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Optional Practical Training (OPT) Employment Authorization Overview

OPT employment authorization is provided by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)[2] and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)[3] to temporarily allow international students with an F-1 visa in the United States to work up to 12 months in relation to their major of study.

General Information:

  • Employment authorization granted to F-1 visa holders (i.e., undergraduate or graduate students)
  • Temporary employment must be directly related to a student’s major area of study
  • Two Primary Categories:
    • Pre-Completion OPT: Used before the student’s degree Program End Date (part-time or full-time)
    • Post-Completion OPT: Used after the student’s degree Program End Date (must be full-time)

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Eligibility Requirements:

  • Hold (or have held) an F-1 Visa
  • Proposed employment must be related to the student’s major area of study
  • Student must complete one year of full-time study before OPT can begin

Typical Petition Filing Process:

  • Applying for OPT is a multistep process involving the student, a designated school official (DSO) representing a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified institution, and the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. A student wishing to work via OPT employment authorization submits a request to their DSO. The DSO then requests OPT through the appropriate online portal and assists the student with the necessary paperwork. If approved, USCIS will issue an Employment Authorization Document to the student with an eligible start date for employment.

Typical Length of Employment Authorization:

  • 12 months of Regular OPT (pre-completion or post-completion) for each level of study (e.g. 12 months for bachelor’s degree and another 12 months for master’s degree)
  • Students in certain STEM fields are eligible for a 24-month extension of post-completion OPT employment authorization (additional requirements apply), allowing up to 36 months of total employment under OPT

More Information:

  • Students can apply for both pre-completion and post-completion OPT at the same level of study, but the length of OPT cannot total more than 12 months (e.g. a bachelor’s student that has completed 8 months of pre-employment OPT is eligible for 4 months of post-completion OPT)
  • A student’s employment authorization will be terminated if they transfer to another school or begin studies at another educational level
  • Information regarding the OPT application/petition process is available from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services; additional information is available from the Department of Homeland Security
  • This content was last updated on 1/21/2021

This information is not meant to be regarded, interpreted, or relied upon as legal advice. While APS will work to keep this information up to date, be aware that visa and immigration policies are always subject to change and we recommend readers reference official government resources.

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