Optional Practical Training Basic Information

Click here to download the OPT Information Verification Form

Definition of OPTOptional Practical Training (OPT) is defined in the regulations as temporary employment to gain practical experience directly related to the students major field of study. OPT can be authorized at the following times:

  • Pre-completion OPT: During the students annual vacation and at other times when school is not in session if the student is currently enrolled and eligible, and intends to register for the next term or session, and while school is in session, provided that it does not exceed 20 hours per week while school is in session;
  • Post-completion OPT: After completion of all course requirements for the degree, excluding thesis or equivalent, if the student is in a bachelors, masters, or doctoral degree program, or after completion of the course of study
  • STEM Extension OPT: Recipients of bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees in certain STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields can apply for a 17-month post-completion OPT extension if certain requirements are met.

Who is eligible for OPT? F-1 students must have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis at a USCIS/DHS approved school for one full academic year before being eligible for OPT. Students in English language training are not eligible for OPT.

Where can I use OPT? Students may engage in OPT for any employer for the duration of OPT authorized, as long as the employment qualifies under OPT standards. Training/work can be completed anywhere in the U.S. after the OPT EAD card is issued.

How long does OPT last? Standard OPT is available for a cumulative maximum of 12 months per educational level. A one-time extension of 17 months (for a total of 29 months) is available to certain STEM degree recipients.

How many hours per week can I work? Pre-completion OPT is limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session and the student still has coursework to complete. Full-time employment can be requested for pre-completion OPT done during official school breaks.

For post-completion OPT, a student must be employed for at least 20 hours per week. Students requesting post-completion OPT may work 40 + hours per week.

Can I work anywhere? NO! The job must be directly related to and commensurate with the level of the students course of study. Please see your academic advisor / professors for questions about which jobs will apply. It is very important that you can document that the job you accept is directly related to your field of study.

Must I have an offer of employment to apply for OPT? No offer of employment is required, but the student is expected to work while on OPT. You should keep records of all job postings, letters of invitation for interviews, letters of rejection or resume postings related to your job search. Students on post-completion OPT are limited to a maximum of 90 days of unemployment. Tech cannot find your job, but you may want to consult the Norman Career Center for assistance in searching for a job.

You must be working a minimum of 20 hours per week while on post-completion OPT. According to DHS, students may be denied future immigration benefits that rely on the students valid F-1 status if DHS determines that the student exceeded the limitations on unemployment.

To apply for a 17-month STEM extension, a student must have an offer of employment from an employer registered with E-Verify.

How do I obtain approval for OPT? Students must apply for OPT with the assistance of International and Multicultural Student Services. An I-765 for standard post-completion OPT can be filed up to 90 days before the program end-date and up to 60 days after the program end-date.

Work can begin only after receiving the EAD issued by USCIS, and on or after the start date on the EAD.

Applications for the 17-month STEM extension must be filed before the current EAD expires.

Other Important OPT Facts

  • OPT can be authorized for a maximum aggregate period of 12 months per educational level. A student becomes eligible for another 12 months of practical training when he or she changes to a higher educational level.
  • OPT done after completion of the course of study must be completed within a 14-month period following the completion of study.
  • Prior use of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) for one year or more eliminates eligibility for OPT.

NEW Regulations Impacting OPT

Effective April 8, 2008 The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued an interim final rule revising its regulations on F-1 Optional Practical Training effective April 8, 2008. The main changes are listed below:

  • The addition of the 17-month post-completion OPT extension for certain STEM graduates.
  • OPT filing deadlines extended to include 60 days following the program end-date.
  • H-1B cap-gap extension of D/S and OPT work authorization until October 1. Duration of status and OPT work authorization will be automatically extended for an F-1 student who is the beneficiary of a timely-filed H-1B petition requesting change of status and an employment start date of October 1 of the following fiscal year.
  • The new rule states that during post-completion OPT, F-1 status is dependent upon employment. During any initial 12-month period of post-completion OPT, no student (including STEM students) may be unemployed for an aggregate of more than 90 days. If a STEM student receives a 17-month extension, the limit on unemployment is raised to an aggregate of no more than 120 days, applied to the entire 29-month period on which the student is on post-completion OPT.

Reporting Obligations

While you are on OPT, it is important to remember that you are still in F-1 visa status and under the jurisdiction of your I-20 issued by Arkansas Tech University. With this in mind, please remember that you must report the following information to the IMSSO at imsso@atu.edu:

  • You must report a change of address within 10 days of moving.
  • If you change your name this also must be reported.
  • You must report the name of your employer, the start date of your employment, and the mailing address of your employer anytime you start a job. If you quit the job, you should report this as well.
  • Each semester you will be required to complete an OPT Information Update form, much like the update form you currently complete at the beginning of each semester. Once the form has been completed, you can email the form to the IMSSO at imsso@atu.edu

As mentioned above, while you are on OPT you are still on your F-1 student visa. It is very important that you follow these rules. Failure to do so could result in your I-20 and OPT being terminated as well as being denied future immigration benefits that rely on your valid F-1 status if DHS determines that you have exceeded the limitations on unemployment or failed to update your address and employer information.

Please keep good records for each job detailing the position you held, proof of the duration of your employment, contact information for your supervisor or manager and a description of your work. You should always be able to prove that you are employed and that your job relates to your course of study.

Important Travel Information

An F-1 student engaged in post-completion OPT who travels outside the U.S. temporarily (less than 5 months) can be readmitted to resume employment for the remainder of the period authorized on his or her EAD card, if the following conditions are met:

  • The student presents a form I-20 endorsed by the PDSO/DSO within the preceding 6 months;
  • The student presents an unexpired EAD, and;
  • The student is returning to resume employment

Also, please keep in mind:

  • Re-entry to the U.S. while on OPT requires a valid passport, valid F-1 visa, I-20 endorsed for travel signed within the previous 6 months, a valid EAD card and a letter from your current employer verifying employment or a job offer letter.
  • Travel while your request for OPT is pending is permitted. You will be required to have a valid passport, valid F-1 visa, I-20 endorsed for travel and an official receipt notice from the USCIS.
  • If your OPT has been approved and you depart before you get a job, your may not be allowed to reenter.
  • Please remember, reentry into the U.S. is never guaranteed. You should always exercise good judgment when planning trips abroad. The best general guidance is that a student who has both an EAD for post-completion OPT and a job should not experience difficulty re-entering the U.S. If either of these two conditions is missing, you are assuming risk.

How do I apply for OPT?

  • Complete and sign Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, marked with the code (c) (3) (b) at item 16
  • Complete all three sections of the Academic Advisor Recommendation & Confirmation of Pending Graduation form. Bring the completed form with you when you come to the IMSSO to apply for OPT.
  • Obtain two identical 2"x2" passport style photos
  • A check or money order made payable to US Department of Homeland Security in the amount of $380 required for Form I-765
  • Bring your current I-20 and all old I-20s
  • Bring your I-94 card
  • Bring your passport

After you have completed everything in the checklist above, please make an appointment with Yasushi Onodera or Lindsey Ingmire. Email Sabrina Anwar at sanwar@atu.edu to schedule an appointment. You will need to bring all of the documents listed in the checklist above. Please make sure they are completed as fully as possible. At your appointment, you will be issued a new I-20 that shows you have requested OPT. Please be sure to keep all of your previous I-20s for your records.

The IMSSO will mail your application packet to the Texas Service Center for processing. Approximately 2 weeks after your application has been mailed, the IMSSO should receive a Receipt Notice from USCIS showing that they have received your application and application fee. After that, it could take anywhere from 30 to 120 days for USCIS to process your application. This is why it is so important for you to apply early if you want to begin work immediately following graduation.

How do I apply for the 17-month STEM Extension of OPT?    *Please make sure you apply BEFORE your OPT expires!

  • Complete and sign Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, marked with the code (c) (3) (c) at item 16; Complete item 17 with Degree name; Employer's Name; Employer's E-Verify Number
  • Obtain a letter from your current employer verifying your employment and the employer's participation in E-Verify as well as a short description of your job and start date
  • Obtain two passport photos
  • A check or money order made payable to US Department of Homeland Security in the amount of $380 required for Form I-765
  • Request ATU Registrars Office to send to IMSSO your original complete transcript
  • Send a copy of your current I-20 and all old I-20s
  • Send a copy of your I-94 card (both sides), visa and passport
  • Send a copy of your current Employment Authorization Card

After you have completed everything in the checklist above, please make an appointment with Yasushi Onodera or Lindsey Ingmire. Email Sabrina Anwar at sanwar@atu.edu to schedule an appointment. You will need to bring all of the documents listed in the checklist above. Please make sure they are completed as fully as possible. At your appointment, you will be issued a new I-20 that shows you have requested OPT. Please be sure to keep all of your previous I-20s for your records.

Attention Out-of-Town Students! If you are not in the Russellville area, no problem! Please mail the complete OPT package to the IMSSO at the address listed below. PLEASE BE SURE TO INCLUDE A COVER LETTER THAT SPECIFIES THE DATE THAT YOU WISH FOR YOUR OPT TO BEGIN AND END. Also, please include your current mailing address and cell phone number. After the documents have been received, you will be contacted via your Tech email with further instructions.

Office of International & Multicultural Student Services
1507 N Boulder Avenue, Tomlinson 29
Russellville, AR 72801
(479) 964-0832

 

For more information (OPT Policy Guidance):

http://www.ice.gov/doclib/sevis/pdf/opt_policy_guidance_042010.pdf