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What is OPT? Guide to Optional Practical Training (OPT) for International Students

October 25, 2018

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is employment for students with an F-1 visa. Students often ask about OPT and if they qualify for this temporary employment. Learn all about OPT here.

What is OPT? Guide to Optional Practical Training (OPT) for International Students

What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is up to 12 months of employment for students with an F-1 visa. Students must work in their field of study; for example, someone studying Early Childhood Development must work in education (specifically education related to younger children, not older children).

Pre-completion and Post-completion OPT

Students who qualify for OPT may qualify for pre-completion or post-completion OPT. Pre-completion OPT is a work period before the student completes all academic studies. To qualify, students must be enrolled full-time for at least one year at a “college, university, conservatory, or seminary that has been certified by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to enroll F-1 students.” Students can work part-time (maximum 20 hours per week) while school is in session and may work full-time when school is not in session.

Post-completion is a work period after the student completes all academic studies. Students may work part-time or full-time.

What is the 2 + 2 Model for U.S. Colleges and Universities?

Some students begin their OPT pre-completion but do not work the full 12 months. These students may then complete the remainder of their 12 months of OPT post-completion. The total of pre- and post-completion months must not exceed a total 12; for example, if a student worked 3 months pre-completion, then the student may work up to 9 months post-completion.

OPT Extension Option for STEM Students  

STEM fields are science, technology, engineering, and math fields. Students in some of these fields may qualify for a 24-month extension for OPT. View this List of STEM Degrees for more information on these degrees and visit the official U.S. government OPT STEM Extension page for details on this program.

How to Apply for OPT

Some of the basic requirements for applying for OPT include the following:

  1. Speak with your school’s Designated School Official (DSO) and ask him or her to recommend OPT.
  2. The DSO will then do two things: endorse your I-20 and Certification of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, and note in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) that you are applying for OPT.
  3. File the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
  4. Pay the fee required fee for the Form I-765.
  5. Provide any other documents required by the Form I-765.

OPT may begin after USCIS approves the Form I-765 and receives the I-766 Form (Work Permit).

For more information, visit the OPT page of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, speak with your school’s DSO, or contact IEC@DVC to speak with a DSO.

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