Optional Practical Training
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment authorization that allows F-1 visa students to secure practical training related to their major area of study.
Three types of OPT:
- Pre-completion OPT (before fulfilling all graduation requirements and while enrolled full-time);
- Post-completion OPT (OPT completed after all requirements for graduation have been met) and
- 17-month STEM OPT (associate degree students are ineligible for STEM OPT).
All OPT requests must be submitted in writing and approved and recommended by the DSO in SEVIS.
OPT is OPT "authorized to be worked before the student's program ends. Students with approved pre-completion OPT may work up to 20 hours per week while school is in session. Students who are eligible to register for the next semester, and who plan to do so, may have the approval to work full-time when school is not in session" (SEVP OPT Policy Guidance 3.2.1-2).
Students must remain enrolled in a full course of study during pre-completion OPT Students may apply for pre-completion OPT "up to 90 days before being enrolled for one full academic year, provided that the period of employment will not start before the completion of the full academic year" (8 CFR § 214.2(f)(11)(i)(B)(1)).
Students are allowed 12 months of OPT at each educational level; the time worked during pre-completion OPT counts towards the 12-month total and is deducted at 50 percent. For example, if a student works six months pre-completion OPT, they will have taken away three months of post-completion OPT. Only nine months of post-completion OPT would then be available. ECC encourages students to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of completing pre-completion OPT while maintaining a full course of study.
Post-completion OPT is granted to students who will work after completing a course of study. Students may file for post-completion OPT up to 90 days before the program completion date and before the end of the student's program completion grace period (60 days after degree completion). A student must file for OPT within 30 days of the DSO's recommendation in SEVIS. Students should apply for OPT before the completion of coursework. The application for OPT must arrive at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office before the 60-day grace period is over. The OPT start date must begin within the grace period (i.e., within 60 days of graduation) and cannot be changed once processed.
Post-completion OPT requires that you work at least 20 hours or more per week. Before applying for post-completion OPT, you must submit a signed letter from the ECC. Assistant Registrar that you are eligible for and have applied for graduation.
Information and Employer Verification
For F-1 visa students currently on OPT, you are required to report any changes in employment to the Center for International Education and Programs within ten days of any change. You are still considered a student at ECC while engaging in OPT. It is your responsibility to ensure your contact information is up to date with ECC and the Center for International Education and Programs.
Federal regulations require an F-1 student on OPT to report "any change of name or address, or interruption of such employment to the DSO for the duration of the authorized training." A student is also required to maintain full-time employment and report the employment details, including any changes in employment status. Employment must be related to the student's completed degree. A student may be required to show proof that employment is related to their degree.
SEVP's OPT Policy Guidance states that the following activities are considered allowable employment on both pre-completion and standard post-completion OPT, provided that the job is directly related to their program of study.
Qualifying employment for post-completion OPT
- Regular paid employment in a position directly related to the student's program of study. For post-completion OPT, the work must be at least 20 hours per week. A student may work for multiple employers as long as it is directly related to their program of study.
- Payment by multiple short-term employers. Per SEVP, a student may work for multiple short-term employers (gigs) BUT must maintain a list of all gigs, the dates, and the duration.
- Work for hire. Per SEVP, this is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment, where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by DHS, a student should be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
- Self-employed business owner. A student may start a business and be self-employed. The student must prove that they have the proper business licenses and are actively engaged in a business related to their degree program.
- Employment through an agency. Per SEVP, if a student is on post-completion OPT, they must be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.
- Volunteers or unpaid interns: Standard OPT Per SEVP OPT Policy Guidance, a student may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern, where this practice does not violate any labor laws. The work should be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. A student should be able to provide evidence acquired from the employer to verify that they worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment. Please note that if a student cannot find paid employment and/or elects to work in a volunteer or unpaid internship capacity, they must consult with a DSO before accepting employment.
90-Day Unemployment Rule
Immigration regulations for OPT state that if a student is not employed 90 days after the start date listed on the EAD card, they are considered out of status. Unemployment is described as time spent without a qualifying job during OPT. Each day the student is not employed is counted toward the limit on unemployment time. If a student is unable to secure a paid job and is coming to 90 days of unemployment, they may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern, where which does not violate any labor laws. The work must be at least 20 hours per week for post-completion OPT, and they must be able to provide evidence from the employer that they worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of unpaid employment.
If a student exceeds 90 days of unemployment, they violated their F-1 status. A student is then required to either:
- Apply to continue their education by a change of level or transfer to another SEVP-certified school; OR
- Act to otherwise maintain legal status by applying for another immigration status; OR
- Depart the U.S.
Employment Verification and Reporting Requirements
A student must report their employer and position to ECC, including any changes to this information. To comply with federal regulations in reporting OPT employment, a student must complete the OPT Employment Update form and submit a letter from the employer on company letterhead with the following information:
- Employer name
- Employer address, phone number, and email
- Supervisor's name and contact information
- Position title
- Start date of employment
- End date of employment (if applicable; this is generally used only for contract or short-term gigs)
- Indicate whether the position is paid or unpaid
- The number of hours worked each week
- A description of the position's duties and responsibilities
Updating OPT Employment Information
Students on OPT should remember to keep copies of all pay stubs, contracts, and position descriptions. Please submit the OPT Employment Update Form online or download and complete the Optional Practical Training Employer Information Form - PDF to update your OPT employment information.
OPT Eligibility Requirements
To be eligible for OPT, an F-1 student must have completed at least one full academic year of study (full-time enrollment in the fall and spring semesters) and work in a position directly related to their course of study. A student studying English in an intensive English language training program is not eligible for practical training. Students applying for pre-completion OPT must be in good academic standing per SOAP (Standards of Academic Progress) guidelines. F-1 students are allowed 12 months of full-time OPT at each educational level (associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctorate). OPT may be granted for either part-time (maximum of 20 hours per week) or full-time (more than 20 hours per week) employment and may be used during the following time periods as indicated:
- During the summer semester (or annual vacation) – part-time or full-time
- During the academic year – part-time only
- After completion of all degree requirements – full-time only.
F-1 students do not need to have a job before applying for OPT but are required to be employed within 90 calendar days of the OPT start date. Application for OPT may be submitted up to 90 days before graduation or completion date, including 60 days after graduation (also known as the 60-day grace period). The OPT start date is chosen by the applicant, but the dates cannot be changed once the application is processed by USCIS. OPT is obtained through USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services); a filing fee and Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) are required.
If you have been authorized for OPT, see details about getting a social security card.
Important reminders about OPT:
- Terminate all on-campus employment:
- You may only work until the last day of the semester, in which you complete your degree requirements. You cannot be engaged in on-campus employment and OPT at the same time.
- Verify completion of all degree requirements:
- All degree requirements need to be completed before beginning post-completion OPT.
- If degree requirements are not finished, post-completion OPT employment cannot begin until the degree requirements are completed. Any OPT employment time already granted by USCIS will be lost.
- Verify your mailing address:
- Your home address needs to be valid for at least 90 days after filing the application to avoid the return of the application by USCIS. The college address may be used if you are unsure of an address change. You are required to inform ECC of any address or phone number changes within 10 days. USCIS requires you to update this information with the Center for Global Engagement to maintain your immigration status while on OPT.
- Be aware of travel risks:
- You should not travel outside the United States (U.S.) until receiving the EAD card from USCIS. USCIS may consider pending applications to be abandoned if the applicant departs the U.S. before receiving the EAD card.
- For travel outside the U.S. after receiving the EAD card, you must have the following documents in your possession to be granted re-entry to the U.S.: a letter from your employer verifying employment, latest pay stub, a valid passport, valid F-1 visa, and a valid I-20 document with a travel signature that is less than one year old. Note you cannot travel outside the U.S. without a job offer that is verifiable through your employer.
- If you travel outside the U.S. and your F-1 visa is not valid, you must apply for one at the U.S. Embassy in your home country. Please note that it may be difficult to obtain a new F-1 visa if degree requirements are already completed, and the sole reason for returning to the U.S. is to complete OPT.
- Keep in contact with the Center for Global Engagement
- You are still considered a student at ECC while engaging in OPT. It is your responsibility to ensure your contact information is up to date with ECC.
- You must notify the Center for Global Engagement of your planned departure date upon completion of OPT.
- Unemployment while on OPT
- You must not be unemployed for more than 90 days while on OPT, or you will be considered out of status. USCIS has allowed volunteering on OPT as long as the work is directly related to your major.
Applying for OPT
You may begin the Optional Practical Training application online or download and complete the Optional Practical Training Employer Information Form - PDF