How to apply for OPT

International students in the United States have the opportunity to enrich their education through optional practical training (OPT). This is a temporary employment permission that allows eligible candidates to get real-world job experience related to their major area of study. Applying for OPT allows individuals to explore their career options and expand their network, setting themselves up for more success in the future.  In this quick guide, we give an overview of what it is, who can take it and how to apply for OPT.


What is OPT?

OPT is a type of work permission available to eligible students on F1 visas. It allows them to undertake temporary employment related to their degree for up to 12 months, providing them with the opportunity to better understand their field and build a foundation for their career.

Types of OPT

There are two types of OPT: pre-completion OPT and post-completion OPT. The main difference between the two relates to when students take the job opportunity. They may participate in pre-completion OPT after they’ve been enrolled full-time for one full academic year at a college, university, conservatory or seminary certified by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).

Those authorised to work under pre-completion OPT may obtain employment before finishing their program; they can work for 20 hours or less per week while school is in session or full-time when school is not in session. Post-completion OPT, on the other hand, is available to students who’d like to work after graduation. They can work part-time (at least 20 hours per week) or full-time (up to 40 hours a week). Those who have participated in pre-completion OPT may still take post-completion OPT; however, the total time given to them for the latter would be reduced based on how much work they’ve already rendered in the former. For example, if an individual has already received one year of part-time pre-completion OPT, they may only work for six months (50% of the 12 months that’s normally offered) on post-completion OPT.

STEM OPT Extension

International students who have earned a degree in certain STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) fields may apply for a 24-month extension of post-completion OPT. This would allow them to work for a total of three years.

The STEM OPT extension applies to students who:

  • received a STEM degree listed in the STEM Designated Degree Program
  • are currently working in a post-completion OPT period, having received an initiation grant of post-completion OPT authorisation based on their STEM degree
  • are employed by (or wish to work with) a company that uses the E-Verify program
  • have a signed Form I-983 (“Training Plan for STEM OPT Students”).


Who can apply for OPT?

To be eligible for OPT, a student must:

  • be in the US with a valid F1 visa
  • be enrolled at a US educational institution for at least one (1) academic year
  • be seeking work related to their major area of study
  • not have completed a 12-month full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) program
  • not have a criminal record during their time in the US
  • be eligible for an Employment Authorisation Document (EAD)
  • not be enrolled in an English as a Second Language course.


How to apply for OPT

Students who want to apply for OPT must do so through a designated school official (DSO) at their academic institution. As the application starts with the school, the process may differ per location. But generally, these are the steps to apply for OPT.

1. Follow the school processes for requesting OPT

The student must request a recommendation for OPT from a DSO at their school. This process varies per institution, so it’s best to check the specific steps at one’s university. Typically, though, this starts with completing a workshop on OPT and meeting with a counsellor.

2. Receive a signed Form I-20

Once a DSO confirms a student’s eligibility for OPT, they can recommend them for work permission by entering their request in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and endorsing their Form I-20.

3. Submit the required documents to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

The student can then prepare the required documents—mainly their Application for Employment Authorisation (Form I-765). They must also pay a fee and provide supporting documentation (as described in the form instructions) within 30 days of their DSO’s recommendation.

The required initial evidence includes:

  • a copy of the student’s Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record (front and back), a printout of their electronic Form I-94, their passport or other travel document
  • A copy of the applicant’s last Employment Authorization Document (EAD) (if applicable; if not, then a copy of a government-issued identity document)
  • two identical passport-style photographs
  • form G-28 (if the individual is represented by an attorney or accredited representative).

Upon receiving the form I-765, the USCIS will issue a Receipt Notice with a corresponding number to the student’s application. If they require more information, the applicant will receive a request for evidence (RFE), which will state what other documents may be required.

4. Get an EAD

Once the USCIS approves the student’s OPT application, they receive an EAD and can begin work on the authorised date. They must report their employer information to their DSO. Any changes in the student’s name or address and employment information must also be reported within 10 days. The DSO must then update SEVIS within 21 days with these revisions.


Help students with OPT through upGrad GSP

upGrad GSP is ready to help you guide students through their educational journey in the US. Speak to one of our business development experts to learn more about OPT and post-study work opportunities for students in the country.

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