Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Post-Completion OPT allows an international student to work in the United States after graduation for one year on their F-1 student visa. All employment on OPT must be related to student’s major field of study (concentrations and emphases do not count).
Students can apply for Post-Completion OPT up to 90 days before – and up to 60 days after – their degree completion date. They must be in the US at time of application submission. If a student leaves the U.S. after their degree completion date without applying for OPT prior – their SEVIS record will close and they will no longer be eligible for OPT.
Students can request an OPT start date within 60 days after their degree completion date. However, the approved date on EAD may be different from what the student requests, depending on USCIS processing times. OPT is granted by Immigration Services (USCIS) and approval takes approximately 3 months.
Students may apply for OPT without having a job offer. However, during OPT, they may not accumulate 90 days or more of unemployment (about 3 months). Paid employment, work for hire (contractual relationship), self-employment, and unpaid internship and volunteer positions all qualify as employment during OPT.
Student must complete 2 semesters of full-time study with the same SEVIS ID record before they become eligible for OPT.
Ready to Apply for OPT?
- Adjudication by USCIS take an average of 3-4 months. Please keep in mind that the processing time might take longer depending on USCIS and the date of application. Late spring and summer months are usually very busy.
- You can track your application status online at uscis.gov.
- If there is a problem with you application, USCIS will send a Request for Evidence (RFE). An RFE does not mean your application was rejected. You will need to respond to the RFE with supporting documentation ASAP. Any delay on your part will delay the overall processing time, usually RFEs delay your application by about one month.
- Students should not travel internationally when waiting for their OPT approval. You must have a valid EAD and Job offer/contract for re-entry to the US.
- Once approved you will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) in the mail. Please check this for errors. Contact USCIS immediately if something needs to be corrected.
- You cannot start working until you receive your EAD and until the start date printed on the EAD.
- Do not lose your EAD. If you do you will have to reapply and pay the $410 fee again.
Employment rules under OPT:
- Employment must be related to the student’s major area of study.
- SEVP recommends that students maintain evidence – for each job – of the position held, proof of the duration of that position, the job title, contact information for the student’s supervisor or manager and a description of the work and how it is directly related to their degree program. If it is not clear from the job description that the work is related to the student’s degree, SEVP highly recommends that the student obtain a signed letter from the student’s supervisor or manager or the employer’s hiring official stating how the student’s degree is related to the work performed. The same evidence could also be used to establish that the limit on unemployment has not been exceeded.
- You must work at least 20 hours a week.
- Students can change employers at any time during OPT as long as the new employment is related to their major.
- Students can work for multiple employers to get the minimum number of hours, as long as each employment opportunity is related to their major.
- Volunteering or non-paid internships related to their program of study may also count as employment.
Reporting while on OPT:
- If students change their employment, address, or name they must complete the OPT Employment Report AND update their information through the SEVP Portal within 10 days of the change.
- In order to maintain legal F-1 status, students cannot be unemployed for more than 90 days total during OPT. Each day, including weekends, during OPT that a student does not have qualifying full time employment counts as a day of unemployment. Even time spent outside the US counts as unemployment unless the student is travelling for work.
- SEVIS will auto- terminate a student’s record if it fails to show the student maintained employment and reached the 90 day limit. In such cases, the student will not have a grace period and must depart the US immediately. A student may be denied future immigration benefits if DHS determines that the student exceeded the limitations on authorized unemployment.
When to contact Caitlin:
- If you change your immigration status (i.e. to H-1B, Permanent Resident, L-1 ). Send a scanned copy of the change of status approval notice to Caitlin.
- If you plan to leave the country and not return, please inform Caitlin so she can complete your SEVIS record.
- If you transfer to another degree program please contact Caitlin. Transfer of a SEVIS record to a new school/program will terminate your OPT. Caitlin can help with the transfer paperwork. Part-time study is allowed while on OPT.
Travel while on OPT:
- To re-enter the US while on OPT, students must have an I-20 recently signed for travel, a valid F-1 visa, valid passport, their EAD card, contract/offer letter from their employer and/or most recent pay stubs.
After completion of OPT:
- Students will receive a 60-day grace period at the end of OPT as long as they have not reached the 90 days of unemployment. Students cannot work during the grace period.
STEM OPT Extension:
- STEM extension (24 months) may be available for qualified F-1 students in STEM fields (Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Environmental Studies, Mathematics, Quantitative Economics, and Physics) who are employed by businesses enrolled in the E-Verify program. Please check this page for more information.
- Students are exempted from paying Social Security and Medicare taxes during the first 5 years in the US. These taxes should not be withheld from the student’s pay while she/he maintains F-1 status. After 5 years students become “residents” for tax purposes only and are subject to paying all taxes.
- F-1 students are still subject to paying all federal, state, and local taxes as listed on their paychecks.
- If students are in the Twin Cities they can return to campus the March following their Senior year to complete their taxes.
- St. Olaf College is not liable for any medical and/or dental bills that students incur while on OPT.
- Students are fully responsible for maintaining health and dental insurance coverage while on OPT. If students don’t have insurance and anything occurs, they will be responsible for all medical and/or dental bills while on OPT.
- As an international student make sure medical evacuation and repatriation of remains is included in your health insurance coverage. Lewermark has individual health insurance plans recent graduate can purchase.
Every effort has been made to update the information above, however things are subject to change without notice. Please be in contact with Caitlin Lamont Kreienkamp for accurate, timely information about your specific situation. Page Last Updated: November 9th, 2023