Optional Practical Training (OPT)

In some cases, F-1 students who meet certain requirements may qualify for off-campus employment (OPT), as long as it is related to their field of study.

Eligibility

  • Student must have been in F-1 status for at least nine months.
  • Student must not have exceeded 12 months of full-time CPT authorization
  • Student must not have previously had 12 months of OPT at the same degree level
  • While most students wait and apply for OPT after their studies, students may apply for OPT during and/or after their studies.  If the student participates in pre-completion OPT, one month of post-completion OPT is lost for every two months of part time pre-completion OPT.

Questions about OPT

  • When can I apply? 
    You can apply up to 90 days before your program end date and up to 60 days beyond your program end date.
  • Do I need a job offer in order to apply? 
    No.
  • What if I have trouble finding a job?
  • You have a maximum of 90 days unemployment. Once you have exceeded the 90 days, you must leave the U.S. or obtain other status.
  • When can I start to work under OPT? 
    When you have the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and the beginning date of employment authorization (shown on the EAD) has arrived.
  • Does OPT employment need to be full time?
    No. Students may work part-time (a minimum of 20 hours) or full-time.  Students may also volunteer if they meet a minimum of 20 hours per week, are in the initial 12 month OPT, and get documentation from the employer of their volunteer activities.
  • What’s the difference between OPT and Curricular Practical Training (CPT)? 
    Curricular practical training permits employment during the time one is still taking classes. CPT requires the offer of a specific job. You must have departmental approval, and register for internship credits.
  • If I had CPT, can I still have OPT? 
    Yes, as long as you did not have full-time CPT for at least one year.
  • Can I change employers if I have OPT? 
    Yes. There is no immigration-related procedure required for doing so. As long as the employment is related to your field of study, you can work for any employer.
  • Is OPT a different visa? 
    No. A person with OPT authorization is an F-1 student holding an EAD for OPT.
  • How long can I stay in the United States after my OPT expires? 
    Sixty days.
  • Can I return to school after completing OPT?
    Yes. You need to obtain an I-20 for the next program of studies, and complete the Immigration procedure for moving to a “new level of studies” (if you resume studies at BSU) or the procedure for school transfer if you go to a different school
  • If I have OPT for a year and return to school for another degree, can I have another year of OPT?
    Yes, if your degree is at a higher level.
  • Can I travel outside of the country while on OPT?
  • If you travel outside the U.S. while on OPT, you will need your I-20 endorsed by your DSO within the last 6 months. You will also need your OPT card, BSU transcript, and evidence that you are returning to the U.S. to resume or accept employment.  A letter from your employer would be the best. It is very risky to travel outside the U.S. after your program completion date if you have not yet secured employment, as it may be considered an abandonment of your OPT authorization.

OPT Filing Instructions

You must meet with the DSO to prepare your OPT application packet. To request a meeting:

  • Call (218) 755-4096 to schedule a time to meet;
  • email international@bemidjistate.edu requesting an appointment for OPT; or
  • stop by Deputy Hall room 103.

Your OPT application must include the following:

  • The original completed and signed I-765.
  • I-765 Filing fee – currently $380.00 USD. Make your check payable to the USCIS (United States Citizenship & Immigration Services).
  • Two passport-style color photos that meet the requirements stipulated by the Bureau of Consular Affairs.
  • A copy of your new I-20 that has the OPT recommendation update on page 3. Make sure you complete #11 and that a DSO/PDSO has signed both pages 1 and 3. (You keep the original, of course, and carry it with the previous copies of your I-20)
  • Copies of your previously-issued I-20s
  • A copy of your current I-94
  • A copy of the ID page, U.S. Visa page and any U.S. Visa renewal pages from your passport
  • If you have any previously issued work authorization cards from USCIS (issued for severe economic hardship or any previously authorized OPT, include a photocopy of the previously-issued EAD card, front/back

Mail the above materials to:
For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) deliveries:
USCIS
PO Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ  85036

For Express mail and courier service deliveries:
USCIS
Attn:  AOS
1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S
Suite 100
Phoenix, AZ  85034

Processing can take a while, so please mail as soon as possible and be patient. USCIA must receive your application within 30 days of the date your I-20 was updated with the OPT recommendation. We recommend that you mail your application with a return receipt requested as proof of mailing. The application must be received by USCIS before the end of your 60 grace period. Shortly thereafter, you should receive back a receipt from USCIS. Please make certain that a copy of that receipt is in your file in the IPC.

Maintaining your Status while on OPT

Remember, while you are in the U.S. on OPT, you are still in student status. Therefore, you must keep in contact with your DSO in order for her to keep your status up-to-date in SEVIS.

You must inform the DSO within ten days of any of the following changes:

  • Change in address or contact information
  • change in employer’s address or contact information
  • any change in employment status or employer

OPT Extensions for STEM Students

The 12-month limit on F-1 OPT may be extended by 24 months, for a total of 36 months, for certain STEM degree holders (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). Students may receive the stem extension twice in a lifetime, once at the undergraduate level and once at the graduate level. Students who file for the extension may continue employment while the application is pending, up to 180 days.

Additional requirements for the 24-month extension include:

  • Student must be currently participating in a standard period of OPT, working for a U.S. employer in a job directly related to the student’s major area of study.
  • Student must have successfully completed a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in a field on the DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List, from a SEVIS-certified college or university.
  • Student must have a job offer or currently work for an employer that is enrolled in E-Verify and has met all of the STEM OPT Reporting Requirement
  • Student must have less than 90 days of unemployment while on OPT
  • Student must be able to submit the I-765 Form up to 90 days before the current OPT authorization expires, and within 60 days of being recommended by your DSO in SEVIS.
  • The DSO must recommend the 24-month OPT extension in SEVIS, after verifying the student’s eligibility, certifying that the student’s degree is on the STEM Designated Degree Program List, and ensuring that the student is aware of his or her responsibilities for maintaining status while on OPT.
  • The employer must work with the student to complete a Training Plan Form I-983 and agree to report the termination or departure of the student to the DSO or through “any other means or process identified by DHS.” An employer must consider a worker to have departed when the employer knows the student has left employment, or if the student has not reported for work for a period of 5 consecutive business days without the employer’s consent.

Additional documentation needed for application

  • A Training Plan Form I-983 completed by both the student and employer
  • A copy of the front and back of the student’s current OPT card
  • A copy of the student’s diploma or official transcript

H-1B cap-gap extension of D/S and work authorization until October 1.

Duration of status and work authorization will be extended for a student on OPT, who is the beneficiary of a timely-filed H-1B petition requesting an employment start date of October 1 of the following fiscal year. This would apply to all students on OPT, not just STEM students. The extension of duration of status and work authorization would automatically terminate upon the rejection, denial or revocation of the H-1B petition filed on the student’s behalf.

Notify the DSO if your employer files a Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, requesting an extension. Provide proof of proper filing.