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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 F-1 visa program. Under the F-1 visa, students are allowed to apply for work authorization under OPT.

OPT Defined

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a work authorization 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 (one academic year) are permitted by USCIS to work towards getting practical training to complement their field of studies.
The F-1 visa is 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 F-1 visa, students can complete their entire degree, and they have certain rights to work while they are on a valid F-1 status.

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

While there are some conditions where an international student can apply to work under OPT while still in school (“pre-completion OPT”), most international students choose to use their full 12 months of OPT after completing their degree for 12 months (“post-completion OPT”).

So as you near graduation (up to 90 days before graduation, in fact), you can apply for OPT, which, if granted, will permit you to work for an 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 Master’s 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 24 months, bringing their total post-graduation OPT available time up to 36 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

Full list of the eligible degrees Note: your school must code your major to match one of the CIP codes listed here in order to qualify for the STEM OPT extension.

As you can imagine, applying for OPT and staying compliant with all of its rules and your F-1 visa status can be technical and complicated. If you have questions about your eligibility, you can contact your school’s international office and they will be able to help you navigate the process of applying for OPT. If you are approved, it is likely that you will no longer be eligible for your school’s health insurance plan and your employer may not offer you insurance (or if they do, there may be a waiting period before the plan starts!). You may need to secure your own student health insurance for OPT, whether it’s for your entire OPT period or just a few months.
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International Student Health Insurance

Need insurance while on OPT? The Student Secure plan is a popular option and can be purchased for as little as 15 days up to a year.

Select the country where you need coverage. If you will be traveling to multiple countries, choose your primary destination. Coverage is worldwide outside your home country, and not limited to your host country.
Date that coverage should begin. This date cannot be more than 9 months from today.
This date cannot be more than 12 months from the date coverage begins.
Learn more about OPT with our How to apply for OPT section.