OPT is defined in the Federal Regulations as temporary employment directly related to a student’s field of study. During OPT, a student remains in F-1 status, their SEVIS record remains active, and the student must report changes in address and employment to ISSS. When granted by US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the student receives an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) which authorizes employment for a specific time period.
To be eligible for OPT, the student must:
- Be in valid F-1 immigration status
- Have completed at least one academic year (two semesters) of full-time study
- The standard OPT period is a cumulative maximum of 12 months.
- Part-time OPT is deducted from the 12-month limit at 50%.
- An F-1 may become eligible for another 12 months of OPT if he/she advances to a higher educational level.
- Some students may be eligible for a 17-month STEM extension of OPT
OPT APPLICATION PROCESS
Below is brief overview of the process.
- Review the OPT Packet
- Attend an OPT Information Session
- Prepare your application materials and drop them off at the ISSS front desk.
- ISSS will review your materials and prepare your new OPT I-20 within 5 business days.; You will be notified via email when the new I-20 and application materials are ready for pick up.
- Mail your completed OPT application to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Vermont Service Center
- USCIS will review your application and upon approval issue an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) that authorizes you to work in the US for a specific time period.; You may not begin working until you have the EAD and the start date on the EAD has arrived.
WHILE YOU ARE ON OPT
Your F-1 status continues through the OPT period.
You must stop your employment when the end date on the EAD card is reached, but may remain in the U.S. for a 60-day grace period following your period of OPT.
You may begin working once:
- you have obtained the EAD card (you may not begin employment if your OPT has been approved but you have not yet received the EAD in the mail)
- and the begin date on the card has been reached.
The EAD is not employer specific, so you may change employers at will. However, employment must be directly related to the field of studies. Any employment outside your field of study is unauthorized and is a substantive violation of your status.
Optional Practical Training Extension for STEM Students (STEM OPT)
On March 11, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security published a final rule allowing certain F-1 students who receive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees, and who meet other specified requirements, to apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion OPT. The 24-month extension will replace the 17-month STEM OPT extension previously available to STEM students (see 73 FR 18944). Eligible students may now apply for a 24-month STEM OPT extension.
Eligibility for the STEM OPT Extension
To qualify for the 24-month extension, you must:
- Have been granted OPT and currently be in a valid period of OPT;
- Have earned a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree from a school that is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency and is certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) when you submit your STEM OPT extension application.
- Previously obtained STEM degrees: If you are an F-1 student participating in a 12-month period of post-completion OPT based on a non-STEM degree, you may be eligible to use a prior STEM degree earned from a U.S. institution of higher education to apply for a STEM OPT extension. You must have received both degrees from currently accredited and SEVP-certified institutions, and cannot have already received a STEM OPT extension based on this prior degree. The practical training opportunity also must be directly related to the previously obtained STEM degree.
- For example: If you are currently participating in OPT based on a master’s degree in business administration but you previously received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, you may be able to apply for a STEM OPT extension based on your bachelor’s degree as long as it is from an accredited U.S. college or university and the OPT employment opportunity is directly related to your bachelor’s degree in mathematics.
- STEM degrees you obtain in the future: If you enroll in a new academic program in the future and earn another qualifying STEM degree at a higher educational level, you may be eligible for one additional 24-month STEM OPT extension.
- For example: If you receive a 24-month STEM OPT extension based on your bachelor’s degree in engineering and you later earn a master’s degree in engineering, you may apply for an additional 24-month STEM OPT extension based on your master’s degree.
- Work for an employer who meets all the requirements listed below in the STEM OPT Employer Responsibilities section.
- Submit the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization up to 90 days before your current OPT employment authorization expires, and within 60 days of the date your designated school official (DSO) enters the recommendation for OPT into your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record.
Q & A
What types of employment are allowed for students during an OPT STEM extension?
Students authorized for an OPT STEM extension must work at least 20 hours per week for an E-Verify employer in a position directly related to each individual student’s STEM degree.
What does a student need to know about an employer in order to complete the Form I-765 when applying for the STEM extension?
The student must have the employer’s name as listed in E-Verify and the employer’s E-Verify company identification number or a valid E-Verify client company identification number. This information must be listed in Item 17 of the Form I-765.
When does a student’s period of STEM extension OPT start?
If the student has properly filed for a STEM extension, the student’s period of STEM extension OPT starts the day after the expiration of the student’s original period of optional practical training. The student must comply with all the requirements for students with a STEM extension
Can a student change employers while the STEM extension application is pending with USCIS?
Yes. However, if the STEM extension period has started, the employer must also be an E-Verify employer. The student must report the change in employment to his or her DSO. The DSO must update the student’s employer information in SEVIS and the student should submit an amended Form I-765 to the appropriate USCIS Service Center, providing the new employer’s E-Verify number and a copy of the USCIS receipt notice for the first Form I-765. A brief letter explaining the submission should also be included. There is no fee associated with submitting the amended Form I-765.
Social Security Number
If you do not yet have a Social Security Number (SSN), you may apply for one after you have received the EAD card and the begin date on the card has been reached.; If you already have a SSN, do not apply for a new one. Social Security Numbers are for life.
You do not need your SSN to begin working. On your first day of employment, you will be asked to complete employment paperwork. If you do not yet have your SSN, you may write “applied for” in the space where the SSN is to be provided. Once you receive the Social Security Card in the mail, provide the number to your employer.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security Address Notification Requirement
You are required to update your address by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org ;within 10 days of any change, even while you are on OPT.
OPT Employment Requirements and Reporting
You are expected to be employed in your field of study during OPT, and you are required to submit employer information to SEVIS. The maximum period of unemployment is 90 days. ;It is recommended that you keep documentation of all your employment. In the future, you may be asked to provide proof that your employment during OPT was in your field of study or that you did not exceed 90 days of unemployment.
Specifically, you should maintain evidence – for each job – of the position held, proof of the duration of that position, the job title, contact information for your supervisor or manager, and description of the work.; Full-time, part-time, and unpaid volunteer or internship opportunities are permissible under OPT.
Students are required to report changes in employment to ISSS as soon as possible. To report periods of employment along with employer information, send an email to email@example.comInclude your employer’s complete name, address (street, city, state, and ZIP code), and start date of employment.; Send an email update anytime your employment circumstances change.
If you cannot find employment that meets the definition of OPT employment, you may have the following options:
- Apply to Ramapo College or another university to continue your education by a change of level or transferring to another institution.
- Depart the United States.; Be sure to notify ISSS at firstname.lastname@example.org if you decide to depart the US and abandon any remaining OPT.; Your SEVIS record will be inactivated.
- Change status to another legal status, if eligible. ;Notify ISSS at email@example.com approval of your new status, so that your SEVIS record can be inactivated, if necessary.; Please provide a copy of the approval notice via email or fax (201-230-7989).