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Frequently Asked Questions: OPT Employment

The F-1 visa enables an individual to enter the U.S. as a full-time student at an accredited college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or in a language training program. The student must be enrolled in a program that culminates in a degree, diploma or certificate and the school must be authorized by the U.S. government to accept international students.

Q: Can I work on-campus while in F-1 status?

A: F-1 students are permitted to work on campus. Approval by a Designated School Official (DSO) or USCIS is NOT required, and students may work up to 20 hours per week while school is in session and full-time during official school vacation periods. On-campus employment includes work performed on school premises or at an off-campus location which is educationally affiliated with the school.

Q: Can I work off-campus while in F-1 status?

A: Yes, but only after completing an entire academic year of full-time study. After the first year, F-1 students may engage in three types of off-campus employment: (1) Curricular Practical Training (CPT); Optional Practical Training (OPT); or Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Optional Practical Training Extension (OPT).

Q: What is Optional Practical Training?

A: Optional Practical Training is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. Students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment before (pre-completion) and/or after (post-completion) completing their academic studies. If approved, a student is authorized to work up to 20 hours per week while school is in session and full-time during official school vacation periods.

Q: How do I apply for OPT?

A: Students that have completed one full academic year can request OPT employment with a DSO. The DSO then requests OPT in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) on behalf of the student. Next, the student needs to complete the Application for Employment Authorization (Form I-765), pay the filing fee, and submit it along with supporting documentation to USCIS within 30 days of the DSO’s recommendation in SEVIS. If approved, USCIS will issue an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and the student can begin work once the authorized date arrives.

Q: If I completed 12 months of OPT as an undergrad, can I apply for OPT again at the Master’s level.

A: Yes. Students can apply for OPT at each educational level.

Q: What if I am unemployed during OPT?

A: Students cannot accrue more than 90 days of unemployment during OPT.

Q: What are the types of acceptable employment?

A: Types of acceptable employment include multiple employers, work for hire, self-employed business owner, employment through an agency or consulting firm, unpaid or volunteer work and paid employment.

Q: Does the employment position need to be approved by the DSO?

A: No. Students do not need DSO approval to accept employment if it falls under the categories of acceptable employment.

If you have questions on OPT Employment, please contact our office to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today!