Skip to main content

Important Immigration News and Updates 

 

 

OVIS Social

 

OPT Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is “OPT”?

A: Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a work benefit allowed to international students in F-1 immigration status who are enrolled in, or completing a degree program in the U.S. This employment can be used pre-completion of studies, over the annual vacation or leave term, or post-completion of studies, after the student finishes the degree.

Q: What is the duration of OPT employment authorization:

A: the initial post-completion period for which students can apply is 12 months, less any OPT time used pre-completion. The requested employment start date must be between the end of program date, and 60 days later. The employment authorization will begin on the date requested or the date the employment authorization is adjudicated, whichever is later. Exception: The employment authorization period for the 17-month OPT extension begins on the day after the expiration of the initial post-completion OPT employment authorization, and ends 17 months later, regardless of the date the actual extension is approved.

Q: Am I eligible for OPT?

A: F-1 students who have been enrolled in legal status for a minimum of nine months are eligible for up to twelve (12) months of Optional Practical Training (OPT) work authorization by the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS). Employment under OPT must be directly related to a student's field of study and appropriate to the level of education.

Q: Do I need a job to be eligible to apply for OPT?

A: No, you do not need a job offer prior to applying for OPT, and your job may be anywhere in the United States. You may also change jobs during the course of your OPT period, but you must notify our office of any interruption or change to your employment.

Q: When can I apply for OPT?

A: The earliest you may apply for OPT is 90 days (3-months) prior to the completion of studies*, and the latest you may apply for OPT is 60 days following program completion. It can take several months to receive the OPT work card, so we recommend that you apply at least 90 days prior to the beginning of your intended job opportunity.

Q: What does the immigration service consider “completion of studies?”

A: Completion of studies is the actual date that you complete all requirements for a program of study (i.e. the date of your final exams, or submission of your thesis or dissertation). “Completion of studies” is NOT automatically considered to be the date of graduation ceremonies.

Q: Do I have to use the entire 12-month OPT period at once, or may I use it increments?

A: OPT may be used in "chunks" during an annual vacation term before completion of studies, but after completion of studies it may only be used as a single block of time (minus the difference of any previously used OPT time).

Q: May I save any of my unused OPT eligibility and use it at a later time?

A: No. Once you apply for OPT and complete your program of study, the OPT work eligibility is either used or not. There is no recapture of unused OPT time.

Q: May I extend my OPT work eligibility beyond 12-months?

A: In two instances, it may be possible to extend the period of OPT, based on a new OPT regulation published on April 8th, 2008.

In the first case, the student must be hold a STEM degree (science, technology, engineering or math), be hired by an employer signed up for the government program “E-Verify”, and will have to apply for the 17-month extension on Form I-765 with fee. Students who timely file an application for the 17-month OPT extension will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending, until a final decision on the I-765 or for 180 days, whichever comes first.

In the second case, the extension of status and work authorization is automatic for students who have a filed and pending H-1B petition.

See below for details on these two cases:

1) The 12 month limit on F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT) can be extended by 17 months, for a total of 29 months, for certain STEM degree holders (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) in the following fields:

Actuarial Science; Computer Science Applications (except Data Entry/Microcomputer Applications); Engineering; Engineering Technologies; Biological and Biomedical Sciences; Mathematics and Statistics; Military Technologies; Physical Sciences; Science Technologies; Medical Scientist (MS, PhD).

Other requirements for 17-month extension:

In addition, the student’s employer must agree to report the termination or departure of the student to the Immigration Advisor (DSO) or through "any other means or process identified by DHS." An employer must consider a worker to have departed when the employer knows the student has left employment, or if the student has not reported for work for a period of 5 consecutive business days without the employer's consent.

2) Duration of status and work authorization will be extended for a student approved for OPT, who is the beneficiary of a timely-filed H-1B petition requesting an employment start date of October 1 of the following fiscal year. This would apply to all students on OPT, not just STEM students. The extension of duration of status and work authorization would automatically terminate upon the rejection, denial, or revocation of the H-1B petition filed on the student's behalf.

The conditions that must be met for this auto-extension of status and work authorization include:

  • The student is the beneficiary of an H-1B petition filed before the end of the student's lawful F1 status
  • The H-1B petition requests a change of status with an effective date of October 1 of the following fiscal year;
  • The F-1 student has not violated the terms and conditions of that status; and
  • The H-1B petition is not rejected, denied or revoked.

Employers should note that this extension is automatic (by operation of regulation) when the conditions are met, so that no new Employment Authorization Document is required for I-9 purposes. Again, this extension applies to all F-1s selected to receive an H-1B for the following fiscal year, whether the F-1 works in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics field or not. The extension of status also covers the student's spouse and children in F-2 status.

See our website for more information on these two options: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~ovis/updates/immigration.html

Q: How can I tell if my degree field or major field qualifies as a “STEM” program?

A: These major fields are coded according to a national list – called a CIP list. The Office of Visa and Immigration Services and the Registrar’s Office on campus have lists of these majors and codes.

Q: How can I tell if my employer is signed up for E-Verify?

A: You may ask your employer if they are signed up for E-Verify. In addition, note that some U.S. States have begun mandating employer participation in E-Verify. At the same time, some other States have declared E-Verify illegal. You can find more information on E-Verify here: http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.eb1d4c2a3e5b9ac89243c6a7543f6d1a/?vgnextoid=75bce2e261405110VgnVCM1000004718190aRCRD&vgnextchannel=75bce2e261405110VgnVCM1000004718190aRCRD

Q: My employer is not signed up for E-Verify. How can my employer sign up for this program?

A: The E-Verify program imposes significant obligations on an employer. Employers can find out more about the program and obligations on this website

Q: What are the reporting requirements for me while I am approved for OPT?

A: All students on OPT are required to report to the DSO:

  • any change of name or address, or
  • any interruption of such employment

In addition, STEM students with an approved 17-month OPT extension

  • must report to the student's DSO within 10 days of any change of:
  • legal name
  • residential or mailing address
  • employer name
  • employer address, and/or
  • loss of employment
  • Must make a validation report to the DSO every six months starting from the date the extension begins and ending when the student's F-1 status ends, the student changes educational levels at the same school, the student transfers to another school, or the 17-month OPT extension ends, whichever is first. The validation is a confirmation that the student's name and address, employer name and address, and/or loss of employment is current and accurate. The report is due to the DSO within 10 business days of each reporting date.

You must report these updates and changes online: https://fs8.formsite.com/Rcatmur/OPTReportForm/secure_index.html

Q: May I cancel my OPT application once I have applied?

A: Yes, you may request that the OPT application be withdrawn and the recommendation in SEVIS be cancelled, but only if you have recently mailed it to the government. Contact your advisor as soon as possible, if you need to cancel the OPT application. Once your OPT application has been adjudicated (approved) by the immigration service, it can not be cancelled or revoked.

Q: May I travel outside the U.S. before I receive the employment card for OPT, and also after I receive the card?

A: The answer to this question depends very much on a variety factors specific to what kind of OPT application, and each person’s own unique situation. While on OPT you are still considered to be in F-1 (student) immigration status, even if you have completed your studies and have since graduated.

Before you get the card for pre-completion OPT: You may travel outside the U.S. before you receive the card, if you plan to use that OPT period pre-degree completion. In order to be eligible for re-entry to the U.S., you must have a valid F-1 visa (though Canadian citizens are exempted from this visa requirement), a valid passport, a valid I-20 form with a recent travel signature.

After you get the card for pre-completion OPT: Yes, you may travel outside the U.S. after you receive the employment card, as long as you are still an active student at Dartmouth, and plan to enroll for full-time classes in the next available term. In order to be eligible for re-entry to the U.S., you must have a valid F-1 visa (though Canadian citizens are exempted from this visa requirement), a valid passport, a valid I-20 form with a recent travel signature.

Before you get the card for post-completion OPT: Travel outside the U.S. while waiting for a post-completion OPT work card can be problematic. If the OPT case is still pending, you can re-enter the U.S. as long as you have proof of the pending OPT application, a valid passport, a valid F-1 visa (though Canadian citizens are exempted from this visa requirement), the original signed I-20 form with the OPT recommendation and a recent travel signature on it, and proof of non-immigrant intent (i.e.: proof that you will return to your home country after you complete your OPT period). Forms of non-immigrant intent evidence might include admission to a College or University in your home country; a job offer in your home country; or a spouse or children living in your home country. You are eligible for a new F-1 visa application even if the work card has not yet been approved.

After you get the card for post-completion OPT: In order to be eligible for re-entry to the U.S. after the OPT application has been approved, you must have the employment card in your possession, a valid F-1 visa (though Canadian citizens are exempted from this visa requirement), a valid passport, a valid I-20 form with the OPT endorsement and a recent travel signature on page 3, proof of a temporary job in your field of study, and proof of non-immigrant intent (i.e.: proof that you will return to your home country after you complete your OPT period). Forms of non-immigrant intent evidence might include admission to a College or University in your home country; a job offer in your home country; or a spouse or children living in your home country. You are eligible for a new F-1 visa application as well, during the OPT approved period.

Before you receive the OPT STEM extension work card: If you have applied for a STEM OPT extension, but you have not yet received the new OPT card, you may be able to re-enter the U.S. if your current period of OPT is unexpired when you re-enter, and you have proof of the filing of the STEM OPT application (the receipt notice from the government, and a copy of the application packet). In addition, you should have proof of temporary employment with an E-Verify employer. Note that you would also need a valid F-1 student visa to re-enter the U.S.

If you have applied for the STEM OPT card, and have not received it, and your current period of OPT has expired, it may be very risky to travel and re-enter the U.S., as you will not have the new OPT work card in your possession. If you must travel, be sure to have your proof of the filing of the STEM OPT application (the receipt notice from the government, and a copy of the application packet). In addition, you should have proof of temporary employment with an E-Verify employer. Again, this type of travel could be *very* risky.

After you receive the STEM OPT extension work card: If you have the valid STEM extension work card, you should be able to re-enter the U.S. if you have the STEM OPT work card, the previous work card, and proof of temporary employment with an E-Verify employer. Note that you would also need a valid F-1 student visa to re-enter the U.S.

There is always a risk that you may be denied entry to the country, if the Consular officer or the immigration officer at the border does not believe that you will leave the U.S. at the end of your OPT period, if you cannot prove your employment, or that your employment is appropriate to your field of study and degree level.

Q: Am I eligible for more OPT if I progress to another degree program?

A: Yes. If you begin a new degree program at a higher level (i.e. Bachelor to Masters or Masters to Ph.D.) program, you will become eligible for an addition block of 12-months of OPT as outlined above. You are, however, only eligible for one period of 17 month OPT-extension

Q: When can I start working under OPT?

A: Only once you possess the OPT employment document (“Employment Authorization Document”) issued by the immigration service, and the effective beginning date listed on the employment document has been reached.

Q: Can I be unemployed while approved for OPT, and still legally remain in the U.S.?

A: The new regulations published on April 8th, 2008, limit periods of unemployment during post-completion OPT. F-1 status is now dependent upon employment, within the following parameters:

  • Students may not accrue an aggregate of more than 90 days of unemployment during any post-completion OPT carried out under the initial 12-month post-completion OPT authorization.
  • Students granted a 17-month OPT extension may not accrue an aggregate of more than 120 days of unemployment.

Q: How long can I stay in the U.S. after my post-completion OPT ending date expires.

A: You have a 60 day grace period following the end of your OPT period, unless you have extended your F-1 status for another degree program, or you are under application to change your immigration status to another classification.

Frequently asked questions concerning OPT application forms:

Form I-765: this form was revised on April 1, 2013, students must use this new version to file an OPT application. Please be sure to complete the pdf fillable version, as we cannot accept hand-written I-765 forms

Check “Permission to accept employment” if it is your first time applying for OPT

Check “Renewal of my permission to accept employment” if you are applying to extend a period of OPT under which you are *currently* working.

Question #3: Address. PLEASE NOTE: by law, Federal mail may not be forwarded to another address. Therefore it is imperative that you put down a reliable and secure mailing address in this section. If you plan to be moving and are not sure of an address, you may list your address as in care of OVIS (address listed at top of handout). If you use our address, make sure that you give us explicit instructions, in writing, as to where to send the card once it arrives.

Question #10: List your 11 digit I-94 number in this space (“A-number” is not applicable in your OPT situation).  Your I-94 number can be found on your I-94 card if you entered the U.S. by land or on a print-out of your electronic Form I-94 if you entered by air or sea.  The electronic Form I-94 print-out can be accessed here.

Question #11: (“Have you ever before applied for employment authorization from (the immigration service)?” If yes, list the USCIS office where your OPT application was sent. For the East Coast (any Dartmouth-affiliated OPT application) this would have been the “Vermont Service Center.” Speak to an advisor if you are unsure of any of the other regional immigration processing centers. For “results” state “granted for dates xx/xx/xxxx through xx/xx/xxxx” and provide photocopies of all previous OPT work documents.

Question #12: “Date of last entry into the U.S.” List the date of your most recent arrival or re-entry into the U.S. (found on your I-94 card or your passport Admission stamp). If you last traveled to Canada, and were not “stamped” into the country when you re-entered the U.S., you should still indicate that date as the last date of entry.

Question #13: “Place of last entry into the U.S.” List the most recent arrival city of the airport (i.e. Boston, New York, San Francisco, etc.) where you landed from overseas. If crossing the border from Canada or Mexico, list that particular border station.

Questions #14 & #15: “Manner of last entry” and “Current immigration status”, list “F-1 (student)” for both questions

Question #16: For F-1 Pre-completion OPT, the correct code is: “(c)(3)(A)”. For F-1 Post-completion OPT, the correct code is: “(c)(3)(B)”. For F-1 Post-completion 17 month extension applications for STEM students employed by e-verify employers, the correct code is: “(c)(3)(C)”

Question #17: this question should be answered only by STEM students, employed by E-Verify employers, who are applying for the 17 month OPT extension period. List your degree level and field, employer’s name and E-Verify number. Contact your employer to get this information.

Last Updated: 4/4/14