Students who have been in F-1 status for at least 9 months (enrolled full-time in two academic semesters) are eligible for optional practical training (OPT), which is a temporary employment authorization in their major field of study for purposes of gaining practical experience. Students may receive twelve months of practical training for each higher academic level (bachelor's, master's and doctorate).
Students may apply for authorization for optional practical training directly related to their major area of study in the following cases:
- Pre-completion OPT during summer vacation. Students must intend to register for the next semester. It is advisable to have a job offer at the time of application in this case. The job can be full or part-time. Apply 90 days before you wish to begin work.
- Pre-completion OPT while school is in session. Must maintain full time enrollment. Practical training may not exceed twenty hours a week. Should have a job offer before applying, and cannot hold any on-campus positions simultaneously. Apply 90 days before you wish to begin work
- Pre-completion OPT after completion of all course requirements except thesis or dissertation, or final project requirements for non-thesis students. OPT is authorized for work to be performed before the student's program end. Should have a job offer before applying. Apply 90 days before you wish to begin work.
- If degree requirements will not be completed before the program end date on the I-20, must request an extension of program.
- If less than 12 month allotment of OPT is used, must apply for remaining OPT time. Requires new OPT application and fee.
- Students cannot enroll full time during this employment period; the maximum enrollment allowed is 6 hours.
- Students on pre-completion OPT are required to carry student medical insurance, whether enrolled or not. Students either can sign up with Aetna, or can provide an Alternative Compliance Form completed and signed by a different insurance company.
- Post-completion OPT to start after academic program end date
- Apply no more than 90 days before the completion of the program, but no later than 60 days after program completion (during the grace period).
- OPT must begin within 60 days of program completion, even if you apply during the 60 day grace period.
- Students carrying 3 or more course work hours may NOT begin OPT before the end of the semester.
- Students on assistantships, and any other students enrolled for full time hours, including research hours, cannot begin OPT before the end of the semester or the end of their assistantship contract, whichever date is later.
- Allow 2-3 weeks for processing by IGSS, regardless of OPT type.
- See OPT Options Table for a summary.
- Cap gap extension if you have been approved for H1b during post-completion OPT, the H1b begins October 1, and there will be a gap between when your OPT ends and the H1b status begins.
- STEM extension if you graduated with a degree in science, technology, engineering, or math, work for an E-verify employer, and meet USCIS requirements while on post-completion OPT.
What happens after the OPT application packet is submitted to IGSS?
- Upon completion of all the OPT application forms, an international advisor will review your application and decide either to recommend or not recommend your application for submission to USCIS for adjudication.
- A new SEVIS I-20 will be issued by the international advisor, indicating the recommendation for the OPT; an email notice will be sent to you.
- The newly issued OPT I-20 must be signed by the DSO and the student, then copied and added to the rest of the OPT application packet to be sent to USCIS.
- Your OPT will be terminated if/when you transfer to another school or enroll in another degree program.
- You may NOT work during any gap between your program completion date and the beginning of your authorized OPT.
- The completed OPT application must be mailed within 30 days of the date the OPT I-20 was issued.
- OPT application cover page
- I-765 form, preferably completed in fillable PDF on USCIS website and printed and signed in blue ink, or the paper form completed in black ink and signed by you in blue ink. See tips for assistance with completing this form.
- Copy of page 1 and travel signature page of your current SEVIS I-20 and ALL previous I-20 forms, whether from VT or not (do not staple forms).
- Copy your passport ID page and any extension pages
- Printout of I-94 record
- Payment of $410.00. With a credit card use Form G-4150; with a personal check or money order - make it payable to "US Department of Homeland Security."
- Recommendation letter from your department on VT letterhead. See sample letters for details.
- Two color photos (see specification for details)
- Students must report initial employment, all employment changes and all address changes through the Student and Exchange Visitor Portal (available from 3/23/2018; reporting employment and address changes through the portal replaces previous requirement to report these changes to IGSS). Learn more at:
- Unemployment during post-completion OPT may not exceed 90 days.
Traveling outside the U.S. is strongly discouraged while your OPT application is pending. Once your OPT is approved, you will need the following documents if you travel outside of the U.S. while you are on Optional Practical Training. All of these are necessary when you reenter the U.S.:
- Valid F-1 visa
- Valid passport
- SEVIS I-20 form endorsed for travel (a travel signature must be less than 6-month old at the time of re-entry). Email to firstname.lastname@example.org the following, and allow two weeks for processing:
- OPT authorization card from USCIS
- Letter from employer stating job offer and conditions of employment