Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is employment authorized for F-1 students to gain practical experience directly related to their major field of study.  You may undertake Optional Practical Training (OPT) as:

  • Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (Post-OPT), an opportunity to work in an area related to your field of study after the end of your study program
  • Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training (Pre-OPT),  an opportunity to work in an area related to your field of study before you complete your program of study
  • Both Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training (Pre-OPT) and Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (Post-OPT), as long as your Optional Practical Training  time does not exceed the 12-month limit.

Post-OPT

Post-OPT is a benefit available to F-1 students. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) grants 12 months of work authorization for F-1 students to gain practical experience directly related to their programs of study. The Office of Global Services (OGS) first recommends OPT, and the student then applies to USCIS for work authorization. Post-OPT takes place after the student’s program completion date. This date marks the end of the program of study, not necessarily the date of graduation. Students can file for Post-OPT work authorization no earlier than 90 days before the program completion date. Students may also file their Post-OPT applications no later than 60 days after the program completion date, i.e. during the 60-day grace period for F-1 student visa holders. In this case, the Office of Global Services (OGS) recommends that students file paperwork with the office no later than one (1) month before the end of their 60-day post-program grace period to allow for processing time. USCIS must receive your application for Post-OPT within 30 days of the day you receive the Office of Global Services (OGS) Post-OPT recommendation I-20. If USCIS does not receive a student’s application within the 30-day time frame, your application for Post-OPT may be denied. To remain eligible to apply for Post-OPT, students should not leave the United States after their program completion date unless USCIS receives their Post-OPT application and they have the proof in the form of an application receipt. Travel is generally not recommended while the OPT application is still pending with USCIS.

Post-OPT Eligibility

You may apply for Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (Post-OPT) if you meet all of the following criteria:

  • Valid F-1 student status
  • Full-time study for at least one academic year
  • Fewer than 365 days of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT).

Students may apply for 12 months of Post-OPT upon completion of each higher degree level. Only one Post-OPT application is permitted at each academic degree level, i.e. Bachelor’s, Master’s, PhD. Students can only apply for Post-OPT in the United States; if you are outside of the United States after the completion of your program, then you become ineligible to submit an OPT application.

Post-OPT Application

The Office of Global Services (OGS) accepts applications for Post-OPT online via e-form. Log in with your myNEU username and password to submit the following documents to request an I-20 with Post-OPT recommendation:

  • Pay the post-graduation administrative fee through your myNEU account and make a screenshot of your receipt. This fee is separate from the filing fee you will later submit with the Form I-765 Application Form to USCIS. See the OGS’s Sample I-765 and Chart of OPT Start Dates.
  • Scan copies of your passport and I-94 card (plus any previous USCIS Employment Authorization Document (EAD) cards, if applicable)

After submitting a completed e-form, an OGS advisor will review your request within 10 business days. If your request is complete and you are eligible for Post-OPT, you will receive an email when your new I-20 with OPT recommendation is ready for pick up or mailing. USCIS processing time for Post-OPT requests is usually up to 90 days. Please keep this time frame in mind as you prepare your OPT application.

Travel Outside the USA During Post-OPT

If you travel outside the United States or U.S. possessions during Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (Post-OPT), to renter the country, you must present the following at the border:

  • Your passport valid for at least six months into the future and your unexpired visa
  • Your EAD card for Post-OPT
  • Proof of employment
  • I-20 with a valid travel signature. While you are participating in OPT, travel signatures are valid for only six months.

Post-OPT Reporting

Reporting requirements while on OPT

All students on Post-OPT should inform the Office of Global Services (OGS) of  any of the following:

Ninety-day unemployment while on OPT F-1 visa regulations allow students to apply for OPT without having an employer. It is important for students to report their employment while on OPT since they risk losing their legal status if employment is not reported in SEVIS within this 90-day period. The approved OPT dates as listed on the USCIS Employment Authorization Document (EAD) are the student’s guide for this 90-day period.

Pre-OPT

Full-time F-1 students may participate in Pre-Completion OPT (Pre-OPT) during their academic program. The Office of Global Services (OGS) recommends Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training (Pre-OPT) to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), which authorizes up to 12 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT). You may apply for 12 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT) during or after each level of higher education. 

Pre-OPT Eligibility

To qualify for Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training (Pre-OPT), you

  • Must be registered in a full-time course load or have finished all course work except for thesis or dissertation
  • Are currently in F-1 status and have been in lawful student status, i.e. enrolled full time, for at least one academic year by the Optional Practical Training (OPT) start date
  • Must not have participated in 12 months or more of co-op or full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) within the United States
  • Must not be in language training programs or preparatory programs.

You are not required to have a job offer to apply for Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training (Pre-OPT). However, any time authorized for Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training (Pre-OPT) is subtracted from the time available for Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (Post-OPT) that a student may wish to undertake after completion of studies, so it makes sense to have a job offer before making the application. You may apply for Pre-Completion Optional Practical training (Pre-OPT) as early as 90 days before the desired start date of employment. USCIS must receive the application for Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training (Pre-OPT) within 30 days of the date that the Office of Global Services (OGS) recommends your Optional Practical Training (OPT). This is the date of issuance of the I-20 that bears the recommendation for OPT. USCIS may take up to 90 days to process OPT applications and will deny any recommendation that does not arrive within 30 days of the Office of Global Services (OGS) issuance of the I-20 that bears the recommendation for Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training (Pre-OPT). Once USCIS authorizes Optional Practical Training (OPT), you may not change or rescind the employment terms. Optional Practical Training (OPT) time authorized is considered used whether or not you have worked. Please note that if you take all of your Optional Practical Training (OPT) time allotment as Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training (Pre-OPT), you will not be eligible for any Optional Practical Training (OPT) extensions.

Pre-OPT Timing

As an F-1 student, you are eligible to apply for Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training (Pre-OPT):

  • For either full-time or part-time employment during your annual vacation
  • For either full-time or part-time employment if you have completed all of your course work except for thesis or dissertation
  • For part-time employment, not to exceed 20 hours a week while carrying a full-time course load during the academic year.

Pre-OPT Application Steps

OPT STEM Extension

What is the STEM OPT Extension? An F-1 student who has completed a Bachelor’s, Master’s or doctoral degree in a STEM field and who has been granted authorization to work on Post-completion Optional Practical Training (Post-completion OPT) may apply for the 24-month OPT extension as long as s/he has a job or job offer that is related to a degree in a STEM designated field and has an employer that is registered with E-Verify. If you would like to find out if you are STEM eligible please see the list of STEM eligible CIP codes at this link: https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Document/2016/stem-list.pdf.

You can find your CIP code on the first page of your I-20.

Previously STEM OPT extension was granted for 17 months. On May 10, 2016 new 24-month STEM OPT regulations took effect. 

Major Differences between 17 and 24 month STEM OPT Regulations

  • STEM OPT extension may now be as long as 24 months after initial post-completion OPT period
  • Students may be eligible for up to two STEM OPT extensions based on two STEM degrees at different degree levels in a student’s lifetime (instead of just one)
  • Students now have the ability to apply for a STEM OPT extension based on a previously earned STEM degree from an accredited U.S. institution within 10 years under which the student has not previously applied for STEM OPT Extension. 
  • DHS published a new expanded list of DHS STEM Designated Degree Program CIP Codes
  • Student and employer are required to complete the new Form I-983 in order to begin the STEM OPT extension process
  • Student has additional reporting requirements to maintain the STEM OPT authorization 
  • Volunteering/unpaid employment is not permitted during the STEM OPT extension
  • Self-employment is not permitted during the STEM OPT extension
  • Employment with multiple employers, through consulting firms that provide labor for hire and other relationships that do not constitute a bona fide employer-employee relationship is not permitted. In case of employment through a staffing or temporary agency, the agency cannot complete and sign Form I-983. Only the E-verified employer that provides the actual training is authorized to sign and complete Form I-983. Please see DHS web site for more information
  • Students are permitted an additional 60 days of unemployment (previous rule allowed an additional 30 days) under the STEM OPT period in addition to the current 90 days of unemployment allowed under the initial 12 month post-completion OPT period; up to 150 days of total unemployment

Transitioning to the new STEM OPT Rule
There are many details about the new STEM OPT regulations that need further clarification. It will take some time for DHS (including SEVIS and USCIS Service Centers), employers and universities to define the application procedures and reporting requirements of STEM OPT. OGS will continue to update our STEM OPT materials here and keep students informed. 

The issuance of the final rule provides different scenarios for students who are applying for their initial period of STEM OPT extension after the new rule took effect on May 10, 2016 and those who applied for STEM OPT before May 10, 2016. 

  1. STEM OPT applications filed prior to May 10, 2016
    If the 17-month STEM OPT application is pending review at USCIS on May 10, 2016, USCIS will send student a Request for Evidence (RFE) to update their I-20 to the 24-month STEM OPT benefit. At that time, a completed Form I-983will be required. For more information, please see Department of Homeland Security STEM OPT Hub
      
    How to respond to STEM OPT RFE

When you receive the RFE from USCIS, please go to STEM OPT Extension Guide and follow the instruction on how to request the 24-month STEM OPT I-20 (Steps 1 and 2 of the Guide). Then follow the instructions in the RFE.

  1. STEM OPT Applications filed on or after May 10, 2016
    Students applying for STEM OPT extension after May 10 are applying under the new 24-month extension and will be required to complete the Form I-983 with their employer.
    For more information, please see Department of Homeland Security STEM OPT Hub 

    How to Apply for STEM OPT Extension 
    Please see STEM OPT Extension Guide

STEM FAQ’s

Q: When can a student apply for a STEM extension?

A: A student can start applying for a STEM extension no earlier than 90 days before their OPT expires.

Q: Can students work while the STEM extension is pending?

A: The period of the 24 month STEM extension starts the day after the expiration of a student’s EAD card. While a student’s STEM extension application is pending, he/she may continue working for up to 180 days (6 months).

Q: Can a student, applying for the 24-month OPT extension for STEM majors, travel outside the U.S. while the application is pending?

A: A student can travel outside the United States while a STEM extension is pending as long as he/she has the following documents to re-enter the country:

  1. A valid EAD card (not expired)
  2. Passport that will be valid for 6 months from the return date to the U.S.
  3. Valid F-1 student visa
  4. Proof of employment (a job offer or job confirmation letter)
  5. I-20 with OPT documentation and a valid travel signature on the second page

Q: Can a student change employers while the 24-month OPT extension application is pending?

A: Yes, a student can change employers, but if the STEM OPT extension period has started, the new employer must also be an E-Verify Employer. The student must report the change of employer to USCIS by doing the following:

  1. Request a new I-20 with an updated STEM OPT employer information (STEM Extension I-20 Request)
  2. Send the following document to USCIS (to the address on the STEM OPT application receipt notice, NOT to the address where the original application was mailed):
  • New Form I-765 (with new employer information)
  • Cover letter explaining why you are submitting new I-765 (change of employer) and referencing your pending case #
  • Copy of USCIS receipt notice
  • Copy of new STEM OPT I-20 (with updated employer information)

Q: What are an F-1 student’s responsibilities while on a 24-month OPT extension?

A: The student on a STEM extension must:

  • work in a paid position for an E-Verify employer for at least 20 hours per week;

Note: volunteer/unpaid position cannot be used as a basis for a STEM OPT extension

  • work in a position related to the STEM degree;
  • NOT be self-employed;
  • NOT be unemployed more than 150 days during the entire period of the Post-completion OPT and STEM OPT extension. The days of unemployment will count from the start date of the approved OPT as per the EAD card;
  • comply with STEM OPT reporting requirements (see “24 Month STEM OPT Extension Guide” for more information about STEM OPT reporting)

OPT STEM Extension Reporting

Students with a STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) extension have additional federal reporting requirements. Failure to satisfy these requirements will automatically invalidate the student’s F-1 status. STEM OPT students report the following to the Office of Global Services (OGS) every six months:

  • Name
  • Residential and mailing address
  • Email address
  • Employer name
  • Employer address
  • Job title
  • Supervisor name and contact information
  • Employment start date
  • Employment end date

Please submit your 6 month report here.

Cap Gap Extensions

Please refer to the Office of Global Services (OGS) Cap Gap Extension Information and Application Instructions