Current US Citizenship and Immigration (USCIS) regulations governing optional practical training took effect on April 8, 2008. These regulations apply to all students in F-1 status; those who were in the United States on or before that date and those who enter the United States after that date.
Practical training is defined as paid employment directly related to the student's major area of study. Students in F-1 status must have been lawfully enrolled in school on a full-time basis for at least one full academic year to be eligible for practical training.
An initial period of optional practical training is limited to a total of 12 months. A student becomes eligible for another 12 months of optional practical training when he or she changes to a higher educational level. Part-time optional practical training, 20 hours per week or less, shall be deducted from the available optional practical training at one-half the full-time rate. A one-time, 17-month extension of post-completion optional practical training is available to certain students who are employed and whose field of study is considered by the U.S. government to be part of “STEM,” (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). There is a separate set of information for STEM Extensions.
Any optional practical training granted prior to completion of studies shall be deducted from the amount of practical training available after graduation. Therefore, students are well-advised to consider their goals carefully before applying for optional practical training. Other employment authorization categories, such as curricular practical training or off-campus employment based on economic hardship may be better choices for some students, if they qualify. These latter categories permit students to work while still enrolled, yet, in most cases, maintains students' eligibility for a full 12 months of practical training after graduation.
Students authorized for optional practical training after completion of studies may register parttime at a U.S. college or university, but they may not be registered for a full-time course load. Authorization to engage in optional practical training is automatically terminated when a student transfers to another school or begins full-time study at a different educational level.
Optional practical training is recommended by the International Student Advisor and authorized by USCIS. This means that students must apply by mail to a Dallas, TX lockbox and pay an application fee to obtain an employment authorization document (EAD). The student must obtain both the recommendation from the International Student Advisor and the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS. An offer of employment is NOT required to obtain approval for optional practical training. However, once post-completion OPT is approved, a student cannot exceed a total of 90 days of unemployment beginning with the start date on the EAD card. These unemployment provisions do not apply to students on pre-completion OPT who are maintaining full-time enrollment and are still pursuing their studies.
Items which must be submitted to USCIS Vermont Service Center include: form I-765, photocopies of SEVIS I-20 and both sides of the I-94, photocopies of all previously issued I-20s, 2 photographs, check or money order for the application fee, and photocopy of identity pages from passport. The ISA office will update the SEVIS record and print a new SEVIS I-20 with a recommendation for the optional practical training beginning and ending dates and return it to the student.
If the student is applying for post-completion OPT, the application must be filed with USCIS within 30 days of the date the I-20 recommending OPT was issued (see item 10 on page 1 of the I-20 for the issue date). If the OPT I-20 is more than 30 days old and the student has not yet filed the application with USCIS, contact the International Student Advisor so that the OPT request can be cancelled and then re-issued with an updated I-20.
If the optional practical training is to begin following completion of a degree, the application must be submitted to USCIS no later than sixty days following the completion date for the student’s program, (as long as the student does not exceed the 30 day limit from the date ISA recommends the OPT; see the previous paragraph). However, since it can take up to 90 days for the USCIS to process an OPT application, students are encouraged to file their application 90 days prior to the date that they would like OPT to begin. A first year student may apply up to 90 days before they are eligible. The start date can be any day up to 60 days after the program completion date. However the student’s OPT must finish before the end of the fourteenth month for OPT after their graduation. Applications will not be accepted by USCIS if they are mailed prior to 90 days before the start date.
Applications will not be accepted by USCIS if they are received more than sixty days after the student’s program completion date as indicated on the I-20, you will lose all eligibility for OPT if you apply after this deadline.
Processing time at USCIS Vermont Service Center is highly variable and difficult to predict. It can take as long as twelve weeks (and sometimes longer) for the EAD card to be processed by the Vermont Service Center. Therefore, students are urged to allow sufficient processing time for this procedure by submitting their paperwork early. In person EAD processing for practical training is not available.
Manhattan College is now required by federal regulation to continue to maintain a student’s SEVIS record for the full period of Optional Practical Training, including any extension.
An F-1 student who has timely filed an application for OPT post-completion of study may travel outside the United States while the OPT application is pending, provided that the F-1 student can present the USCIS Processing Center Receipt, proving that the application has been filed. However, once the EAD card for OPT is issued to the F-1 student, and the student decides to travel abroad, the student can only re-enter the United States to resume employment. The F-1 student does not need to have already begun actual employment before leaving, as long as the student has a job offer to which to return. Please note that any travel periods outside the United States while unemployed after the start date on the EAD card, is counted toward the 90-day limit.
The best general advice is that a F-1 student on OPT, who has received the EAD card, and has to travel abroad should make sure that there is documentation from his or her employer confirming the employment or the job offer. Otherwise, the student assumes a risk that he/she may not be allowed to re-enter the United States.
Please note: Employment may not begin until the student receives their EAD card from USCIS. Beginning employment before you receive the EAD card is a serious violation of immigration regulations and may have serious personal consequences for you. Federal SEVIS regulations require that the ISA office report to USCIS all violations of employment regulations. PROTECT YOUR VALID VISA STATUS!
Track the Progress of Your EAD Application at https://egov.uscis.gov/cris/jsps/index.jsp