Overview

Information in this section relates to standard Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT is defined in the Federal Regulations as temporary employment directly related to a student’s field of study. During OPT, a student remains in F-1 status, their SEVIS record remains active, and the student must report changes in address and employment to OIS. When OPT is approved by US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the student receives an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) which authorizes employment for a specific time period. Below are some important points regarding OPT.

  • You can apply for your work authorization on OPT to begin while you are currently studying (Pre-Completion OPT) or after you complete the degree requirements (Post-Completion OPT).
  • Students may apply for full-time pre-completion OPT provided all coursework has been completed and they are working full-time on a thesis or dissertation; otherwise, students may only apply for part-time OPT (20 hours or less) during the academic year. Students applying for pre-completion OPT during normal school breaks, may seek full-time OPT (more than 20 hours per week). Students applying for post-completion OPT must apply for full-time OPT (more than 20 hours per week).
  • The standard OPT period is a cumulative maximum of 12 months.
  • Part-time OPT is deducted from the 12-month limit at 50%.
  • An F-1 visa holder may become eligible for another 12 months of OPT if he/she advances to a higher educational level.
  • Some students may be eligible for a 17-month STEM extension of OPT. For more information, visit this page.

Eligibility Criteria

To be eligible for OPT, the student must:

  • Be in valid F-1 status
  • Have completed at least one academic year (two semesters) of full-time study
  • Be present in the US at the time of filing of your OPT Application

Note: If an F-1 student has engaged in 12 months or more of full-time curricular practical training (CPT), he/she is ineligible for OPT. Any amount of part-time CPT does not have any affect on eligibility for OPT.

OPT Application Process

Generally, you must obtain a new Form I-20 with an OPT recommendation on page 2. A copy of this document must be submitted with other application materials to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) who will adjudicate your eligibility for OPT and then provide you with an Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) which will enable you to accept employment in the US. For more details, please see the OPT Take Away Handout.

Before our office can prepare the Form I-20 with OPT recommendation, you must attend an OPT information Session or a Priority OPT Information Session.  Please sign up for a session here.

Your application for the OPT I-20 will be submitted through My OIS.

While you are on OPT

During your period of Post-Completion OPT, you are still in F-1 student status.
You must notify OIS of any changes in the following via the Limited Services Link in My OIS. You will receive detailed instructions about logging in to Limited Services via email when your OPT I-20 has been created. OIS will update the information in the SEVIS system on your behalf.

  • your name and physical address;
  • your phone number and/or email address;
  • your employer’s name, address and employment status; and
  • any other pertinent information about your stay in the United States (i.e. change of status, transfer to a new degree program, requesting OPT STEM Extension).
  • You will have a 60 day grace period after the expiration date on your EAD.
  • During your period of OPT authorization, travel signatures are only valid for six months. You can either collect an updated travel signature in person during Walk-In Hours or by dropping off your Form I-20 in OIS, by mailing it in to OIS if you no longer live locally or by requesting one via the OPT Report Participation e-form found in the Limited Services section of My OIS. See recommendations about travel here.

Employment Authorization

  • You are expected to be employed in your field of study during OPT, and you are required to submit employer information (i.e. employer’s name and address) to SEVIS. The Office of International Services collects this information via the OPT Report Participation e-form found in the Limited Services section of My OIS and reports it on your behalf.
  • You must have the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) in your possession and the start date on the EAD must be reached before you may engage in employment.
  • After your I-20 end-date and before you receive your EAD Card, you may not work in any capacity. This includes on-campus employment.
  • The maximum period of unemployment is 90 days, and the count begins from the start date of your EAD card. You are responsible to keep track of your days of unemployment. OIS does not keep track of these days for you.
  • You must stop your employment when the end date on the EAD card is reached, but may remain in the U.S. for a 60-day grace period following your period of OPT.

OPT Employment Requirements and Reporting

  • The EAD is not employer specific, so you may change employers at will. However, employment must be directly related to the field of studies. Any employment outside your field of study is unauthorized and is a substantive violation of your status.
  • It is recommended that you keep documentation of all of your places of employment. In the future, you may be asked to provide proof that your employment during OPT was in your field of study or that you did not exceed 90 days of unemployment. You should maintain evidence — for each job — of the position held, proof of the duration of that position, the job title, contact information for your supervisor or manager, and description of the work.
  • Full-time, part-time, and unpaid volunteer or internship opportunities are permissible under OPT.

If you cannot find employment that meets the definition of OPT employment, you may have the following options:

  • Depart the United States.  Please complete a Departure Notification via My OIS if you decide to depart the US and abandon any remaining OPT.  Your SEVIS record will be deactivated.
  • Apply to the University of Pittsburgh or another university to continue your education by a change of level or transferring to another institution.
    • If you begin a new full-time degree program during your authorized EAD period, whether at Pitt or elsewhere, you will lose any time remaining on your EAD. You will be required to cease employment upon release of your SEVIS record from Pitt to the new institution or upon issuance of a new Form I-20 for a different program.
  • Change status to another legal status, if eligible.  Notify OIS via My OIS upon approval of your new status, so that your SEVIS record can be deactivated, if necessary.  Please provide a copy of the Change of Status Approval notice.

Social Security Number

    If you do not yet have a Social Security Number (SSN), you may apply for one after you have received the EAD card and the start date on the card has been reached.  If you already have a SSN, do not apply for a new one. Social Security Numbers are for life.You do not need your SSN to begin working. On your first day of employment, you will be asked to complete employment paperwork. If you do not yet have your SSN, you may write “applied for” in the space where the SSN is to be provided. Once you receive the Social Security Card in the mail, provide the number to your employer.

Travel Outside the U.S. and Reentry

    For important information on travel review OIS’ “Important Travel Information” handout. If your F-2 dependents travel outside the U.S. and reenter without you during your OPT period, they should carry their own original documents along with photocopies of all the documents you are required to carry for reentry. The list of required documents is provided in the Travel Advisory.

Options After Post-Completion OPT

  • The 17-month OPT STEM Extension may be available for students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fiekds, provided certain critera are met. Please see the OPT STEM Extension page of our website for more information.
  • Change of Status to a different visa status. When the 12 months of OPT has ended, unless eligible for the OPT STEM Extension, the student must seek a different visa status if he/she wishes to remain in the US to continue employment.
  • Transfer to another degree program. Please see the SEVIS Transfer page of our website for more information.
  • Departure from the US. Please notify OIS of your plans to permanently depart the US via the Limited Services section of My OIS.

Return to F-1 Employment Authorization page.