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Optional Practical Training



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  • 1. Optional Practical Training(OPT)
    Lisa Shoemake
    Director of International Student Services
    Updated 02/2010
    Allows international students to obtain work experience directly related to their major.
    Authorized for a maximum of one year.
    (Students with STEM degrees MAY be eligible for a 17-month extension under limited conditions. )
    In April 2008, major policy changes were implemented regarding OPT. If you would like to read the full policy as issued by SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program, please visit this link:
    Updated OPT information issues 04/08
  • 3. Must have been maintaining F-1 status for a minimum of 9 months (2 semesters) and be in their last semester before graduation.
    May be authorized for up to 12 months of full-time OPT.
    Students may apply for OPT as much as 90 days before graduation or 60 days after graduation.
    Updated OPT information issues 04/08
    Eligibility for OPT
  • 4. Employment Authorization Document (EAD), also called OPT card example.
    OPT notation
    Beginning and ending
    Must have I-20 endorsed on page 3,
    Valid US visa and letter of employment.
    Updated OPT information issues 04/08
  • 5. Employment must in directly related to the major field of study.)
    Working or volunteering more than 20 hours per week is considered full-time.
    Can have more than one employer. OPT is not employer-specific.
    Students may accrue no more than a total of 90 days of unemployment.
    Periods of 10 days or less between jobs do not count toward unemployment.
    Working or volunteering for less than 20 hours per week counts as unemployment.
    Students are eligible for 12 months of OPT per degree level. Periods unused after one degree can not be carried over to next degree.
    Work authorization must start within 60 days of graduation and be completed within the 14 month period immediately after graduation.
    During OPT, students may enroll in classes “incidental” to the employment. However, receiving a new I-20 for full-time enrollment cancels your OPT.
    Updated OPT information issues 04/08
    OPT General Information
  • 6. How do students show that employment is directly related to their degree programs?
    SEVP (Student & Exchange Visitor Program) recommends that students maintain evidence — for each job — of the position held, proof of the duration of that position, the job title, contact information for the student’s supervisor or manager and a description of the work.
    If it is not clear from the job description that the work is related to the student’s degree, SEVP highly recommends that the student obtain a signed letter from the student’s supervisor or manager or the employer’s hiring official stating how the student’s degree is related to the work performed.
    Updated OPT information issues 04/08
    Employment Must Be Related to Degree.
  • 7. Types of Employment Allowed
    What types of employment are allowed for regular pre- and post-completion OPT? (New or Revised)
    All OPT employment, including post-completion OPT, is required by 8 CFR 214.2(f)(10)(ii)(A) to be in a job that is related to the student’s degree program.
    For students who are not on a STEM extension, this employment may include:
    Paid employment. Students may work part time (at least 20 hours per week when on post-completion OPT) or full time.
    Multiple employers. Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to each individual student’s degree program and for pre-completion OPT cannot exceed the allowed per week cumulative hours.
    Short-term multiple employers (performing artists). Students, such as musicians and other performing artists, may work for multiple short term employers (gigs). The student should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration.
    Updated OPT information issues 04/08
  • 8. Work for hire. 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, students 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. Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. The student should be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to his or her degree program.
    Employment through an agency or consulting firm. Students on post-completion OPT should be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.
    Unpaid employment. Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, 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 student’s employer, to verify that he or she worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.
    Updated OPT information issues 04/08
    Types of Employment Allowed
  • 9. Unemployment During OPT
    How many hours does a student need to work per week during post-completion OPT (including the STEM extension) to be considered employed? (New or Revised)
    A student must work at least 20 hours per week in a qualifying position to be considered employed. If a student has a variable schedule, within a month, it should average out to at least 20 hours per week.
    7.1.6. What counts as time unemployed? (New or Revised)
    Each day (including weekends) during the period when OPT authorization begins and ends that the student does not have qualifying employment counts as a day of unemployment. OPT authorization begins on the employment start date shown on the student’s EAD. The only exception is that periods of up to 10 days between the end of one job and the beginning of the next job are not included in the calculation of time spent unemployed. This 10 day exception also applies to the first 10 days from the start date on the student’s EAD.
    7.1.7. If a student does not receive the approved EAD, the missing EAD is not returned to the USCIS Service Center, and the student applies for a replacement EAD, when does the student begin accruing unemployment? (New or Revised)
    The “clock” for unemployment starts 10 days after issuance of the replacement EAD by USCIS.
    7.1.8. How does travel outside the United States impact the period of unemployment? (New or Revised)
    Time spent outside the United States during an approved period of post-completion OPT counts as unemployment against the 90/120-day limits, unless the student is either:
    Employed during a period of leave authorized by an employer; or traveling as part of his or her employment
    Updated OPT information issues 04/08
  • 10. Consequences/Enforcement of Exceeding 90 Days Unemployment
    What is the impact on a student’s status if the student exceeds the limit on authorized unemployment?
    A student who has exceeded the period of unemployment while on post-completion OPT has violated status unless he or she has taken one of the following actions:
    Applied to continue his or her education by a change of level or transferring to another SEVP-certified school
    Departed the United States
    Taken action to otherwise maintain legal status
    7.4.3. Are DSOs responsible for determining if a student has exceeded the limit on authorized unemployment? (New or Revised)
    No. DSOs are not responsible for calculating unemployment time or taking action in SEVIS based on unemployment time. If a student’s SEVIS record remains in Active status and the student has otherwise maintained F-1 status, a DSO should consider the student in status and act accordingly.
    DHS maintains responsibility for determining whether a student has violated his or her status by exceeding the permissible limit on authorized unemployment.
    Updated OPT information issues 04/08
  • 11. 7.4.4. How will DHS enforce this provision?
    A student may be denied future immigration benefits that rely on the student’s valid F-1 status if DHS determines that the student exceeded the limitations on authorized unemployment.
    Additionally, ICE/SEVP may examine SEVIS data for an individual, a selected group, or all students on post-completion OPT and terminate a student’s record if it fails to show the student maintained the proper period of employment. In such cases, the student will be given an opportunity to show that he or she complied with all OPT requirements, including maintaining employment.
    Consequences/Enforcement of Exceeding 90 Days Unemployment
    Updated OPT information issues 04/08
  • 12. Students must report to UCA Division of International Affairs the following within 10 days of any change during OPT:
    Personal information (name, address and phone)
    Employer information (name, address, start and end dates, supervisor name and contact information)
    Changes to immigration status (F-1 to H-1, etc.)
    Permanent departure from U.S.
    Updated OPT information issues 04/08
    Reporting Requirements While On OPT
  • 13. Travel on OPT
    Travel on OPT is risky. Since your I-20 will show that you have completed your program, you MUST have the following documents to be allowed re-entry. (Re-entry is NOT guaranteed.)
    Valid passport and F-1 visa
    I-20 signed for travel within the previous six months.
    EAD (The EAD says “Not valid for re-entry”. This means you can not use just the EAD alone. You must have the other documents.
    Letter from your employer stating that you will return to the U.S. to begin or resume employment.
    If you travel while OPT is pending, it is also very risky and not advised, especially after completion date on I-20.
    If your OPT is approved while you are out of the country, you will need to receive your endorsed
    I-20, EAD and employment letter as outlined above before you return.
    If you F-1 visa has expired, it is HIGHLY recommended that you do not leave the US because your F-1 visa renewal will most likely be denied.
    Updated OPT information issues 04/08
  • 14. STEM Extension
    One 17-month extension is available for students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics that are currently on OPT only under the following conditions:
    You must have completed a degree in a field designated by Homeland Security as a STEM program.
    You must be working in the field of your degree.
    You have not already had one 17-month extension.
    You must be employed by an employer enrolled in the Homeland Security “E-Verify” program.
    Your employer must agree to notify Lisa Shoemake (DSO) within 48 hours if you cease employment prior to the end date of your OPT authorization card (EAD).
    The 90 day unemployment rule is extended to 120 days for STEM extension.
    Students must report to DSO every 6 and 12 months after start date of STEM OPT. Failure to report this information may result in loss of F-1 status.
    Application process is essentially the same as for the first OPT application. You will be charged a new $340 application fee.
    If you are eligible for a STEM extension, contact Lisa Shoemake.
    Official STEM list:
    Updated OPT information issues 04/08
  • 15. H-1B Cap
    The H-1B cap is the limit on the number of H-1Bs allowed each fiscal year.* Currently, the cap is 65,000. The fiscal year begins on October 1 when a new batch of the 65,000 H-1s becomes available.  Employers are allowed to file an H-1B petition up to 6 months before the new fiscal year (April 1) so as to join the queue of new applications waiting for the October 1 date. 
    A cap-gap extension is a relatively new regulatory provision which automatically extends an eligible F-1 student’s status to bridge the gap between the end of F-1 status and start of H-1B status, thereby allowing the student to remain in the US during the “gap.” 
    You may not continue to work during the gap, but you can remain in the U.S. legally.
    Updated OPT information issues 04/08
    Cap Gap Extension
  • 16. Complete Form I-765
    Obtain adviser signature on Graduation Verification Form.
    Read, sign and date OPT Statement of Understanding page.
    Obtain 2 passport-sized photographs. Please write your name in pencil on the back of each photo.
    Check or money order for $340 payable to USCIS. (Credit cards or cash are not accepted.)
    Passport, I-94, I-20’s
    Make an appointment to see Lisa Shoemake when you are ready to submit application documents. Please have all documents prepared BEFORE you come to the appointment.
    OPT Application Process
  • 17. 2. UCA DIA address is used as default. You can use your own address if you are SURE where you will live. US Post Office will NOT forward EAD.
    If you have previously received an EAD, you must attach a copy.
    9. If you don’t have a social security number, leave blank.
    16. Don’t change this.
    17. Leave this blank. It is for an extension for STEM.
    10. This is your I-94 number.
    11. This only includes previous applications for OPT or other work authorization. CPT authorization does not count.
    Be sure to sign the form. Please use BLUE ink.
    (501) 123-4567
  • 18. To be completed by advisor
    (Please use original – not this example.)
    Updated OPT information issues 04/08
    Please be sure you read and understand each of these points.
    Initial each point and sign the
    Bottom line.
  • 20. Sample
    Three hundred and forty
    Cash or credit cards can not be used.
    Check or money order for $340.00 payable to USCIS
    Be sure passport photos are on light
    or white background. Photos must be less than 6 months old.