12 Month Optional Practical Training FAQs
Temporary Work Authorization for F-1 Students
Optional practical training (OPT) is an authorization for employment in the U.S. issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for temporary work directly related to your major area of study. It may be used before or after the completion of your studies. You are permitted a total of 12 months of OPT for each higher degree.
If you have been enrolled as a full-time student for at least one academic year and are in lawful F-1 status, you may be eligible to apply for OPT.
Part-Time vs. Full-Time Work
For immigration purposes, work for 20 hours per week or less is considered part-time. More than 20 hours per week is considered full-time.
When can I use Pre-Completion OPT?
During vacation when school is not in session if (1) you are currently enrolled and eligible and (2) intend to register for the next semester. You may request full-time or part-time work authorization. You may apply no earlier than 90 days prior to your requested start date.
While school is in session and you have not completed course work. This type of practical training authorization is limited to part-time employment (up to 20 hours a week). You may not hold any other type of employment at the same time.
While school is in session and you have completed all course requirements for the Master’s or PhD degree. This is for students in master’s or doctoral programs who are working on a thesis or equivalent. Speak with an international student advisor to discuss whether pre-completion or post-completion OPT is a better option for your situation. Pre-completion OPT may be requested on a full-time or part-time authorization basis.
When can I use Post-Completion OPT?
Post-completion OPT is available after completion of all degree requirements, including submission of a thesis. This is issued for full-time only.
How much OPT am I permitted per academic level?
Your total period of authorization for regular OPT cannot exceed the equivalent of 12 months of full-time employment. Part-time practical training (20 hours a week or less) will be deducted from the available 12 months at half the full-time rate. Students who complete an academic program in a STEM major, may be eligible for a 24-month extension. More information about STEM OPT can be found on the ISSS website. Curricular practical training is different from the optional practical training category. See separate handouts from International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS).
If I want to apply for part-time, pre-completion OPT for my last semester and full-time post-completion OPT after I graduate, can I do it all in one application?
You will need to submit two applications – one for the part-time OPT and one for the full-time OPT. There will be a fee for each.
I am a Ph.D. dissertator and would like to use some full-time OPT before I complete and the rest of the time after I complete. Can I do this?
In this case, it may be possible to do this as one application. Please see an advisor.
I used my OPT after my Bachelor’s degree. Now I am in Graduate School completing my Second Bachelor’s. Can I apply for another 12 months of OPT?
No. Immigration only allows you to apply for OPT again after a higher degree. Since they are both Bachelor’s degrees, you would not be eligible. You may be eligible after your Master’s degree.
Must I have a job to apply for OPT?
An offer of employment is not required to apply for OPT. However, a job or qualifying volunteer position is required to continue on OPT. Only a total (aggregate) of 90 days of unemployment is allowed during the 12 months.
When can I apply for post-completion OPT?
You can submit your application to USCIS no sooner than 90 days before you complete your course of study and before the end of your 60-day grace period following the completion of your degree requirements. Your application must be received and receipted by USCIS before the end of your 60-day grace period.
How long does it take for USCIS to process my OPT application?
Processing times at USCIS vary. Recently, it has been ranging from 3-5 months, so students are encouraged to apply early.
Your completion date is the date you complete all the requirements for your degree. Your completion date is the last date of your required enrollment at UNT. Thesis or dissertation students may be eligible to apply sooner. Please check with an advisor if your case varies.
- I am finishing in May, but I am going to graduate in August. I do not have to take any courses this summer. Can I use August as my completion date?
- No. Immigration considers only the date you complete the last requirement for your degree. They do not count graduation (commencement) day.
- I didn’t register for graduation in time for the December graduation. My diploma will say May graduation. Can I stay for May graduation and use that as my completion date?
- No. As stated above, it is the completion date that immigration considers. You would need to apply for post-completion using the December completion date.
My company says I have to start work, and I applied for the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card a long time ago. If I don’t start working, I will lose my job offer. Can I start working?
- You may not begin work until you receive the EAD card (Employment Authorization Document) and before the start date listed on your EAD has been reached.
- You can check online to see if the OPT request has been adjudicated and approved. On the USCIS website, you can do an online case status check if you have your receipt from the service center with your receipt number (it will typically start with YSC.
Must I have a Job?
You are allowed up to 90 days of unemployment during the 12 months of post-completion OPT. You must report the start and end dates of employment to ISSS. Report changes in employment to ISSS via the iNorthTX portal.
Travel outside the U.S.
If you have completed your course of study, you must have received your EAD card before temporarily leaving the U.S. Upon re-entering you should present to the border officials the EAD card, proof of employment, an unexpired F1 visa stamp, a passport valid for at least 6 months beyond your return date, and a valid I-20 endorsed for travel. That travel endorsement signature is valid for multiple entries and is valid for 6 months.
How long can I remain outside of the U.S. and still come back to my OPT?
Technically, if you are outside the U.S. for 5 months on an F-1, you end your status. However, if you stay a long time, you may have a difficult time convincing the port of entry official that you are returning “to resume employment”. Please use good judgment.
My visa has expired, and I really want to go home for a visit. Can I get a new visa while I am on OPT?
Technically, this is possible. However, it could be very difficult. It may be a good idea for you to plan travel at a different time. Please see an advisor to discuss your situation and options and to assess your priorities.
What is an OPT Case Management Fee and why do I have to pay it?
While you are on OPT, ISSS is still responsible for maintaining your immigration record as well as continuing to provide you services after graduation. The OPT Case Management Fee is a substitute for the International Student Fee and is used to subsidize the costs of the mandatory case management for students on OPT.
You are required by U.S. federal immigration regulations to report any change of address and/or employment to ISSS within 10 days. This also means that you must report any end to employment.
Your OPT application is your responsibility as an F1 visa holder. ISSS staff will provide information regarding OPT and the application process, however, the contents of your application must be reviewed and approved by you, the student. By sending in your signed OPT application to USCIS, you are verifying that all information is correct and accurate. ISSS is not responsible for any missing or incorrect information found in your application.