The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) grants certain foreign students in F-1 student status the opportunity to stay in the U.S. under employment if they have completed an associates, bachelors, masters, doctorate degree, or structured programs or certificate programs. The authorization for temporary employment is known as Optional Practical Training (OPT). You can obtain another period of OPT so long as you complete a higher degree.
OPT is available to students under F-1 status that have been enrolled full-time in a government –approved educational institution for a minimum of nine consecutive months. F-1 students enrolled in English language programs are not eligible for OPT.
Additionally, a student with F-1 status is authorized to obtain OPT after he or she had been enrolled for a full academic year. Pre-completion OPT must be directly related to the student’s major area of study. Authorized students are obligated to work part-time while school is in session and may work full-time when school is not in session.
To obtain OPT, the student must apply to his or her Designated School official (DSO) or foreign student advisor at their school by submitting a form I-538 and I-20 ID to the DSO, who is then in charge of recommending the student for OPT, endorsing his or her Form I-20, and recording the decision in SEVIS, the system used to track F-1 students. The student may apply during his or her studies or within 60 days of completing his or her studies. It is recommended that the student apply as soon as possible to be able to commence working immediately after the completion of his or her studies.
Students are also expected to file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization with USCIS, and if they are approved then USCIS will issue an Employment Authorization document I-766 or “work permit” to the student that will be valid for a maximum of 12 months.
There is usually no extension for OPT, unless the student is receiving a degree included on the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Designated Degree Program List, which applies to students working in the high-tech industry, in fields such as computer science, biological and biomedical sciences, actuarial science, mathematics, engineering, physical sciences, medical scientist, and engineering, science, and military technologies. So long as the student has one of the designated degrees, works for an employer enrolled in E-Verify, and has received the initial approval of OPT for the degree, he or she may apply for a 17-month extension.