Optional Practical Training (“OPT”) is a temporary permission granted by the USCIS to F-1 students to enable them to gain experience in the U.S. related to the program of studies from which they have graduated.[i] Although OPT rules generally facilitate the student’s endeavors, there are a number of deadline and other notification requirements that students must accommodate, to ensure that they maintain their student status. The student’s eligibility for other statuses (such as H-1B) or permanent residence depends on having maintained the F-1 status throughout OPT, which in turn depends on complying with these many deadlines.
Critical Deadlines for OPT
- If the student is filing for OPT upon graduation,
- Earliest Submission Date: Initial OPT applications cannot be submitted to the USCIS more than 90 days prior to completion of the course of studies.
- Latest Submission Date: The USCIS must receive the student’s I-765 OPT application by no later than the 60th day following the end of the I-20 course of studies, which usually is the date of the student’s graduation.
- The student should check with their DSO as to the school’s deadlines for submission of OPT requests.
- Employers should require students to confirm each step (the deadline, the submission of the request to the DSO, and the submission of the I-765 to the USCIS).
- Employment must not begin until the actual EAD is “in hand”.
- If the student is filing a STEM extension,
- Earliest Submission Date: Applications for STEM extensions cannot be submitted to the USCIS before 120 days prior to completion of the course of studies.
- Latest Submission Date: The USCIS must receive the student’s I-765 application before the expiration of the current EAD.
- Continued or new employment is permitted after the original EAD expires and while the STEM-extension is pending.
Critical Notifications During OPT
For the items below, the student’s school is supposed to update SEVIS with the new or different information. Some schools are less efficient at this than others, depending on the level of staffing or training. Students should retain records of all their notifications to the schools, so that they can document (if needed) that they complied with the timelines.
- If the student moves residences:
- During the initial OPT application: The student should anticipate (and avoid) any moves during the 90 days following submission of the OPT application to USCIS. If it happens, the student should contact the DSO immediately.
- During the initial OPT approval period: Regulations do not put a deadline on such notification during the initial EAD period, although the suggestion is that this be done within 10 days. SEVP OPT Guidance, Section 7.3.1.
- During the OPT STEM-extension: The student should notify the school of within 10 days of such change(s). SEVP OPT Guidance, Section 8.7.
- If the student changes employers;
- During the initial approval of OPT or the approved STEM-extension: The student should notify the school of within 10 days of such change(s). SEVP OPT Guidance, Section 7.3.1, 8.7.
- While the STEM-Extension still is pending with USCIS: The student should notify the school of within 10 days of such change(s). SEVP OPT Guidance, Section 8.7. The student also must file an amended I-765 with the USCIS, without fee. SEVP OPT Guidance, Section 8.4.3.
- After the STEM-Extension is approved: The student should notify the school of within 10 days of such change(s). SEVP OPT Guidance, Section 8.7. The student also should obtain and retain evidence of the employer’s registration and good standing in E-Verify, in case this is questioned later.
- If the student changes the form of “career-related” activities (such as by moving from an unpaid internship to traditional employment with the same entity named previously as the “employer”)
- During the initial OPT grant: Regulations do not put a deadline on such notification during the initial EAD period, although the suggestion is that this be done within 10 days. SEVP OPT Guidance, Section 7.3.1.
- During STEM-extension: The student should notify the school of changes in employers or in the form of the OPT activities within 10 days of such change(s). SEVP OPT Guidance, Section 8.4.7.
- Changes to work location, salary, department or manager:
- No notification required, provided that the changes do not reflect larger changes to the duties being performed or employer.
- Changes to job duties
- No notification required. The student should retain documentation about the nature of the new duties and how they relate to the degree received, either by retaining a copy of the new offer letter or promotion letter along with a job description (or approved goals), or through the issuance of a letter from the student’s manager confirming the duties and connection to the degree program.
Students seeking more information about their options during OPT can read my prior posts on OPT employment, OPT unemployment, and other OPT activities. Employers seeking more information about ensuring that work performed by OPT students is authorized can read my post on Employers and OPT Employment.
[i] 8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(10)(ii).