Optional Practical Training (OPT) is work authorization for F-1 students to gain knowledge in their field of study and use the skills that they have obtained through their studies at the university. OPT can be either pre-completion or post-completion, but most commonly occurs after graduation. Approval of OPT results in an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) giving students permission to work in their field of study during the allotted time of OPT.
Students apply for OPT 90 days before graduation. OPT is often used as a step toward H-1B, but is still F-1 and not a change of status. Internationals who are on OPT must still maintain their SEVIS record by submitting an OPT Update with any change of situation and fulfilling all the requirements of OPT. Graduates from STEM fields (Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) may be eligible for a STEM Extension of their OPT authorization.
The optimal time to apply for OPT is 60-90 days before graduation. The latest students can apply for OPT is during the grace period of 60 days after the program end date. Students are only allowed to work after their OPT has been approved. Since there is a 60-90 day processing time for approval with USCIS, we strongly encourage students to apply early so they can begin working directly after graduation.
Employment Authorization Document
Upon approval of your OPT, you will receive an I-797 Approval Notice with your EAD attached. The EAD is sometimes referred to as a work permit and serves as verification of your work authorization. It is only valid for work performed in your field of study and within the dates stated on your EAD. Your authorization is valid anywhere within the United States.
Duration of OPT
The length of standard OPT is 12 months. Students completing a STEM degree (See DHS list of approved STEM Fields) is eligible for a 17 month STEM Extension beginning directly after the end of the standard OPT, resulting in 29 months total.
Program End Date
Your program end date should be set for the last day of finals of your last semester. If you will be completing your program before your program end date as listed on your I-20, an International Student Advisor will shorten your program end date at your OPT appointment.
Job Offer Not Required
Since your work authorizations is through Optional Practical Training, a job offer letter is not required for applying for OPT. If you have been offered a job, you may include it in your application for OPT to strengthen your application.
Report Change of Address or Employment
While on OPT, report any change in situation such as address or employer by submitting the online form available at http://ualr.edu/international/optupdate/
Requirements While on OPT
To learn more about the immigration requirements you must maintain while on Optional Practical Training, visit http://ualr.edu/international/opt-requirements/.