Key Things to Understand About Optional Practical Training (OPT)

3 min readMar 21, 2024


Key Things to Understand About Optional Practical Training (OPT)

For many international students enrolled in U.S. institutions under an F-1 visa, the desire to extend their stay in the U.S. often leads them to explore various avenues. Among these options, two are particularly prominent: continuing their studies for an additional year to maintain their F-1 visa status or securing employment after graduation. While navigating the process of obtaining a job offer and subsequently securing a work visa can pose challenges for foreign nationals, the latter option remains popular, often seen as a viable pathway towards obtaining permanent residency, commonly known as a green card. Central to this transition for foreign students is Optional Practical Training (OPT), serving as a crucial bridge between student life and professional endeavors in the United States. Let’s delve into what OPT entails and how you can track your OPT application using innovative tracking solutions.

Understanding Optional Practical Training (OPT)

According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Optional Practical Training (OPT) refers to temporary employment opportunities directly related to an F-1 student’s major field of study. Eligible students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization, either before completing their academic studies (pre-completion) or after graduation (post-completion).

Pre-completion OPT: Students can apply for pre-completion OPT after completing one full academic year of lawful enrollment on a full-time basis at a certified institution. It’s important to note that the one-year requirement can be fulfilled even if the student held a different nonimmigrant status during that period. During the academic term, students may work part-time (20 hours or less per week), while full-time employment is permissible during scheduled breaks.

Post-completion OPT: This option becomes available after completing academic studies. Students may engage in part-time (20 hours or less per week) or full-time employment.

If a student participates in pre-completion OPT, the duration of this employment will be subtracted from the total post-completion OPT authorization period. For instance, if a student undertakes 10 months of pre-completion OPT, they would be eligible for up to 2 months of post-completion OPT.

Differentiating STEM Optional Practical Training (OPT)

While standard OPT offers a 12-month employment authorization period without extensions, students with degrees in specific Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields have the opportunity to apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion OPT employment authorization. To qualify for this extension, students must meet the following criteria:

  • Hold an F-1 status and possess a STEM degree listed on the STEM Designated Degree Program List (PDF).
  • Be employed by an organization enrolled in and utilizing E-Verify.
  • Have received initial post-completion OPT employment authorization based on their STEM degree.

Eligible students can leverage this extended 24-month period while seeking employment opportunities that may lead to work visa sponsorship or green card applications. Further details and eligibility criteria can be found at the provided link.

By understanding the nuances of Optional Practical Training (OPT), international students can navigate their transition from academia to the professional realm in the United States more effectively, leveraging available opportunities to pursue their career aspirations.

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