What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)

F-1 Students seeking to work in the United States can submit an application for Optional Practical Training (OPT), a temporary employment authorization that offers an opportunity to apply knowledge gained in the classroom to a practical work experience off-campus.

OPT is not a separate work visa or visa category but rather a benefit granted to students who are under an F-1 visa status. All F-1 Student beneficiaries continue to remain under that status while they have OPT and must abide by all of the F-1 student regulations during their OPT. Whichever educational institution they enrolled in will remain their sponsor. Talk to an immigration expert if you have questions before obtaining OPT.

Two Types of OPT

All OPT must be directly connected to the major area of study. An F-1 Student might automatically qualify to participate in OPT in two different ways:

  • Pre-completion OPT: After having been lawfully admitted on a full-time basis for one full academic year at a college, university, conservatory, or seminary that has been certified by the U.S. immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), an applicant will be able to participate in pre-completion OPT. Anyone who is authorized to participate in pre-completion OPT may work 20 hours or less per week while school is in session. Working full-time might be a possibility when school is on break
  • Post-completion OPT: After an F-1 Student has completed his course of studies he or she can then participate for post-completion OPT. Once authorization for post-completion OPT is granted then one can start work part-time (at a minimum of 20 hours per week) or full time

Timing Considerations

Most if not all students are eligible to apply for a total of 12 months of OPT at each higher degree level. OPT can only be used once per higher degree level even if multiple college degrees per level have been obtained. For example, OPT based on a Bachelor’s Degree and then OPT based on a Master’s Degree or PhD. The 12 months of the OPT must be used all at once for it cannot be broken up into short time periods. OPT is required to be used immediately upon graduating and it cannot be used later on. No one is allowed to start work until they have received their Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and reached the start date on the card.


Like every U.S. visa, there are eligibility requirements every applicant must fulfill. In order to be eligible for OPT every student must:

  • Maintain a valid F-1 Student Status at the time of submitting their application
  • Be enrolled full-time for at least one full academic year in the U.S.
  • Be physically present in the U.S when submitting an application
  • Intend to work or volunteer in a professional development program directly related to the major field of study

Additional Considerations

There are also additional considerations for OPT and they are:

  • The applicant does not need to have a job to be able to apply for OPT
  • All work must be directly related to the applicant’s field of study
  • Students with degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) may qualify for a 24-month extension to their 12-month post-completion OPT
  • Voluntary work is fine
  • Work can be done on multiple opportunities at one time

Do You Need An Attorney’s Advice

Get the help you need to have a better understanding on how OPT works. Gambacorta Law Office can be reached at 847 443 9303.