Optional Practical Training

'Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a period during which undergraduate and graduate students with F-1 status who have completed or have been pursuing their degrees for more than nine months are permitted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to work for at most one year on a student visa without needing to acquire a work H-1B visa towards getting a practical training to complement their field of studies. F-1 students are permitted a total of 12 months towards practical training, on being certified by the advisor of the usefulness of the work towards goals of the degree, which can be distributed between Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and OPT. M-1 students are also permitted to engage in post-completion OPT. They are entitled to one month of training for every four months of study, with a maximum length of six months.

On April 4, 2008, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released an interim final rule extending the period of OPT from 12 to 29 months for qualified F-1 non-immigrant students. The extension will be available to students who are employed by businesses enrolled in the E-Verify program or that make use of valid work permits and social security. E-Verify is a free internet-based system operated by USCIS in partnership with the Social Security Administration which determines a new employee's eligibility to work. To be eligible for the 12-month permit, any degree in any field of studies and for the 17-month OPT extension, a student must have received a Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics degree in one of the following:

  • Actuarial Science
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Engineering
  • Engineering Technologies
  • Life Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Military Technologies
  • Physical Sciences

This new interim final rule provides a permanent solution to the H-1B "cap-gap", when an academic foreign student's (F-1) status and work authorization expire during the current fiscal year before the student can start approved H-1B employment during the next fiscal year beginning on October 1. Previous cap-gap provisions extended only the stay but not the employment authorization.

On May 31, 2008, the Immigration Reform Law Institute filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of various organizations and individuals challenging the validity of the 17 month OPT extension.

Unemployment Period in OPT

The time spent without a qualifying job during post-completion OPT. Each day the student is not employed in a qualifying job is counted toward the limit on unemployment time. The limit is 90 days for students on post-completion OPT, including those with a cap-gap extension, except that students with a STEM OPT extension are given an additional 30 days of unemployment time for a maximum of 120 days. However it is unclear how this requirement is enforced by the universities.

Grace period

The 60-day period of time given to F-1 Visa students after the completion of a program of study or an authorized period of post-completion OPT allowing the student time to prepare for departure from the United States, apply for a transfer to another SEVP-certified school, request a change of level to continue at the current school, or take steps to otherwise maintain legal status.

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