Optional Practical Training Information

Click here to download the OPT Information Verification Form
  •  What is OPT?

    Optional 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 24-month post-completion OPT extension if certain requirements are met.

  •  General Information

    Who is eligible for OPT? F-1 students must have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis at a SEVP approved school for one full academic year (2 semesters or 30 credit hours) 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 24 months (for a total of 36 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.

  •  How do I Apply 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.

    How do I apply for OPT?

    • Complete and sign Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, marked with the code (c) (3) (b) on item 16
    • Apply for graduation with the Registrar's office
    • 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 $410 required for Form I-765
    • Bring your current I-20 
    • I-94 Arrival / Departure form
    • Copy of your passport and F-1 visa

     
    After you have completed everything in the checklist above, please make an appointment with Sara Chronister. Email Sabrina Anwar at schronister@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.
     
    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.

    International & Multicultural Student Services
    1507 N Boulder Avenue, Tomlinson 29
    Russellville, AR 72801

  •  What Happens after I Apply?
    The IMSSO will mail your application packet to the Dallas Lockbox 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. The average processing time is 90 days. This is why it is so important for you to apply early if you want to begin work immediately following graduation.
  •  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.

    Post completion OPT 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.

    OPT can be filed no more than 90 days before graduation. The deadline to file for OPT is 60 days following the program end-date.

    During any initial 12-month period of post-completion OPT, no student may be unemployed for an aggregate of more than 90 days. If a STEM student receives a 24-month extension, the limit on unemployment is raised to an aggregate of no more than 150 days, applied to the entire 36-month period on which the student is 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.

    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. This is called the H-1B cap-gap extension.

  •  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.
    • You must report if you change your name.
    • 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.
    • Employment updates can be reported using the OPT Information Verification Form. The Verficiation Form must be completed upon request of any staff at IMSSO.

     
    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.

  •  Travel While OPT is Pending or Approved

    Pending:

    Travel while your application for OPT is pending is not advised. It is fairly risky to your application. Departure of the US while any USCIS application is pending could cause that application to be automatically denied. If you choose to travel, you will be required to have a valid passport, valid F-1 visa, I-20 endorsed for travel, and an official receipt notice regarding your OPT application from the USCIS. 

    Approved:

    An F-1 student engaged in post-completion OPT who travels utside 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:

    • A valid passport
    • Valid F-1 visa
    • I-20 endorsed for travel signed within the previous 6 months
    • A valid EAD card
    • A letter from your current employer verifying employment or a job offer letter

     
    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.

  •  STEM OPT Extension

    Recipients of bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields can apply for the 24-month post-completion OPT extension.

    To apply for a 24-month STEM extension, a student must have an offer of employment from an employer registered with E-Verify.

    Applications must be filed before the current EAD expires, but no more than 90 days before the expiration date.

    The STEM Extension can also be based on a prior STEM degree. For example, if you obtained a STEM bachelor's degree and a non STEM Master's degree, you can complete the STEM Extension based on the bachelor's degree after completing the regular 12 month OPT on the Master's degree.

  •  How do I Apply for the STEM Extension?

    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) on item 16; Complete item 17 with Degree name, Employer's Name, Employer's E-Verify Number
    • Complete and sign Form I-983, Training Plan for STEM OPT Students, with your employer (see Instructions)
    • 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 $410 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 
    • Send a copy of your I-94 form, visa, and passport
    • Send a copy of your current Employment Authorization Document, front and back

     
    After you have completed everything in the checklist above, please make an appointment with Sara Chronister. Email Sabrina Anwar at schronister@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.
     
    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.

    International & Multicultural Student Services
    1507 N Boulder Avenue, Tomlinson 29
    Russellville, AR 72801