Optional Practical Training (OPT)

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.

Frequently Asked Questions about OPT

What is OPT?
OPT is work authorization for F-1 students to gain practical training outside the classroom.

How long is OPT?
Each active F-1 student who has been in status and in their program for at least one academic year (a spring and a fall semester), is eligible for 12 months of OPT per educational level.

Is OPT before or after graduation?
OPT can either be before graduation (Pre-Completion OPT) or after graduation (Post-completion OPT). If you have an opportunity to work in your field of study before you graduate, first check to see if you qualify for CPT. If not, you can apply for pre-completion OPT.

When should I apply for OPT?
Apply for OPT 90 days before you plan to start your practical training. Learn more about applying for OPT.

Do I need a job offer before applying for OPT?
No; you do not need a job offer to apply for OPT. You can even change employers throughout your OPT. However, you are only allowed to have 90 days of unemployment throughout the duration of your post-completion OPT.

Is OPT a change of status?
No; OPT is a benefit of F-1 status. To become or remain employed in the U.S. after your OPT has finished you will need to change your immigration status to a work visa, most frequently H-1B.

How responsibilities do I have while I am on OPT?
Yes; while on OPT you must maintain a valid I-20, use less than 90 days of unemployment, and report your employment and contact information to your international student advisor. Learn more about your responsibilities while on OPT.

Can I have OPT and study at the same time?
If you begin a new program of study or transfer to a new university, you will forfeit any authorized OPT. However, if you enroll part-time at UALR at the same educational level or lower, you may maintain your OPT.

How do I learn more about OPT?
Learn more about OPT by attending an OPT Seminar either in person or online.