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OPT / CPT Workshops


Optional Practical Training (OPT):

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is defined by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations as "temporary employment for practical training directly related to the student's major area of study."  It must be at a level that is commensurate with the student's degree level.

OPT can be used before and/or after a student completes a program of study.  A student must be in legal F-1 status in order to be eligible to apply. In addition, a student must also have been lawfully enrolled full-time for one academic year.  No offer of employment is required to apply.  In fact, students are strongly advised to apply early, preferably at the beginning of the last term of enrollment.

Students have a total of 12 months of OPT.  As permitted by DHS, students may use these 12 months either before and/or after completion of studies.  Full-time OPT is defined as more than 20 hours per week while part-time OPT is defined as 20 hours or less per week.

Students must apply to DHS for the work permission through the Office of International Student Affairs.  You must have the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) in your hands before you can begin working.

A new regulation for F-1 OPT work authorization: Relief for F-1 students affected by the "H1B Cap Gap"

Updated as of April 18, 2008

A new regulation has been published April 8, 2008, addressing some of the most difficult work authorization issues for F-1 students. As you all are probably aware, because of the limitation on H1B worker visas, often F-1 students will end up having a gap in work authorization and even in the ability to remain legally in the U.S. between the end of the 12 month post-graduation OPT work authorization period and the start of a potential H1B working visa status. The new regulation provides some solutions to this issue as well as some new requirements for students on OPT. The details are described below:

Automatic extension of work authorization through start of approved H1B for F-1 students on OPT in ALL fields:


The work authorization and status of F-1 students whose OPT runs out before October 1st (of any year) and who have an H1B application pending with USCIS (the H1 application has to be a change of status and not “consular notification” or by travel) will be AUTOMATICALLY EXTENDED. This automatic extension will cover F-1 students on OPT with jobs in ALL fields, not only the students with degrees in certain fields. If a student on F-1 OPT has a valid H1B application pending (or approved) and the OPT ends, the student does not have to do any extra application to get this automatic extension, as long as that H1B application was filed as an H with a change of status and not an H with consular notification. Check with your employer about whether they filed your H1B with a change of status.

F-1 OPT extension of 17 months for students in certain fields:

F-1 students on OPT who have received a degree in the fields listed below, referred to as “STEM” fields (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics), will have an opportunity to apply for a one time 17-month extension of their regular 12 month OPT period. You will NOT apply for 29 months up front. The 17 month extension will allow students to have continuous work authorization at least through October 1st of any given following year, in case they do not get an H1B visa in their first year after graduating. Students who timely file an application for the 17-month OPT extension will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending, until a final decision on the I-765 or for 180 days, whichever comes first.

PROCEDURES FOR THE 17 MONTH EXTENSION:

FIRST: Students graduating now with degrees in these fields will first apply for the regular 12 month period of OPT as usual.

THEN, AFTER 9 months of OPT: When you are within the last 3 months of your first OPT period, if you meet the following criteria, you can apply through the Office of International Affairs for your 17 month extension of your OPT. You CANNOT apply for this 17 month extension more than 90 days before the end date of your first 12 months of OPT.


CRITERIA FOR THE 17 MONTH EXTENSION:

“STEM” fields (Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics) include:

  • Actuarial Science .
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Engineering
  • Engineering Technologies
  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • Mathematics and Statistics
  • Military Technologies
  • Physical Sciences
  • Science Technologies
  • Medical Scientist (MS, PhD)


E-Verify:

E-Verify is an Internet-based system operated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA). E-Verify is currently free to employers and is available in all 50 states. E-Verify provides an automated link to federal databases to help employers determine employment eligibility of new hires and the validity of their Social Security numbers. More information is available at the USCIS web page on E-Verify.

New requirements for students on OPT

Employment information will be required:

Students on 12 month OPT period will have to report to the school not only address changes but ALSO any interruption in employment. Students on the 29 month OPT period will also have to report name and address of their employer, any changes in employer AND they will have to complete a report to the school every six months while on the 17 month extension.

LIMIT on total days of unemployment allowed:

The regulation adds a new requirement that F-1 students on OPT may not remain unemployed for more than a total of 90 days out of a 12 month OPT period, or 120 days out of a 29 month OPT period. The days of unemployment will start on the start date of your OPT card or the day the OPT is approved (whichever is later) if you are not employed. Our professional association, NAFSA, was told that SEVP (the SEVIS program office) is not planning to apply the unemployment provision to any student whose OPT was approved before April 8, 2008. NAFSA expects this to be clarified in the written Operating Instructions that SEVP plans to post no later than April 18, 2008.

Employment MAY be unpaid in the regular 12 month period of OPT:

For regular post-completion OPT, the employment does NOT have to paid employment. Therefore, a student who is self-employed (including performance majors with regular “gigs”), interning or volunteering in a position directly related to the academic field would be considered “employed” for the purposes of OPT employment. For the 17-month STEM extension, employment must be traditional paid employment.

Can apply for OPT in 60 day grace period:

The regulation also extends the filing period of Post-completion OPT through the 60 day grace period—previously OPT applications had to be filed by the graduation date.

Relevant Links:

The new regulation as published in the Federal Register

The new regulation compiled and annotated by our professional association, NAFSA

Our professional organization's description of the new regulation (the NAFSA announcement)


New Optional Practical Training (OPT) Rules for F-1 Students

On April 3, 2008, The Department of Homeland Security announced the publication of an Interim Final Rule that makes significant changes to Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 students. This rule took effect upon publication of the rule in the U.S. Government’s Federal Register of April 8, 2008.


Highlights of the New Rule:

  • The current 12-month limit on OPT will be extended by 17 months, for a total of 29 months for certain STEM degree holders ONLY.
  • The H-1B “Cap Gap” is eliminated by extending OPT employment and status for those who are beneficiaries of an H-1B petition with an October 1 start date (available to ALL OPT participants).
  • The filing deadline for initial OPT applications is changed (applies to all OPT participants).
  • There are new reporting requirements for students and employers (applies to all OPT participants).
  • Post-Completion OPT will now be dependent on employment. Only limited periods of unemployment will be permitted (applies to all OPT participants)


“STEM” fields (Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics) include:

  • Actuarial Science .
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Engineering
  • Engineering Technologies
  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • Mathematics and Statistics
  • Military Technologies
  • Physical Sciences
  • Science Technologies
  • Medical Scientist (MS, PhD)


Additional Requirements for 17-Month Extension of OPT

Besides having to be enrolled in a “STEM” field of study, there are many additional requirements for the 17-Month Extension of OPT:

  • The student must be currently authorized for a 12-month period of OPT and working for a US employer in a job directly related to the student’s field of study.
  • The 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 U.S. college or university.
  • At the time of application for the 17-month extension, the student must have a job-offer or be employed by an employer registered with the “E-Verify” federal employment verification system. For more information on “E-Verify,” see the next section.
  • The student must not have previously received a 17-month OPT extension after earning a STEM degree.
  • The student must apply for the 17-month extension through the Office of International Affairs. The International Student Advisor must recommend the extension and issue a new I-20 with the recommendation noted.
  • The student applies for the extension using form I-765 with fee (currently $340.00) to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Processing Center.
  • The student must file the extension application in a timely manner, before the current period of OPT expires.
  • A student who files the application timely may continue employment while the extension application is pending, until a final decision is made, or for 180 days, whichever comes first.
  • The employer must agree to report the termination or departure of the student to the Office of International Affairs, or through any other process chosen by the Department of Homeland Security.


The student must agree to report the following information to the Office of International Affairs:


  • Change of name
  • Change of residential or mailing address
  • Name and address of employer
  • Change in the name or address of employer
  • When employment changes or terminates
  • The student must also agree to provide a report every six months to the Office of International Affairs to verify the above information


What Is E-Verify?

E-Verify is an Internet-based system operated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA). E-Verify is currently free to employers and is available in all 50 states. E-Verify provides an automated link to federal databases to help employers determine employment eligibility of new hires and the validity of their Social Security numbers. More information is available at the USCIS web page on E-Verify.


Elimination of the H-1B “Cap-Gap”:

The H-1B “cap-gap” occurs when a F-1 student’s status and OPT work authorization expires during the current fiscal year before the student can start approved H-1B employment during the next fiscal year that begins on October 1. For example, a student whose OPT ending date is July 16, 2008, and whose employer successfully files an H-1B petition for a job that is subject to the H-1B “cap” and starts October 1 currently needs to stop employment as of July 16, and depart the United States on September 15 (the last day of the 60-day grace period following OPT). While outside the United States, the student must then obtain an H-1B visa, and cannot re-enter the United States any sooner than 10 days prior to the H-1B start date.

Under the new rule, a student currently on OPT who is the beneficiary of a timely-filed H-1B petition that requests an employment start date of October 1st of the following fiscal year will have his or her duration of status and OPT employment authorization extended to that date.


Should the pending H-1B petition ultimately be denied, the student will have a sixty day grace period from the notification date of the denial to depart the United States, obtain admission to a new F-1 SEVIS-approved school, or file an application for a change of status.

New Filing Deadlines for Initial OPT Applications:

Currently, an applicant for post-completion OPT must file their application before their degree completion date. Under the new rule, a student will be able to file the OPT application up to 90 days before the degree completion date, and up to 60 days after the degree completion date. However, the application for OPT must be submitted to the USCIS Processing Center within 30 days of the date the school enters the recommendation for OPT into the SEVIS record.


Duration of OPT:

The starting date for the OPT Employment Authorization Document (EAD) will be the date requested by the student or the date OPT is approved at the USCIS Service Center, whichever is later. But, there is an exception: the authorization period for the 17-month OPT extension begins the day after the expiration of the initial post-completion OPT employment authorization, and ends 17 months later, regardless of the date the extension is approved.


Reporting Requirements for Students and Employers While on OPT:


All students on OPT must report to the international student office at their former school:


  • Any change in name or address
  • The name and address of their employer
  • Any change to the name and address of the employer
  • Any interruption of such employment

In addition, students with an approved 17 month extension must report to the international student office at their former school within ten days:

  • Any change in name or residential/mailing address
  • The name and address of their employer
  • Any change to the name and address of the employer
  • Any interruption of such employment


Students with an approved 17 month extension must also make a validation report to the Office of International Affairs every six months starting on the date the extension begins and ending when the OPT ends. The validation is a confirmation that the student’s name and address, employer name and address, and /or loss of employment is current and accurate.

The employer of a student with an approved 17-month OPT extension must agree to report the termination or departure of the student to the Office of International Affairs or through “any other means or process identified by the Department of Homeland Security.”

Post-Completion OPT is Now Dependent on Employment:


Students on post-completion OPT may not accrue an aggregate of more than 90 days of unemployment under the initial 12-month period of OPT. Students granted a 17-month OPT extension may not accrue an aggregate of more then 120 days of unemployment during the total 29-month OPT period.


Web Resources

There are some excellent web resources available on the new OPT rule:

Department of Homeland Security Announcement


USCIS FAQs

NAFSA: Association of International Educators Resource on the Interim Final Rule

The new regulation as published in the Federal Register

Curricular Practical Training (CPT):

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) defines Curricular Practical Training (CPT) as training that must be "an integral part of an established curriculum."  The employment must be directly related to a student's current major field of study.  If the work is not a required or an elective component of a student's degree program, the student must apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT).

Am I eligible? CPT can only be used during a student's program of study.  A student must be in legal F-1 status in order to be eligible to apply.  In addition, a student must also have been lawfully enrolled full-time for one full academic year. Graduate students in programs that require immediate participation in CPT may have the academic year requirement waived.

Students are not limited (in theory) to the amount of CPT they may use. However, students who engage in 12 months or more of full-time CPT are not eligible for ANY OPT.