What is Optional Practical Training?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a legal F-1 status employment authorization, which enables you to gain a maximum of 12 months of professional work experience in your field of study. While many students are eligible for 12 months of OPT, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have published a list of STEM Designated Degree Programs that allow a student to apply for a further 17 months of OPT extension. You must have completed at least one full academic year as a full-time student in F-1 status before you are eligible for OPT. OPT must be recommended by the Designated School Official (DSO) and authorized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) before you begin to work.
Your OPT may be conducted anywhere in the U.S. You may change employers after you have begun authorized employment, provided the new job is directly related to your field of study.
Full-time vs. Part-time/ Before or After Completing Studies?
You may apply for OPT after you have been a full time student for one academic year in F-1 status. OPT used before completing your studies is deducted from the 12-month allotment. With OPT authorization, you may work part-time while school is in session, or full-time during vacation periods. Part-time pre-completion OPT is defined as 20 hours-per-week or less. The OPT that is carried out before completing your studies is deducted at half the full-time rate from the 12 months allotment of OPT. In other words, if you work part-time for two months in pre-completion OPT, one month will be deducted from your 12-month allotment and you will have 11 months of post-completion OPT remaining.
You are only eligible for full-time post completion OPT. There is no part-time post-completion OPT. You can apply for post-completion OPT up to 90 days before your program end date and up to 60 days after your program end date. Please be aware that in order to receive authorization for post completion OPT, you must NOT have used up your 12 month allotment with pre-completion OPT. If, during your course of studies, you have participated in 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training, you are no longer eligible for OPT.
Who is eligible for OPT?
The employment must be directly related to your major or field of study and it must be appropriate to your level of education. You are eligible for OPT if you:
- Have been enrolled full-time for at least one full academic year (rare exceptions can be made for graduate students with extenuating circumstances).
- Have not previously used your 12 month OPT benefit.
- Have not had more than 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training.
- If you are applying for pre-completion OPT, it is recommended that you are sure of a job offer before applying or else you will lose your unused benefits.
While on OPT, DO NOT return to the U.S. under a different visa. Once you enter the U.S. under a different visa status than F-1, your OPT will become null and void.
When should I apply and what date should I request to start my post-completion OPT?
For purposes of applying for OPT, completion of studies is defined as the last day you complete your degree requirements, not necessarily graduation day. The earliest date on which you can apply for OPT is 90 days before your completion of studies. The latest date is 60 days after your completion of studies. You are strongly recommended to apply at least 60 days before the day you would like to begin your OPT. In previous years, the average wait time for receipt of OPT approval was between 50 and 100 days.
You can begin your OPT work up to 60 days after completion of studies. For instance, if you complete your studies on May 14, you may begin your OPT anytime between May 15 and July 13. You are encouraged to choose the latest date possible (the 60th day after completing coursework) if you think it is unlikely that you will receive a job offer before then or if you think that you will not get approved in time to begin earlier.
Simmons College cannot guarantee that you will receive the exact date that you requested from USCIS.
What are the eligibility requirements for the 17-month extension of post-completion OPT?
You must first determine if you have a bachelor's, master's, or doctorate degree in a STEM field. Your employer must be enrolled in E-Verify and you must apply at least 90 days before your current post-completion OPT expires. If your STEM extension application is filed with the Vermont Service Center on time, you may continue working up to 180 days after the expiration of your current post-completion OPT or until you receive a decision from USCIS, whichever date is earlier.
Steps to complete your OPT application:
After completing the I-765 application form, obtaining the necessary photos and copies of your current and past I-20s, I-94, passport and visa (see below for details), you will need to schedule a 30-minute appointment with Valerie Foster by calling the Office for Student Life at 617-521-2116. Valerie will update your I-20 and endorse it for OPT. It will be your responsibility to send the application with all the necessary components (see below) to the USCIS Service Center. Remember the USCIS needs to receive the application prior to your graduation date.
OPT Application Components:
Listed below are the component parts of an OPT application. Please use the checklist at the back of this packet to be sure you have all the parts in order.
1. Form I-765
- Complete items 1-15 and then sign certification.
- Item 3 - Your full and secure address in the U.S. - this is the address that the EAD card will be sent to. You may not use a "care of (c/o)" address - if your name is not on the mailbox, the EAD card will not be delivered and will be returned to USCIS.
- Item 10 - Enter the same admission number from your I-94 card, unless the INS has previously assigned you an "A number".
- Item 11 - Indicate if you have ever applied for Economic Hardship Employment or OPT before. If yes, enter where and when you applied and whether it was granted or denied. You will need to attach a photocopy of the Form I-20 or EAD card that contains the employment authorization to the application.
- Item 16 - Eligibility Categories - write in (c) (3) (b) - this means F-1 Student Seeking post-completion Optional Practical Training in an Occupation Directly Related to Studies. If you have opted to apply for pre-completion OPT write in (c) (3) (a).
- Certification - sign; indicate your telephone number and date.
2. Two Photographs
You need two official photographs for OPT Applications. You may want to get your photo taken at many of the local stores that process photos. Examples include Walgreens, CVS, and Rite-Aid.
- Follow the following requirements exactly! Many applications are sent back if the pictures are not exactly the way
- The photo should show your full face, front view with open eyes with a natural expression. The head should be centered in the photo and should measure about 1inch to 1-3/8 inch from chin to the top of the head. The background should be plain white or off-white. There should be no distracting shadows on the face or background.
- Do not ever cut your photographs. Lightly print your name on the back of each photograph in pencil.
3. $380.00 check or money order - payable to the Department of Homeland Security.
Please note that this amount may change without notice - check the current filing fee at the bottom of the page
- Copy of current I-20 and, if applicable, all previous I-20(s).
- Copy of both sides of your current Form I-94.
- Copy of the first 4 pages of your passport, or the informational pages of the passport.
- Copy of your visa.
4. Schedule an Appointment to Review the OPT Application:
Once you have gathered the necessary documents, please contact Valerie Foster by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call 617-521-2116 to schedule an appointment to review your OPT application. This appointment will take approximately 20-30 minutes.
5. Mail the application package:
After the International Student Adviser has reviewed your paperwork and has signed off on the documents, it is your responsibility to send your application to the INS Texas Service Center. Keep a copy of the material for your records. Be sure to send the application materials certified mail or by a mail service that can be tracked, such as FedEx. Your application must be mailed within 30 days of the date the DSO enters the recommendation of OPT into your SEVIS record.
How long does it take to get OPT Employment Authorization?
Once the application package is received by the Service Center, you will receive a receipt notice from USCIS indicating they have received your application. SAVE THIS RECEIPT! The application then takes approximately 2 to 3 months to be processed. One of three things will happen:
- If approved, your EAD will either be mailed to you or you may be required to appear at your local INS office to pick it up.
- If additional information or documentation is required, a written request will be sent to you specifying the information or advising you of an interview.
- If your application cannot be granted, you will receive a written notice explaining the basis of your denial.
What if I travel before graduation or receipt of OPT?
Before graduation, you should not have trouble reentering the U.S. (as long as you have the back of your I-20 signed by a DSO) because your intention for returning to the U.S. would be to finish school.
After graduation, and prior to obtaining authorization for OPT, you may travel within the U.S. However, before traveling outside the U.S., you must have filed your OPT application and received your OPT Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) and have this in your possession. You also must have your signed and authorized Form I-20 (signed within the last 6 months) for reentry to the U.S. Also, since your intention is to work, we strongly advise you to have with you a letter offering you employment at the organization at which you will be doing OPT - the USCIS may give you a hard time if you are traveling back to the U.S. without a job to go back to.
NOTE: You cannot leave the U.S. after graduation and return hoping to apply for OPT when you return.
When can I work?
You can only start working on the date that is printed on your EAD card. You must have the EAD card in your possession before starting your job. Your OPT employment must end on the date indicated as the end date on the EAD card.
All student who are employed with OPT must obtain a Social Security Number from the Social Security Administration. In general, F-1 students who have been in the U.S. fewer than 5 years are exempt from the Social Security (F.I.C.A.) tax. Earnings are subject to applicable federal, state and local taxes.
I've received my EAD card. What are my responsibilities going forward?
Even though you are no longer a Simmons student, your I-20 and SEVIS record will need to continue to be updated through the Student Life Office.
- You will need to continue to have your I-20 signed every 6 months at Simmons College. This can be done via mail or you are welcome to stop by if you live in the Boston area. Please keep in mind that there is not always someone available to sign your I-20 at the time that you may drop in.
- Please contact the Student Life Office with your employer's name and address once you have been officially hired into a position.
- If your address or employer changes at anytime during the year, you are required to inform the Student Life Office within 10 days of your move.
- Every 6 months you will be contacted by the Student Life Office to update or verify your current contact and employer information, even if it has not changed. Please make sure to include a personal e-mail address in your correspondence. You must respond to this e-mail or we can not register you in SEVIS and you will be automatically terminated.
- You may not accrue 90 or more days of unemployment while on OPT. Doing so will require your departure from the United States or enrollment in a new program or SEVP approved school. Contact the International Student Adviser if you are approaching 90 days of unemployment to discuss your options.
If you have any questions while filling out your application for OPT, please contact Valerie Foster at (617)521-2116 or email@example.com.