What is Optional Practical Training?

More than one million international students throughout the world travel to the United States each year to earn college degrees. Optional Practical Training (OPT) programs allow these students to obtain valuable hands-on experience and use their education in America immediately. Without an OPT, most international students must leave the United States upon completion of their degree.

In 2020, the United States granted more than 180,000 OPT initial and renewal work authorization applications. Most participants have degrees in the fields of engineering, technology, or business, and over half possess master’s degrees.

Optional Practical Training programs allow the United States to attract, educate, and retain promising global talent, while simultaneously offering graduates the opportunity to hone their skills and develop relationships with potential employers. While OPT does not provide a direct link to obtaining a green card, which can be incredibly difficult even for graduates, it can permit students more time and experience to weigh their options for potential permanent residency.

What Are the Eligibility Requirements for OPT?

Students enrolled full-time for one academic year in a Student Exchange Visitor Program-certified college, university, conservatory, or seminary are eligible to apply for OPT. Additionally:

  • You must not be enrolled in an English as a Second Language degree program
  • Your proposed employment is in your major area of study
  • You have used all of your OPT length of time in your current studies
  • You have not received authorization for 12 or more months of cull-time Curricular Practical Training. (CPT).

Are There Different Types of Optional Practical Training?

Those interested in applying for OPT may be eligible to participate in two different ways, pre-completion OPT, and post-completion OPT. Keep in mind that all OPTs must be directly related to your field of study. Requirements for each type consist of:

Pre-completion OPT:

Students can apply for pre-completion OPT following lawful enrollment as a full-time student for one complete academic year at an American university, college, seminary, or conservatory certified by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to enroll F-1 student visa holders. You are not required to have completed one full academic year as an F-1 student and can apply your previous non-immigrant status to satisfy the one-year requirement. During the school year, you are permitted to work part-time with a pre-completion OPT and work full-time during summer months, if authorized.

Post-completion OPT:

Once you have completed your academic studies, you may apply to participate in post-completion OPT for one year. If you participated in pre-completion OPT, the length of that participation will be deducted from the post-completion OPT. If authorized, you are permitted to work at least 20 hours per week, or full-time.

STEM OPT extension:

Additionally, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) also offers a two-year post-OPT extension in certain science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields allowing you to work and gain real-world experience in the United States. You may be eligible if:

  • You received a STEM degree in fields included in the STEM Designated Degree Program List as an F-1 student.
  • Your employer is enrolled in and utilizing the E-Verify system
  • Your STEM degree is the basis of your post-completion OPT employment authorization

Of the 180,000 approved OPTs in 2020, approximately 130,000 were for post-completion OPT, and included over 50,000 for STEM extensions.

How Do I Apply for Optional Practical Training?

To apply for OPT, you must request a recommendation from the designated school official (DSO) of the college or university you are attending. To make the recommendation, the DSO will endorse your Certification of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Statues and filing it in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).

Applicants must also file the Application for Employment Authorization with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, along with the required fees and supporting documents. Requirements for application of STEM and non-STEM OPT are:

Non-STEM degree:

  • Post-completion OPT:
    • You must apply after your OPT recommendation is entered into your SEVIS record by your DSO
    • Your application must be entered within 30 days of your DSO entering the OPT recommendation into your SEVIS record
    • You may apply up to 90 days prior to the completion of your degree, but no later than 60 days following degree completion

STEM degree:

  • Pre-completion OPT:
    • You must apply after your OPT recommendation is entered into your SEVIS record by your DSO
    • You may apply up to 90 days prior to the end of your full academic year provided you do not begin OPT employment until the completion of one full academic year
  • Post-completion OPT:
    • You must apply after your OPT recommendation is entered into your SEVIS record by your DSO
    • You must apply within 30 days after your recommendation is entered into your SEVIS record
    • You may apply up to 90 days prior to the completion of your degree, but no later than 60 days following your degree completion

What Are the Benefits of OPT?

Both the United States and international students benefit from OPT employment opportunities. International students contribute more than $37 billion to the American economy each year, and support over 455,000 jobs throughout the country. Large numbers of OPT participants in particular regions of the United States are associated with higher earnings and lower unemployment for American workers. The Business Roundtable asserts that without OPT, the United States would see declines in hourly wages and gross domestic product and a loss of more than 443,000 jobs over a 10-year period, including 255,000 held by native-born workers.

Countries such as China, Australia and Canada are implementing or improving post-graduate work programs to compete for international students, attracting and retaining highly educated and skilled international students is essential. OPT also provides American employers the opportunity to seek out graduates for potential full-time employment, particularly those in much-sought after STEM-related fields. U.S. employers already compete globally for talented workers in STEM fields and are facing a shortage of available qualified workers. Projections over the next 10 years in the manufacturing industry alone already predict over two million unfilled jobs for lack of qualified candidates.

Currently, fields with the highest number of OPT workers include education, healthcare providers, banking, finance, technology, and manufacturing.

Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. Assist International Students Pursuing Optional Practical Training Work Opportunities in the United States

Optional Practical Training provides international students with real-world, hands-on learning opportunities toward their chosen career fields and offers additional time residing and working in the United States. Our Philadelphia immigration lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. are available to assist international students obtain OPT work opportunities. Call us today at 215-925-4435 or contact us online for an initial consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and nationwide.s