Understanding OPT

Optional Practical Training (OPT) gives F-1 students completing a bachelor's or graduate degree in the U.S. an opportunity to gain employment experience in your field of study. Some important points to note:
  1. You are granted one 12-month period PER DEGREE LEVEL.
    • One for Bachelor’s, one for Master’s and one for Ph.D.
      • For example, someone who obtains two master’s will only be given ONE period of OPT for their degrees.
  2. OPT is very flexible:
    • The job can be for any company or organization anywhere in the U.S..
    • The only restrictions are:
      • Job must be within your field of study.
      • Job must be appropriate to your degree level.
        • For example, if you are a Ph.D. in Accounting, a job as a data entry clerk would not satisfy requirements. Also, if you are studying Computer Science, a job as a fashion stylist would not work.
        • Rule of thumb for deciding: If anyone from USCIS asks how your OPT work relates to your field of study, you must be able to rationally explain it.
  3. You have a 60-day grace period AFTER your EAD card expires.
    • You are able to remain in the United States for 60 days after the end date of your EAD card. During this time you may transfer to another school, change visa categories or simply remain in the U.S.. Please note, you cannot work during this time and you cannot leave and re-enter the U.S..
    • There is a cap on the number of unemployed days during your OPT, of 90 days (or 120 for STEM). If you exceed this cap, THERE IS NO GRACE PERIOD and your OPT ability to stay in the US ends on either the 91st day of unemployment for the 12-month card or 121st day while on STEM, respectively.
    • If you have been granted either a STEM extension to OPT or the H-1B cap gap extension, you would be authorized to continue working after the first EAD card expires. To apply for these extensions, please go to the STEM Extension or Cap-Gap Extension for more information.
  4. When can you use your OPT?
    • You can use it pre-graduation or post-graduation; however, in 99% of the cases, students decide to use their OPT after graduation. This gives them the opportunity to work a complete year anywhere in the US at a company of their choice, which looks best on a resume. Sometimes, OPT is also used as a bridge to a possible H-1B visa.
    • For employment before graduation, we recommend using Curricular Practical Training (CPT) as the best option for work experience. CPT only affects OPT if you do an aggregate total of twelve complete months full-time. Part-time periods of CPT do not count towards this total. Meet with an OIS advisor if you have questions about CPT.
    • Pre-graduation OPT can only be done part-time and you must maintain full-time studies. Ph.D. candidates should consult with OIS regarding pre-graduation OPT.
  5. You are only allowed a limited period of unemployment to maintain status.
    • Students on the initial 12 month OPT are limited to 90 days of unemployment during their OPT. Please see next page for more details.