Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 Students

What is Optional Practical Training? 

The Department of Homeland Security authorizes practical work experience under certain circumstances for international students. Optional Practical Training (OPT) allows for training that is not required as part of a degree program, but is related to a student’s major and commensurate with the degree level. Students may engage in OPT while pursuing a full course of study (pre-completion OPT) or after graduation (post-completion OPT).

Who is eligible for OPT?

Students who wish to participate in OPT must have been lawfully enrolled as an F-1 student in the United States for one academic year and must be in valid F-1 status at the time of application. The proposed training experience must also be directly related to the program of study and commensurate with the student’s degree level. Please note: Students who have completed a total of 12 months of full-time CPT are ineligible for OPT. Part-time CPT does not affect eligibility for OPT.  

Do I need permission to begin OPT?

An International Student Advisor must recommend OPT in SEVIS and update your I-20. Students must then receive permission from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, to begin OPT. If permission for OPT is granted, you will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) in the mail. You may NOT begin work until you have received your EAD.

When can I apply for OPT? 

Students may apply for OPT no earlier than 90 days prior to completion of one academic year as a full-time student in the United States. For post-completion OPT, students may apply up to 90 days before the program end date and up to 60 days after the program end date. Students are advised to begin the application process early. The International Center suggests students begin the application process three months prior to the date they wish to begin OPT. 

How many hours a week can I work during OPT?

Students may pursue pre-completion OPT part-time (defined as 20 hours or less per week) while continuing to maintain a full course of study. OPT taking place during the summer session may be full-time. Post-completion OPT must be pursued full-time.Students may pursue pre-completion OPT part-time (defined as 20 hours or less per week) while continuing to maintain a full course of study. OPT taking place during the summer session may be full-time. Post-completion OPT must be pursued full-time.

How long may I pursue OPT?

A maximum of 12 months of OPT may be authorized at each education level (Bachelor’s, Master’s, etc.). Students who have been awarded STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) degrees may be eligible for a 17 month OPT extension. A degree is classified as STEM if its CIP code appears on a list published by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. All OPT, excluding STEM extensions, must be completed within 14 months following the program end date.   

Do I need a job offer to apply for OPT?

No. However, students must work during the OPT period as indicated on the EAD. Students on post-completion OPT are limited to a maximum of 90 days unemployment (120 days for STEM extension students).

How do I apply for OPT?

Complete a Service Request Form to make an appointment with an International Student Advisor. Bring the following to your appointment:

I have applied for OPT and I recently completed my program of study. I have not received my EAD card. May I travel outside of the United States?

The International Center does not recommend that students whose post-completion OPT applications are pending travel outside of the United States. Students who do so risk their application being cancelled by USCIS.  

I have received my EAD card but have not found a job yet. May I travel outside of the United States?

The International Center does not recommend that you travel. Students who do so risk being denied re-entry into the United States.

I am working under OPT. What documents should I carry with me when I travel internationally?

You must carry your EAD card, your I-20 (endorsed by an International Student Advisor within the past six months), your passport, and your valid student visa. It is also advisable to carry a letter from your employer verifying your employment.

Do I have any reporting requirements while working under OPT?

Yes. You must advise the International Center within 10 days if any of the following changes: your legal name, your address, your employer/employer’s address, start and end dates of employment, and if you decide not to use OPT and depart the United States. This information is used by Department of Homeland Security to determine if you are maintaining status. The International Center will periodically contact students on OPT via e-mail in order to keep SEVIS records accurate. You must respond to these e-mails, even if none of your information has changed since you last reported information.

Do I need Medical Insurance Coverage while on Post-Completion OPT?

As an international student who is participating in post-completion Optional Practical Training, you are not required by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service to have medical insurance.  However, because of high health care costs in the United States, the International Center strongly encourages all F-1 students to make sure they always have adequate insurance coverage. The UNF Medical Compliance Office will continue to offer the international student medical insurance plan to students on post-completion OPT.   Please speak with the Medical Compliance Office if you would like information on continuing with this policy or purchasing the plan for the duration of your OPT. We urge you to protect yourself financially by purchasing health insurance during your post-completion OPT period.   A major illness or accident in the United States can be financially devastating if you do not have adequate coverage. If you have questions or would like further information, please consult an International Student Advisor at the International Center.