What is Optional Practical Training?
Optical practical training (OPT) is one type of work permission available for eligible F-1 students. It allows students to get real world work experience related to their field of study. There are three general types of OPT:
- Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 students
- Curricular Practical Training (CPT) for F-1 students
- STEM OPT for F-1 students.
OPT for F-1 Students
OPT is a form of training that is often paid and directly relates to your program of study. There are two ways to apply for OPT: either during your program of study which is known as pre-completion OPT, or after your finish your program of study which is known as post-completion OPT. To apply, F-1 students must request approval from their designated school official (DSO). The DSO then makes a recommendation in SEVIS and by endorsing a student’s Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.” The student must then file Form I-765 “application for Employment Authorization” and supporting documents with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and if approved, USCIS will issue a Form I-766, “Employment Authorization Document.” However, you cannot begin your training until you receive your authorization from USCIS.
Pre-completion OPT is limited to 20 hours per week during the school semester but may be full-time during breaks and annual vacation. Furthermore, you may apply for 12 months of OPT at each education level. If you are a student earning a degree in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM), you may be eligible for STEM OPT extension.
CPT for F-1 Students
CPT is an alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education or other type of required practicum that a sponsoring employer offers through cooperative agreements with your college or university. CPT is only available for F-1 students when it is part of an established curriculum within your school. Unlike pre-completion OPT, CPT can be full time and is not restricted by a weekly 20-hour work limit.
To qualify for CPT, you must be an F-1 student and have completed one full academic year of study at a SEVP-certified school unless you are a graduate student whose program requires immediate CPT. If a student completed one year or more of full-time CPT, then they are ineligible to participate in post-completion OPT. To get permission for CPT, your DSO needs to authorize it in SEVIS and provide you with an updated Form I-20 indicating your authorization for the training. Your DSO is the best person to work with to ensure that you follow both federal regulations and school policy.
STEM OPT for F-1 Students
The STEM OPT extension is a 24-month period of temporary training that directly relates to an F-1 student’s program of study in an approved STEM field. Eligible F-1 students with STEM degrees who finish their program of study and participate in an initial period of regular post-completion OPT (typically for 12 months) have the option to apply for a STEM OPT extension. A student may not apply during the 60-day grace period following an initial period of regular post-completion OPT.
To qualify for a 24-month STEM OPT extension, an F-1 student who participated in an initial period of regular post-completion OPT must:
- have a degree in an eligible STEM field from a SEVP-certified accredited school when the application is submitted
- pursue their STEM OPT extension through an employer that is enrolled in USCIS’ E-verify employment eligibility verification program
- select a STEM OPT employer that provides the student with formal training and learning objectives and,
- work a minimum of 20 hours per week per employer.
Petitioning for an F-1 visa is a complex and comprehensive legal process, which is why it is important to hire an experienced immigration attorney to handle all the paperwork, help you collect the necessary documents, and guide you through each step of the process. If you are interested in filing for an F-1 visa in New York City, contact The Law Office of Yifei He, PLLC today at 1 (866) 951-2747 to let us help you achieve the American dream.