March 18, 2009

Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F1 Students in the U.S.A

The Optional Practical Training (OPT) category of off-campus job employment is granted to international students in valid F1 status in the U.S.A. They can work off-campus in OPT status both during and after the completion of their degree according to rules established by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). Employment must be “directly related” to the student’s major; and permission is required from both the student school's International Student Office and the USCIS.

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)
Students can be authorized for 12 months of OPT for each successive level of degree achieved, for instance, you can do 12 months of OPT after receiving your undergraduate degree, go back to graduate school, and then do 12 months of OPT after receiving your graduate degree.

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
Rules for OPT after completing a degree are:
  • 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
Note carefully that travel regulations governing F1 students on OPT provide that students who leave the country after completion of their degree, but before receiving their EAD and obtaining a job, may not be readmitted.

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


  1. Nice post!!
    How hard is it to get a job after we complete a master's program and receive an EAD? Can we apply for work permit after EAD expires?

  2. The USCIS constantly revises and updates rules and regulations regarding jobs for F1 students.

    Kindly contact your school's ISO as they would be in a better position to give you a more personal reply on recent updates.