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Office of International Services
Teachers College, Columbia University
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Office of International Services

F-1 Visa Employment > F-1 Optional Practical Training(OPT)

F-1 Optional Practical Training(OPT)

F-1 Optional Practical Training(OPT) is, an employment benefit that allows you, as an F-1 student, to gain practical, professional experience in your field of study.  Unlike Curricular Practical Training (CPT), OPT does not require you to register for a required or elective internship, practicum, or fieldwork course. Moreover, you may use OPT either before or after completion of studies, on a part-time or full-time basis.


More specifically, you may use OPT in the following situations:

Pre-Completion OPT (before completion of degree requirements)


  •     Part-time (maximum 20 hours per week) only during the academic year, while completing coursework requirements for the degree
  •     Part-time or full-time during the annual summer vacation period
  •     Part-time or full-time after completing all coursework requirements, but before completing the final thesis, master's project, or doctoral dissertation requirement

Post-Completion OPT (following completion of degree requirements)

CHANGES IN OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING (OPT) REGULATIONS ARE NOW IN EFFECT.

Here are the significant revisions affecting post-completion OPT:
 
1) 17-month extension of OPT:  Many of you have heard that some F-1 graduates will be eligible for an additional 17 months of OPT (for a total of 29).  This is true; however, the extension is available only for students who obtain degrees in STEM fields (broadly defined as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and whose employers are registered in a government program call E-Verify.  Unfortunately, there is only one program at TC whose graduates might qualify for this extension.  TC's programs in technology, science and mathematics are classified under "education" by the US Department of Education; therefore, they are not included in the 17-month extension eligibility list.

2) Students may file post-completion OPT application up to 90 days before but no later than 60 days after completion of studies:  While students may now file OPT applications after completion of studies, we strongly recommend filing them well prior to completion of studies.  The 12 months of OPT must still be completed within 14 months of completion of studies, and there are often delays in OPT processing.  So students who apply during the 60 days after completion of studies risk losing part of their 12-months of authorized OPT employment.

3) Students must report employment information as well as change of address while on OPT:    Students on OPT have always been required to report change of residential address to the Office of International Services within 10 days of any move.  Under the new regulations, the name and address of your employer, as well as any changes in employment, must also be reported.  Students can report address, email and employment changes to OIS by fax or email.
 

4) Only 90 days of unemployment allowed while on 12-month OPT:  In the past, periods of unemployment while on OPT did not affect a student's status.  Under the new OPT regulations, F-1 status is considered to be dependent on employment.  Students may not be unemployed for more than an aggregated 90 days out of the 12-month OPT authorization.  Any period of unemployment counts toward the 90 days allowed.

Eligibility Requirements for OPT


In order to qualify for OPT, you must meet certain eligibility requirements

    You must be in valid F-1 status, with an unexpired I-20, I-94 card marked "F-1 D/S"
    You must have completed at least one academic year of full-time study by the time your OPT period starts
    You do not need to have a job offer to apply for OPT; however, you must have the intention of pursuing professional employment in your field of study. Under OPT, you may not accept employment that does not constitute relevant professional training.
    If you are applying for pre-completion OPT, you must continue to maintain full-time registration during the academic year and make full-time progress toward meeting your degree requirements during your OPT period. (However, registration during summer vacation periods is not required.)
    If you are applying for post-completion OPT, you must apply before you complete your degree requirements - you will not be eligible to apply once you have completed your degree requirements.

Other Notes:


    OPT is limited to a total of 12 months per degree level. Any OPT granted prior to completion of studies, or for a previously-completed degree at the same degree level, will be deducted from that total. For example, if you did 3 months of full-time, pre-completion OPT you will have 9 months available for post-completion OPT. Or, if you did 12 months of OPT after completing a master of arts degree, you will not have any OPT eligibility left if (after completing your OPT) you immediately enter another master of arts degree program.
    Part-time OPT (20 hrs/wk or less) is deducted from the available OPT at one-half the full-time rate. For example, 6 months of part-time OPT is counted as equivalent to 3 months of full-time OPT.
    You may become eligible for another 12 months of OPT if you move change to a higher degree level. For example, if you used 12 months of OPT following completion of your master's degree, you will be able to establish eligibility for another 12 months if you enter a doctoral program.
    17-month extension of OPT:  Many of you have heard that some F-1 graduates will be eligible for an additional 17 months of OPT (for a total of 29).  This is true; however, the extension is available only for students who obtain degrees in STEM fields (broadly defined as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and whose employers are registered in a government program call E-Verify.  Unfortunately, there is only one program at TC whose graduates might qualify for this extension.  TC's programs in technology, science and mathematics are classified under "education" by the US Department of Education; therefore, they are not included in the 17-month extension eligibility list.

Application Deadline for Post-Completion OPT


As a rule, it is best to apply for OPT at least 3-4 months before you want to start working. Students may file post-completion OPT application up to 90 days before but no later than 60 days after completion of studies:  While students may now file OPT applications after completion of studies, we strongly recommend filing them well prior to completion of studies.  The 12 months of OPT must still be completed within 14 months of completion of studies, and there are often delays in OPT processing.  So students who apply during the 60 days after completion of studies risk losing part of their 12-months of authorized OPT employment.

For example, if you complete your degree requirements on May 15, your OPT application must be submitted to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services no later than May 15.  Please note, you may submit an OPT application in the 60 day grace period following program end date as an exception to the above rule

Note that for immigration purposes, your "degree completion" date is the date you complete your degree requirements, which is not the same as your "graduation" date. The completion date refers to the date you finish your last class, submit your final project / thesis, or within 30 days following a Line 1 dissertation defense.

H1B Cap-Gap


The time between the end of the F-1 status and beginning of H-1B employment is referred to as the cap gap. The cap-gap extension is a period in which an eligible F-1 student's status is automatically extended to bridge the gap between the end of F-1 status and start of H-1B status.

If a student is on OPT and eligible for Cap-Gap Extension, they will be automatically extended and be eligible to work while H1B is pending approval. For further details please contact OIS.

If a student is not on OPT and eligible for Cap-Gap extension, they will be automatically extended but they will not be able to work till H1B is approved. For further details please contact OIS.


OPT APPLICATION PROCEDURE

  • Attend an F-1 Employment Workshop
  • download the OPT application packet from OIS website.

Office of International Services
Teachers College, Columbia University
Box 7, 525 W 120th Street
New York, New York 10027-6696
Phone: (212) 678-3939 ♦ ~ Fax: (212) 678-3990 ♦ Email: