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What is OPT?

Although there are several visa categories for international students in the United States (including J and M categories), the majority of international students enrolled in US colleges or graduate schools are under the F1 visa program. Under the F1 Visa, students are allowed to work under OPT.

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OPT Defined

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a period during which undergraduate and graduate students with F-1 status who have completed or have been pursuing their degrees for more than nine months are permitted by the USCIS to work towards getting practical training to complement their field of studies.

The F1 visa is very flexible and largely administered by the school, in conjunction with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).

What Work Privileges are Available on OPT?

Under an F1 visa, students can complete their entire degree, and they have certain rights to work while they are on a valid F1 status.

light bulb rememberCheck out this "Working in the USA" article for full details about other legal ways to work in the USA.

While there is some right to work under OPT while still in school (“pre-completion OPT”), the main use for OPT is the right to work for 12 months after completion of a degree (“post-completion OPT”). So as you near graduation, you can apply for OPT, which will permit you to work for any employer in the US (subject to all of the rules of OPT). You can apply for a new OPT period for each new degree level you complete - for instance, if you receive a Bachelor’s degree, you can apply for OPT and work for a year, go back to graduate school, then when you complete your Masters or PHD, you can apply for OPT again and work for another year (many students actually do this).

OPT Twist with STEM Fields

One twist to OPT is that students who have graduated from a US college or university with a specific degree in the STEM fields - science, technology, engineering and mathematics - can apply to extend their OPT for an additional 17 months, bringing their total post-graduation OPT available time up to 29 months.

The specific degrees that qualify for the extension are:

  • Actuarial Sciences
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Engineering
  • Engineering Technologies
  • Life Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Military Technologies
  • Physical Sciences

As you can imagine, applying for OPT and staying compliant with all of its rules and your F1 visa status can be technical and complicated. Visit InternationalStudent.com Working in the USA for all of the rules associated with OPT. You will also need to learn more about student health insurance for OPT - you will likely need to purchase your own policy!

Learn more about OPT with our "How to apply for OPT" section.