degree program. Employment during pre-completion OPT cannot exceed the allowed per week cumulative hours.
- Short-term multiple employers (performing artists)
- Students who are musicians and other performing artists may work for multiple short term employers (gigs). The student should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration. If requested by DHS, students must be prepared to provide evidence showing a list of all gigs.
- Work for hire
- Work for hire means that an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. It is sometimes called “1099 employment” because people who “work for hire” receive Internal Revenue Service Form 1099-MISC – which shows how much money was earned for a particular year – from the contracting company. If requested by DHS, students must be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
- Self-employed business owner
- Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. In this situation, the student must work full time. The student must be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to the student's degree program.
- Employment through an agency
- Students on post-completion OPT must be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.
- Unpaid employment
- Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this does not violate any labor laws. The work must be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. These students must be able to provide evidence from the employer that the student worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.
Students are required to report changes in employment to the CIS as soon as possible. We recommend reporting changes within 10 business days of the change to avoid situations where a DHS official may determine a student to be out of status.
To report periods of employment along with employer information, use the OPT Update or enter "unemployed" in the employment fields to report unemployment. If employment information changes, revisit the web form to provide an update. The CIS will enter this data into SEVIS.
Periods of Unemployment
Students on standard post-completion OPT are only allowed a total of 90 days of unemployment. Students on STEM extensions are allowed an additional thirty days upon approval the STEM extension.
- What counts as “unemployment time”
- Unemployment time is counted each day during the OPT dates indicated on the EAD.
- Students completing the STEM extension are limited to an aggregate of 120 days of unemployment during the entire period of post-completion OPT (regular post-completion OPT and STEM extension OPT).
- Students who have OPT extended due to the cap gap provisions continue to accrue unemployment time and are subject to the 90-day limitation on unemployment.
- A job offer that begins more than 90 days after PT begins will exceed allowable unemployment time. Receiving a job offer within the 90 days is not sufficient. One of the employment types listed above is required.
- Time spent traveling outside of the United States while unemployed will count as unemployment against the 90 day limit.
- Permanently leaving the U.S. without notifying the CIS could result in the accidental accrual of unemployment. For this reason, OPT students must contact the CIS if they decide to abandon their OPT.
- What does not count toward “unemployment time”
- Time spent traveling outside of the United States either during a period of leave authorized by an employer or as part of employment will not count as unemployment against the 90 day limit.
- Days of unemployment that occurred before April 8, 2008.
- Consequences of exceeding the allowable period of unemployment
- Exceeding the allowable period of unemployment while on post-completion OPT is considered to be a violation of F-1 status.
Students unable to find employment that meets the definition of OPT employment may have the following options:
- Applying to a different Truman program to continue their education by a change of level or transferring to another institution.
- Depart the United States (Students must notify the CIS)
- Change status to another legal status if possible
Ending OPT Early
- Abandoning OPT
Students deciding to abandon their OPT before their end and leave the U.S. must notify the CIS so we can end their SEVIS record. This can be done by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to provide the information regarding the student will leave and what the last date of work will be. The CIS will end the student's SEVIS record effective the date they indicate they plan to leave the U.S. or the date of notification, whichever is later. If a student fails to notify the CIS, he or she may continue to be billed for health insurance.
- Starting a New Program at Another Institution
During the period of OPT authorization, some students decide to apply to another academic program, either at Truman or another university. Once an OPT student has been admitted to another degree program, it is important to discuss the situation with an advisor at the CIS, as the issuance of a new I-20 will effect/terminate a student's OPT. Students who have been admitted to a degree program at another university should notify the CIS and provide proof of admission in order to have their SEVIS record transferred to the new university. Once the SEVIS record is transferred, The new university can create the new I-20. Students should keep in mind that transferring will immediately end their OPT. Once Truman transfers their record, Truman will no longer have access to that record and will not be able to get the record back if the student should change their mind.
- Admission to Truman for a new degree program/change of level. Once admitted to a new degree program at Truman, the admissions office will issue a new I-20. The issuance of this new I-20 does not end OPT immediately. A student's OPT is terminated as soon as the student re-enters the U.S. with the new I-20 or checks-in for the new program, whichever is earlier. Either one of these events will activate the SEVIS record for the new degree and deactivate the old OPT SEVIS record. This means students must immediately stop employment regardless of the card's appearance of validity if they reenter with a new I-20 or check-in at the CIS to begin their new program.
- Transfer to another school in the U.S. in order to begin a new degree program. Authorization for OPT is not transferable. OPT authorization ends on the transfer release date. Students who wish to complete OPT must set the release date for a date after the OPT ends. Students can set the transfer release date to occur during the 60-day grace period following post-completion OPT. Regardless of end date on the EAD card, ALL OPT employment must stop when a SEVIS record is transferred.
In order to maintain F-1 status, a new I-20 for change of academic level, new degree program, or transfer must be issued before the end of the 60 day grace period.
- Change of Status During OPT
Students whose immigration status changes (e.g. from F-1 to H-1B, F-2, or J-1) during the period of OPT will be able to continue OPT employment until the change of status is approved. Students who are no longer in F-1 status are no longer eligible for OPT
- “Cap Gap” Relief for OPT — H-1B Transitions
Some students may be eligible for an extension of OPT and F-1 status due to the new Cap Gap Relief rules. If a student's H-1B petition was submitted before the student's OPT end date, the OPT will automatically be extended until USCIS approves/denies the petition. If the H-1B petition was submitted after the student's OPT end date, but during the grace period, the student's work authorization will remain terminated, but their F-1 status will be extended until the petition has been approved/denied.
F-1 OPT Special 17-month STEM Extension
Changes in federal regulations from April 2008 have created an opportunity for extension of OPT for F-1 students in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). The ICE STEM Extension website can provide more information. The application for a STEM Extension may be found here.
Still have questions? These resources might help:
Iso01@truman.edu - Ask the CIS staff!