Optional Practice Training for F-1 Students

What is OPT?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an extension of F-1 student status that allows you to work in the U.S. in order to gain practical experience in your major field of study. The job must be directly related to your field of study. You may use it during or after your studies in whatever portions you choose. You may work for any employer, anywhere in the United States.

Optional Practical Training (OPT) Regulations

In order to apply for OPT, students must have been in lawful, full-time student status for at least one full academic year. OPT can be done before completion of studies or after completion of studies. You are eligible for a total of 12 months of OPT for each degree level (BA, MA, PhD.), but this does not include two full periods of OPT for the B.A./M.A. program. Any OPT done before you complete your studies will subtract from the total 12 months of OPT available.

Think of it as an OPT bank account! In that account is 12 months of full-time optional practical training. For example, if you would like to work full-time for three months one summer before you graduate, that is a three month withdrawal of full-time employment. You will be left with nine months to use after you have graduated from your specific degree program.

You may not use all of the 12 months of full-time Optional Practical Training before the end date of your I-20.

Timing Your Application and Work

You may apply for OPT up to 90 days before completing your program, but you must apply for OPT before you complete your program (before the end date of your I-20). United States Citizenship and Immigration Services will need to receive your application before your actual completion of studies.

Post-completion OPT will always count as full-time. All post completion OPT must be completed within 14 months of completing your Wesleyan program.

Note of caution: You may not begin working until you receive your Employment Authorization Document card (EAD) from the US CIS and until the beginning date on your EAD card. Working without authorization is a serious violation of your status and may result in your loss of eligibility for benefits normally granted to F-1 students.

Responsibilities of F-1 Student on OPT

While on Post-Completion OPT, you are still an F-1 student visa holder and you are still a Wesleyan University student for visa purposes. This means that you are responsible for communicating the following information to Wesleyan while on your OPT time.

If you change your address while on OPT, you must update your address with the DSO at Wesleyan and with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. A change of address must be filed within 10 days of that change. You may email your DSO who will then update SEVIS. You must also file a change of address form with the US CIS. This form is available at the following website: http://www.uscis.gov/files/form/ar-11.pdf. Mail the completed form within 10 days to:

U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Change of Address
P.O. Box 7134
London, KY 40742-7134

Travel While on OPT

While on OPT you will need a current signature on the back of your I-20 to travel and re-enter the U.S. The signature is valid for only 6 months while on post-completion OPT.

To re-enter the U.S. you will need the following:

  • 1-20 signed for travel,
  • Valid Entry Visa Stamp
  • EAD card
  • Job offer or evidence of employment
  • Transcript from Wesleyan and
  • Verification that you have financial support while in the U.S. on OPT is also recommended

Please be advised that the US CIS has been stricter about requesting proof of actual employment and/or evidence that you are return to the U.S. to resume employment. If you do not have evidence of a job offer prior to departure, there is no guarantee that the immigration officer at the Port-of Entry will allow you to re-enter the U.S.

Immigration Status After OPT

After the end date on your EAD card, you will have 60 days to do one of the follow: depart the United States, transfer to another school to begin a new program or begin a new program of study at Wesleyan University.

Sometimes an employer is interested in extending your permission to work in the U.S. beyond the period of OPT. To do so usually requires a change of visa status to another non-immigrant visa status (for example, an H1-B visa) or an adjustment of status to permanent residence. If this is the situation, your employer will guide you though the process. It is important to keep all your I-20 forms. Your employer will need to include copies with your H1-B application.

Application Procedures for OPT

When you are ready to apply for OPT, come to see your DSO to determine whether you qualify. An appointment will be made once you have obtained all the initial documents.

When you are ready for an appointment to process the application, bring the following:

  • Two photos. (Photos must meet the specifications for full-frontal/passport photos).
  • $410 fee (check or money order) payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • Original I-20s
  • Passport
  • Visa
  • I-94
  • EAD card (if done in the past)

The DSO will send the application to US CIS certified mail, return receipt requested. Estimate that it will take 60-90 days to process the application.

If approved, US CIS will send your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card to your DSO.

Note of caution: You may not begin working until you receive your EAD card from US CIS. Working without authorization is a serious violation of your status.

OPT Application