Optional Practical Training
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is work authorization that is designed to provide international students with F-1 visas opportunities for employment in their fields of study before or after graduation. You may be entitled to a maximum of 12 months of OPT per educational level (i.e. Bachelor, Master, Doctorate, etc.). Students continue to maintain F-1 status while on Optional Practical Training since it is considered part of the program of study. Applications for Employment Authorization (I-765) for students attending CCU are submitted to the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services Texas Service Center. The cost to apply for work authorization is $340. Upon approval, students will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) which shows the dates of authorized employment. DO NOT, under any circumstances, begin working until you receive the Employment Authorization Card and reach the employment start date noted. This is a violation of your status and you could be both terminated in SEVIS as well as deported.
**Please note that Optional Practical Training requires authorization from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which can take three months to obtain. We strongly recommend that you apply three months before the date you wish to begin employment.**
To be considered for Optional Practical Training, a student must have appropriately maintained F-1 status for at least nine (9) months and the proposed employment must be related to the student’s field of study. The employment may occur anywhere in the United States. In addition, please note that you do not need a job offer to apply for Optional Practical Training.
Two Types of Optional Practical Training
Pre-Completion Optional Practical Training
Pre-Completion OPT takes place before you complete the requirements of your degree program. Students may apply for part-time OPT, which allows them to work up to 20 hours per week while school is in session. Students may work part-time or full-time during CCU's scheduled vacation periods (i.e. Spring Break, Winter Break, Summer Vacation, etc.). Pre--Completion OPT is deducted from the 12 month limit at 50%. For example, two months of part-time OPT during the school year would deduct one month from the 12 allowed months, thus leaving 11 remaining months of OPT.
Post-Completion Optional Practical Training
Post-Completion OPT occurs after you have fulfilled all the requirements of your degree program. Post-Completion OPT truly puts your learned knowledge to practical use. When completing your application, make sure all information is current and accurate. Although a job offer is not necessary when submitting the application, any employment you engage in must be related to your field of study. You may choose your employment start date but it must be within 60 days from your program end date.
Optional Practical Training Restrictions
- Employment while school is in session is restricted to part-time only (20 hours per week.)
- Employment during the scheduled breaks in the academic calendar can be either full-time or part-time, but cannot last longer than the vacation period.
- Employment after graduation must be full-time.
- You must begin Post-Completion OPT no later than 60 days after your program end date.
- Students engaging in Post-Completion OPT are limited to a total of 90 days of unemployment. (*see Unemployment While on Post-Completion OPT for more info)
- You CANNOT begin working before the employment start date noted on your Employment Authorization Card.
For Optional Practical Training that occurs before graduation, a student should submit their Application for Employment Authorization about 90 days prior to the date they would like to begin working, since it may take about three months for approval. For students applying for Post-Completion OPT (after graduation), the Application for Employment Authorization can be filed up to 90 days before the program end-date and up to 60 days after the program end-date, provided it is filed within 30 days of the date the DSO enters the OPT recommendation into SEVIS. For Post-Completion OPT, employment must begin no later than 60 days after the program completion date noted on your I-20. Again, please keep in mind that it may take about three months to be approved for work authorization so it is best to submit your application and supporting materials as early as possible.
Processing and Submitting the Application
Application materials for Optional Practical Training are available in the Office of International Programs & Services. In addition to the Application for Employment Authorization, students must complete a CCU F-1 Optional Practical Training Request Form . Once completed, these materials should be submitted to the Designated School Official in the OIPS who will then review the materials and sign the appropriate documents. A new I-20 will be generated for both the student and USCIS. The completed application packet along with the necessary supporting documentation and $340 fee will then be mailed (certified/return receipt) by the OIPS to the Texas Service Center for approval. Click here for the Optional Practical Training Application Checklist .
Once your application has been received by USCIS, they will mail you a Notice of Action (I-797C) which explains how your application will be processed. The Notice of Action also provides your Receipt Number (begins with SRC-), which you can use to monitor the progress of your pending application online at https://egov.uscis.gov/cris/caseStatusSearchDisplay.do.
Upon approval, your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) will be mailed to the address listed on your application. Be sure that you will remain at that address for at least six months after you submit the application since this type of mail will not be forwarded by the U.S. Postal Service. Keep in mind that there is no way to cancel or change the dates of Optional Practical Training once the application has been received to the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services. Please allow at least three months for USCIS to approve your application and send you the EAD. Changing employers while engaging in OPT is allowed, with no special permission from USCIS, as long as the new employment is also related to the field of study.
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has now placed a limit on the amount of time an F-1 visa holder may be unemployed during Post-Completion OPT. Except as noted in the section on what counts as time unemployed, each day that the student is not employed in a qualifying job, is counted toward the limit on unemployment time. The limit is 90 days for students on Post-Completion OPT, including those with a cap gap extension, except that students with a STEM OPT extension are given an additional 30 days of unemployment time for a maximum of 120 days. Upon reaching the maximum number of permitted unemployment days, a student's OPT work authorization becomes invalid.
What Counts as Time Unemployed?
Each day during the period when OPT authorization begins and ends that the student does not have qualifying employment counts as a day of unemployment. The only exception is that periods of up to 10 days between the end of one job and the beginning of the next job will not be included in the calculation for time spent unemployed. If you are unable to find work at anytime during your Post-Completion OPT, please keep in mind that volunteer work or unpaid internships will count as “employment” during Post-Completion OPT, provided that no labor laws are violated, you do not receive compensation of any kind, and the volunteer work or internship is for at least 20 hours per week.
Travels Outside the U.S.
Travel outside the United States during Optional Practical Training is permitted, however, the student must obtain the EAD before departure. Students who leave the United States before receiving their EAD, will invalidate their F-1 status, and will not be permitted to work upon re-entry into the U.S. The original I-20 document must be signed for re-entry by a Designated School Official at the school noted on the I-20. Time spent abroad is charged against the student’s practical training time.
New Reporting Requirements While Engaging in OPT
All students engaging in OPT must report to CCU's Designated School Official (within ten days) any change in:
Start Date of Employment (for the first and subsequent jobs)
Interruptions of Employment (when unemployed for more than ten days)
Change in Student's Name
Change in Student's Address
Absence from the U.S.
The student must also report to his or her DSO every six months, confirming the information listed above; even if there have been no changes.
The requirement to report continues if the student’s 17-month STEM extension is extended further by the automatic cap-gap extension.
To inquire about or apply for Optional Practical Training, please come by the Office of International Programs & Services located in Singleton 119.
For more information, contact