The approval process for the U.S. Optional Practical Training (OPT) program
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary work authorization for eligible F-1 visa holders that lasts up to 12 months. There are two types of OPT programs, pre-completion and post-completion. For pre-completion OPT eligibility, F-1 visa holders must have completed at least one full academic year on a full-time basis and apply up to 90 days before completing the full academic year. If a foreign student chooses to take part in pre-completion OPT, that amount of time will be taken out of the students’ post-completion period. Many students take advantage of the post-completion program. For post-completion OPT, students may apply up to 90 days before completing their degree, but no later than 60 days after degree completion. While students are enrolled full-time they can also participate in the Curricular Practical Training (CPT) if it is part of their program of study, which can make them ineligible for OPT if they have 12 months or more of full-time CPT.
The OPT process starts with foreign students completing an application that involves filing several official forms and documents to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If approved, USCIS issues an employment authorization document that allows the student to work in their area of study for up to 12 months. If students cannot find a job within 90 days they must leave the country.
OPT graduates can apply for a 24-month extension if their degree is a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) degree in a field approved by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. They also must obtain a recommendation from their school, additional approval from USCIS after completing their initial 12-month OPT period, and sponsorship from an employer that is part of the E-Verify program, an internet-based system used to confirm employment eligibility.
Foreign graduates are eligible to receive OPT approvals for each successive higher education program they complete in the country. This means that a student who graduated with a degree in the U.S. may participate in OPT before and after receiving another degree within the country. However, if the student goes straight to another degree program after graduating, they do not receive extra time for their OPT.