Things to Know About Optional Practical Training (OPT)


A lot of international students studying in the U.S. with F-1 visa hope to extend their stay in the U.S. There are a couple of options they can consider including 1) studying for another year to maintain F-1 visa 2) landing a job after graduating from school. Although a foreigner faces more hoops to jump through than a U.S. citizen in order to receive a job offer and get his work visa approved, the second option is still popular and taken as a well known pathway to obtaining a green card (permanent residence). Optional Practical Training (OPT) plays a role as a bridge for foreign students who are in transition to becoming a foreign worker in the U.S. Find out all about Optional Practical Training (OPT) and how to track your OPT application with a smart tracker app!

What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)

According to USCIS, Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. Eligible students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization before completing their academic studies (pre-completion) or after completing their academic studies (post-completion).

  • Pre-completion OPT: You may apply for pre-completion OPT after you have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year at a college, university, conservatory, or seminary that has been certified by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to enroll F-1 students. You do not need to have had F-1 status for the one full academic year; you can satisfy the “one full academic year” requirement even if you had another nonimmigrant status during that time. You may work part time (20 hours or less per week) while school is in session. You may work full time when school is not in session.

  • Post-completion OPT: You may apply for post-completion OPT after completing your studies. You may work part time (20 hours or less per week) or full time.

If you participated in pre-completion OPT, USCIS will deduct that amount of time from your post-completion OPT authorization period. For example, if you participated in 10 months of pre-completion OPT, you would be eligible for only up to 2 months of post-completion OPT.

How is STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT) different?

As explained, OPT employment authorization lasts up to 12 months without extension. However, if you have earned a degree in certain science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, you may apply for a 24-month extension of your post-completion OPT employment authorization if you:

  • Are an F-1 student who received a STEM degree included on the STEM Designated Degree Program List (PDF);
  • Are employed by an employer who is enrolled in and is using E-Verify; AND
  • Received an initial grant of post-completion OPT employment authorization based on your STEM degree.

Qualified students can take a full advantage of this 24-month extension while looking for a job offer with a work visa or green card sponsorship. Go to this link for more details and eligibility.

OPT processing time

First and foremost, keep an eye on your calendar or an email from your school. Don't forget you submit a request for OPT in a timely manner. Traditional USCIS processing time has been 90 days or more, but processing times often exceed 110 days. From point of approval, most cards arrive within 7-10 days after approval. It is likely for your OPT application to take 90-120 days or longer under the circumstances. You may establish an account with USCIS. This account allows you to track your case and in particular, track the EAD once USCIS has printed and mailed it to you. You cannot submit the application through the USCIS account.

How can I check the status of my OPT application?

Regardless of the type of visa you apply for, you don't have to check on the USCIS or DOS website anymore in order to find your case status and predict the processing time of your case. Lawfully came up with a ground-breaking solution to help all immigrants and non-immigrants learn what is going on with their applications. That is why Lawfully has launched USCIS Case Tracker. Since then, we have tirelessly improved its features with a firm commitment to immigration equality.

With a very small fraction of cost and time it would have taken to struggle with immigration attorneys and USCIS, give yourself 3 minutes to fill in the information about your application. BOOM! You can check your case status along with an expected processing time and compare yours with other similar cases at your fingertips. No need to check in on the USCIS website anymore. Lawfully will deliver updates on your case status in real-time. And don't miss the new feature of NVC case tracking in order to embrace visa applicants outside the U.S.

If you want to get more insights from a certain visa type, try Case Analysis Pro, and among other features, see your ranking compared to others who registered their cases so that you get a sense of where you stand.

Download Lawfully Case Tracker now and stay up to date with your case!