Students can apply after being enrolled in their school for at least a minimum of 9 months; but cannot begin any employment until they receive their Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from the USCIS and also have been enrolled for at least a year.
International students do not need to have a job offer to apply for the OPT's Employment Authorization Document EAD. OPT employment can occur anywhere in the USA.
It is good advise to start the processes early because the USCIS takes up to 90 days to process these applications. And of course, without being reminded, they ought to ensure that they work closely with their school’s International Student Office.
As with every other thing concerning international students while in the USA, continued permission is based on maintaining a valid lawful F1 status, and the school's International Student Office is always there to help students maintain that status throughout their stay in the USA. General Requirements include:
- Employment must be “directly related” to the student’s major
- Student must maintain lawful F1 status
- Student must apply for OPT before completion of all work towards a degree
- Students who have engaged in 12 months or more of full-time Curriculur Practical Training (CPT) are not eligible for OPT
- OPT is permitted for up to 12 months full-time in total. However note that part-time OPT (while still in school) reduces available full-time OPT by half of the amount of part-time work (for instance, if you work part time for 6 months, you can work full-time for up to 9 months)
Pre-completion OPT (for students who are still in school) and post-completion OPT (for students who have completed their degree) each have different rules. Rules for OPT before completing a degree are:
- Students must be enrolled in school full-time
- Students may only work 20 hours per week while school is in session
- Students may work full-time during summer and other breaks (as long as the student will return to school after the break)
- Student may work full-time after completion of all coursework, if a thesis or dissertation is still required and student is making normal progress towards the degree
- After completion of degree, OPT work must be full time (40 hours/week)
- All OPT must be completed within 14 months after completion of degree
- Applications for post-completion OPT must be received by USCIS before the completion of the degree
They may leave the country after the completion of their degree if they have their EAD and a job, but must ensure that they bring everything they’ll need to get back in (including a valid passport, valid EAD card, valid F1 visa, all their I-20s with page 3 endorsed for travel by their International Student Advisor within the past 6 months, and a letter of employment, including dates of employment and salary).
Related: Off Campus Rules for U.S.A bound international students