Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a type of employment authorization for F-1 students following their completion of studies. This employment authorization allows F-1 students to gain experience in their field of study. Students must apply to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in order to obtain OPT. Students should plan on their application taking at least three (3) months to process. OPT is granted for 12 months, in some cases in can be extended for an additional 17 months. F-1 students are eligible for 12 months of OPT after completion of each degree-level. While you have OPT you are still an F-1 student.
If you have been a full-time student maintaining valid status in the US for at least one academic year, you are eligible to apply for OPT. Student must be in their last semester of study and within 90 days of the end date listed on their I-20 as the “Program End Date.” Graduate students who have completed all required coursework and have only their thesis or dissertation to complete may apply for OPT before their degree completion date. For graduate students the program completion date could be the final day of examinations of your final semester, or the date of your oral defense or the date you submit your final edits to your academic advisor.
There are many things that you want to consider before applying for OPT. Because the application process takes so long to process, and you must apply so far in advance of your program completion date you must carefully consider some of the following questions:
Knowing the answers to these questions will help you choose your OPT start date during the application process. You should apply at least three months in advance of the date you wish to begin working.