Optional Practical Training is a period of up to 12 months that USCIS has made available to legal F-1 students to gain work experience in their field of studies. Optional Practical Training (OPT) is defined by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as “temporary employment for practical training directly related to the student’s major area of study.”
Click on the titles below for optional practical training information.
Duration of OPT period
The start date for the OPT Employment Authorization Document (EAD) will be the requested date or another date when the OPT is approved by USCIS, whichever is later. The official, approved OPT dates will always appear on the actual EAD.
The employment authorization period for the STEM OPT extension will always begin on the day after the expiration of the initial post-completion OPT employment authorization, and end 24 months later, regardless of the date the actual extension is approved.
Currently, a student is able to file the OPT application up to 90 days before the degree completion date, and up to 60 days after the degree completion date. However, the application must be submitted to the USCIS within 30 days of the date the CIE enters the recommendation for OPT in SEVIS.
Note: CIE strongly cautions students against applying for OPT after completion of the degree program because students may end up with less than 12 months of OPT due to processing time.
H-1B cap-gap extension of F-1 status and work authorization until October 1
The H-1B “cap-gap” occurs when a F-1 student’s status and OPT work authorization expires during the current fiscal year before the student can start approved H-1B employment during the next fiscal year that begins on October 1.
A student currently on OPT with an end date of July 16. The employer files an H1B petition for a job that is subject to the H-1B “cap,” to start on October 1. The petition is accepted by USCIS. The student is then allowed to continue working on OPT from July 17 – September 30 based on the “cap-gap.” The student should contact CIE for an I-20 that shows the cap-gap extension, authorizing the student to work until the H1B becomes effective on October 1.
Under the cap-gap extension rule, a student currently on post-completion OPT who is the beneficiary of a timely-filed H-1B petition –that requests an employment start date of October 1 of the following fiscal year– will have his or her duration of status and OPT employment authorization automatically extended to that date. This would apply to all students on post-completion OPT, not just STEM students. If the H1B petition is ultimately rejected, denied or revoked, the extension of duration of status and work authorization will automatically terminate.
Optional Practical Training
Optional Practical Training is a period of up to 12 months that USCIS has made available to legal F-1 students to gain work experience in their field of studies.
Students who are completing their studies and graduating, and who are planning to apply for Optional Practical Training must complete the Optional Practical Training online seminar in order to get the application packet. A student can apply up to 90 days before graduation or within the 60-day grace period that follows the program completion date.
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is defined by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as “temporary employment for practical training directly related to the student’s major area of study”. It must be at a level that is commensurate with the student’s degree level.
OPT can be used before and/or after a student completes a program of study. A student must be in legal F-1 status in order to be eligible to apply. In addition, a student must also have been lawfully enrolled full-time for one academic year. No offer of employment is required to apply. In fact, students are strongly advised to apply early; preferably at the beginning of the final term of enrollment. The student has some flexibility in specifying a requested OPT start date.
Students may be granted a total of 12 months of OPT for their current program. A student becomes eligible for another 12-month OPT period after the completion of a second higher degree level (such as a masters or doctorate). As permitted by DHS, students may use these 12 months, in full or in part, either before and/or after completion of studies. Full-time OPT is defined as more than 20 hours per week while part-time OPT is defined as 20 hours or less per week.
Students must apply to DHS for the work permission through CIE. A student must have the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) in hand before beginning work.
OPT Application Materials
A student must complete the online OPT seminar to get the packet of OPT information and forms.
Please use the OPT Seminar Registration form by clicking on the button below.
The following materials must be submitted to CIE as a complete packet before an OPT request will be processed:
- All I-20s (copies) obtained from every school attended as an F-1 student
- I-765 Form
- Academic Advisor Form
- Student Form
- Two DHS specified photos
- Photocopy of bio page of passport
- Photocopy of F-1 Visa stamp.
- Photocopy of I-94 (front & back)
- Copy of previous EAD (If any)
- Check or money order in one single amount for the OPT fee. Check the USCIS website for the current filing fee amount.
Some Points to Remember
- Students may interview and even accept a job offer before the OPT is approved. However, a student cannot begin working until he/she has the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) physically in hand and until the OPT start date listed on the actual card is reached.
- Planning ahead is essential. Students are advised to check with CIE for the latest processing times and consult an international student advisor with any questions.
- All eligible international students have the option of purchasing the UT Health Insurance plan for the duration of their OPT period.
- When planning to travel outside the U.S., a student must contact the CIE either for a travel signature or a new I-20 to obtain a new F-1 visa. Please allow sufficient time for processing requests (at least one full week).
- In order to re-enter the U.S. after a trip abroad, a student must have a valid passport, valid I-20, valid F-1 visa, valid EAD and an employment letter to present to DHS.
Reporting requirements for students and employers while on OPT
All students currently on OPT, including students with an approved STEM OPT extension, must report the following information to the CIE within 10 days of any change:
- Any change of name or residential address
- The name and address of the employer
- Any change in name and address of the employer
- Any interruption or loss of such employment
- Change of status from F-1 to a new status
- Departure from the U.S.
Students with an approved STEM extension are required to make a validation report to the CIE every six months starting on the date the extension begins, and ending when the OPT period ends. The validation is a confirmation that the student’s name and address, employer name and address, and employment status is current and accurate.
The employer of a student with an approved STEM extension must agree to report the termination or departure of the student to CIE or through “any other means or process identified by the Department of Homeland Security.”
F-1 status is dependent upon employment
Students may not accumulate a total of more than 90 days of unemployment during their post-completion OPT period.
Students granted the STEM OPT extension may not accumulate a total of more than 150 days of unemployment during their 36-month period of OPT.
Students must file an approved training plan that has been authorized by their employer by using form I-983.
STEM OPT Extension and E-Verify
Students may be eligible for an additional 24 months of OPT, making it a total of 36 months, for certain STEM degree holders. For a complete list of DHS-specified STEM categories, please visit the STEM OPT Hub.
Additional requirements for the STEM extension
- The student must be currently on his/her authorized period of OPT and working for a U.S. employer in a job directly related to the student’s field of study.
- The student must have successfully completed a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in a field on the DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List, from a SEVIS-certified college or university.
- At the time of the application for the STEM extension, the student must have a job offer from an employer registered with the “E-Verify” federal employment verification system. See paragraph on “E-Verify” below for more information
- The student must have not previously received a STEM OPT extension after earning a STEM degree.
- The student must apply for the extension using the form I-765 Form and by paying the fee (currently $410.00) through CIE.
- CIE advisers must recommend the OPT extension and issue a new I-20 with the appropriate OPT recommendation noted.
- The student must file the extension officially with USCIS before the current period of OPT expires. A student who files a timely application is eligible to continue employment while the extension application is pending until either a final decision is made or for 180 days, whichever occurs first. After expiration of post-completion EAD, only E-Verify employment is permitted.
- The employer must agree to report the termination or departure of the student to CIE.
What Is E-Verify?
E-Verify is an Internet-based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the Social Security Administration.
E-Verify allows participating employers to electronically verify the employment eligibility of their newly hired employees. E-Verify is free and voluntary. However, there are concerns whether employers will want to join E-Verify. Currently, less than one percent of all US employers are enrolled in E-Verify. If an employer joins, the employer will have to verify ALL new employees in E-Verify, including U.S. citizens.
There have been reports of significant discrepancies in the databases currently being used that result in verification errors, indicating that a worker is ineligible for employment when they are, in fact, eligible. Participating employers must permit visits by Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration to review their employment records and interview employees.
Remember that an F-1 student seeking to extend his/her OPT by 24 months can only do so if, at the time of filing, the student is employed by or has a job offer with an E-Verify participating employer.
Visit the UCSIS for more information on E-Verify.
When Can a Student Use OPT?
- During a regular term. A student can work up to a maximum total of 20 hours per week and must be enrolled for a full course of study at the same time.
- During summer vacation. A student who enrolled full time during the Spring semester and intends to enroll full-time during the Fall semester is eligible to apply. The employment can be full-time or part-time. The student does not have to be enrolled during the summer session.
- After completion of all required coursework with only thesis or dissertation hours left to complete (This category is for graduate students only.)
- After completion of the course of study. OPT in this category will be granted for full-time use only.
Definition: Completion of a Course of Study
For undergraduate and graduate non-thesis track students, completion of a course of study is the UT commencement (graduation) day.
For all other graduate students, completion of a course of study is when students have successfully defended and turned in the completed thesis/dissertation. This date is established between the student and the academic advisor/chair. This date can also be the student’s commencement day.
When to Apply for OPT
Since OPT must be approved and granted by USCIS, planning is essential. Students should prepare to apply 3-4 months in advance. Students who wish to apply for one of the first three categories (pre-completion OPT) may do so at anytime, but keep in mind that it may take three months for the actual approval to be granted by USCIS. Please check the USCIS website for a current list of processing times.
Students who wish to apply for the 4th category (post-completion OPT) may do so up to 90 days before the completion of studies. The application can be filed up to 90 days before graduation or within the 60-day grace period that follows the program completion date. OPT authorized as post-completion will have to be completed within a 14-month period following the program completion date.
OPT Online Seminar
CIE’s Online OPT Seminar is now on Canvas. To enroll in the seminar, go to the Canvas website (you can do so from your myUTK account or by going to https://utk.instructure.com/ ).
- Once you’ve logged in to Canvas, select the “Courses” tab.
- Click on “All Courses”
- Then “Browse More Courses”
- Then search for “Center for International Education – OPT Online Seminar”
- Click on “Join this Course” then “Enroll in Course” in the following window.
- You should now be able to see and access the seminar in your “Dashboard”
- Please keep in mind that you will be removed from the seminar at the beginning of the following semester, so please be sure to save a copy of the forms/information before then.