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6 Top FAQ Topics about the Standard Optional Practical Training

Are you planning to study in the USA but have questions about the U.S. Standard Optional Practical Training program?  Read on to learn how you can stay back in the country up to 12 months post course completion.

Jennifer ArandaOriginally posted on February 14, 2017; updated February 25, 2017

6 Top FAQ Topics about the Standard Optional Practical Training

There's been a major update on the processing of H-1B visa petitions though.  As of March 3, 2017, premium processing of H-1B visas has been suspended, at the most, for 6 months. So, be sure to take this in consideration when applying for work authorization.


General questions about the Optional Practical Training period


What is Optional Practical Training?

The Optional Practical Training program or OPT, is a U.S. government program where you can get further training by way of temporary employment in the United States.  Your OPT employment is directly related to your major field of study. Only F-1 students are eligible to apply for OPT.  You can apply for OPT before you finish your course (pre-completion OPT) or after you have completed your academic program (post-completion OPT).


Am I considered a student even if I am working in the post-completion OPT program?

Yes, you are considered to be in F-1 status.  To continue being in lawful status though, you must conform to all the conditions of the OPT program, including reporting any change in your status or contact information to the DSO.


Should I apply for a Social Security Number before I begin working during the OPT period?

Yes you should!  Your employer will be verifying your eligibility and the validity of your Social Security Number using the E-Verify internet-based system.  The E-Verify program is operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (or DHS) and the Social Security Administration (or SSA). 


I intend to transfer to another school.  What will happen to my pre-completion OPT?

Your OPT will be cancelled.


Do I have to keep records of my OPT employment?

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program, known as SEVP, recommends that you keep evidence of the position you held per job as well as relevant proof for the job title, contact information of your supervisor and job description. 


Inquiries about the I-20 and Employment Authorization Document


Can some other school official sign the I-20s?

Only the Designated School Official (or DSO) of your college or university is authorized to sign your I-20s.  Your DSO has received some special training and updates from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (or USCIS) and is well equipped to decide on applications.


Why should I keep in touch with the DSO after I receive my EAD for post-completion OPT?

Your post-completion OPT is predicated on further training based on your I-20.  You should therefore report any change within 10 days to the DSO to update your SEVIS record.  These changes may range from starting employment or changing employers to a successful change of status e.g. H-1B status.


Why am I being issued several I-20s?

It's a requirement that any significant update must be entered in your SEVIS record.  So if you move to another address, even that will be entered in your SEVIS.  As a continuing student applying for Optional Practical Training, you will have to apply for Employment Authorization Document (or EAD) and one of the documentary requirements is an updated I-20.


Is there a way for me to know if my application for Employment Authorization Document is being processed?

The USCIS will send you an I-797 receipt notice a few weeks after your application is filed.  One piece of information on the I-797 form is your USCIS file number. You can use your case number to check your case status on the USCIS website.


How long is the processing time of the USCIS for the EAD?

This is difficult to predict but the USCIS may take up to 90 days to complete processing.  It is therefore important to begin the application early on but not more than 90 days before your program is scheduled to end.  Be proactive!  Most students tend to file applications as the date of the semester closing draws nearer.


Can my application for EAD be expedited?

No.  USCIS can expedite certain petitions but the application for EAD based on the F-1 status of an applicant is not one of them.


I have received a Request for Evidence from USCIS. What do I do?

Many SEVP-eligible schools have offices that help international students with concerns like this.  Find out beforehand if they will help you draft a response.  The bring the RFE to your DSO and ask for assistance.  You may be asked to submit additional documents so be sure you have these with you or you have access to copies of the requirements.


I've received my EAD!  What should I do know?

We recommend that you review it first.  Are there errors?  Your DSO will most likely want or need a copy of your EAD so be sure to send him a copy.


What will happen if I lose my EAD?

You have to submit a new application for EAD and pay the new fee to USCIS.


Employment during the OPT period


Can I begin working in OPT once I have enrolled?

No. For you to be eligible, you must have been enrolled for one full academic year.  You must follow the procedure for applying for Employment Authorization Document (or EAD) as an F-1 student.


I have been allowed by our school DSO to engage in Curricular Practical Training.  Will this affect my eligibility to participate in OPT?

Yes, it may. If you engaged in full-time Curricular Practical Training for one year, then you will be ineligible to apply for OPT.


I participated in pre-completion OPT.  Will this affect my eligibility to participate in the standard OPT?

Yes it may.  Any pre-completion OPT is deducted from the total 12 months of standard OPT at a half-time rate. 


Do I need an employer or job offer to apply for the standard OPT?

No, you do not.


Can I change my employers during Post-completion OPT?

Yes, as long as the employment is directly related to your field of study.


What type of jobs can I apply for OPT?

As long as your employment is directly related to your major, your pre-completion or post-completion OPT may include several employers, work-for-hire and through an employment agency, paid or unpaid employment.


OPT Duration and Timelines


How long is the period of the OPT?

The standard post-completion OPT is 12 months long.  If you finished a STEM program, you may be eligible to apply for the STEM OPT Extension and remain in the United States an additional 24 months.


I have not yet decided whether I should file for OPT.  How long can I hold off making a decision before it is too late to change my mind?

Your application should be within 60 calendar days from the end of your academic program.  Once you have decided to apply, you must file an application for EAD within 30 days from the date the DSO issues you an I-20 for the OPT.


I have to return home after I complete my course. Can I return after two weeks then apply for OPT?

No, you cannot.  You lose your F-1 status if you leave the United States during your grace period without applying for OPT.


How many days will I be given to find employment?

You are allowed 90 days to find employment for your 12-month post-completion OPT.  If you are not successful within this period, you must either leave the United States or change status successfully (to another non-immigrant visa).


I thought I would pass all my subjects but it looks like there will be a delay in completing my program.  Can I still use my EAD?

If you have applied for post-completion OPT, you are limited to 20 hours of employment per week until you have satisfied all program requirements.


Can I recapture any unused post-completion OPT hours or days for use at a future date?

No, you are not allowed to do so.


How do I choose my OPT start date?

Your start date has to be within 60 days after your program close date. 


OPT and Travel-related Concerns


Can I apply for post-completion OPT even when I'm in my home country?

No, you must be residing in the United States when you apply.


Can I travel while waiting for the approval of my EAD application?

It is not recommended that you travel if you are applying for post-completion OPT until you have started your employment.  If you are however, applying for pre-completion OPT, you'll have to follow the travel protocol  for F-1 students.


I have a valid tourist visa. Can I use that to travel during my OPT period?

You must be admitted to the United States using only your F-1 visa status or risk losing your OPT.


My F-1 visa has already expired and I have already applied for post-completion OPT.  I have to go home though.  Can I apply to study in the United States again?

When you apply at a U.S. Embassy or consular post, the consular officer can pull up your records.  He will then see that you applied for OPT where the focus was training/work instead of studies.  Be prepared to convince the consular officer during your interview that your next stay in the United States will be temporary!


My F-1 visa has already expired but I am already working and have a valid EAD.  Can I still travel?  Or should I apply for a new visa?

You may travel to Canada or Mexico for less than 30 days.  But you should have a valid passport, your EAD and your latest I-20.  You may have to inform the immigration officer at the port of exit of your plans to travel for less than 30 days.  Your stay in the United States  may be automatically revalidated.  Be cautious though!  Pending changes to immigration policy may impact your readmission negatively.


Studying while in OPT


Can I study while doing my OPT?

It depends on what you intend to enroll in.  You may not start another degree program but you may take classes that supplement your employment.


I want to enroll in a second Bachelor's degree after completing my first one.  Can I apply for another 12-month OPT?

No. For you to be eligible, you must take a higher level academic course. For example, if you move on to your master's degree, you can again apply for post-completion OPT, provided you meet other requirements.


I changed my mind about doing Post-completion OPT and want to enroll in another study program. May I cancel my OPT application?

Yes, you may request that the OPT application be withdrawn and the recommendation in SEVIS be cancelled.  Remember to contact your DSO as soon as possible if you have to cancel the OPT application. Once your OPT application has been approved by USCIS, it cannot be cancelled or withdrawn.

Authors & Contributors

Jennifer Aranda

Jennifer Aranda

Jennifer S. Aranda is the COO of IVC Immigrant Visa Center, Inc.

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