Optional Practical Training offers temporary employment for international students in the United States to work in their area of study.
Optional Practical Training (OPT) provides a valuable opportunity for eligible international students on an F-1 visa to get real-world work experience directly related to their field of academic study. Through OPT, students get a chance to apply and supplement the skills they learned in school.
OPT is a popular option for Indian students to work in the United States after completing their studies at an American university. According to the Open Doors survey by the Institute of International Education, there were over 81,000 Indian students enrolled in the OPT program and nearly 200,000 Indians studying in the United States in 2019-2020.
EducationUSA’s team of advisers at its eight centers across India are a valuable resource for students who are interested in seeking OPT in the United States. EducationUSA is a U.S. Department of State network that promotes U.S. higher education by offering comprehensive information about opportunities to study at accredited postsecondary institutions throughout the United States. Postsecondary institutions include universities, colleges and vocational schools.
What is OPT?
It is a form of training, typically paid, that directly relates to an F-1 category visa student’s program of study. F-1 students can either apply for OPT during their program of study, which is known as pre-completion OPT, or after they finish their program of study, which is known as post-completion OPT.
There are three types of OPT:
OPT: For students engaged in postsecondary institutions or at conservatories, 12 months of Regular OPT is available for each higher level of study. For example, a student may have 12 months OPT for a bachelor’s degree and another 12 months OPT for a master’s degree.
Pre-Completion OPT: Any part of the OPT used before the student’s program end date. It may be part-time or full-time. Pre-completion OPT is limited to 20 hours per week while school is in session but can be full-time during breaks and annual vacation.
Post-Completion OPT: Any portion of the OPT used after the student’s program end date. It must be full-time.
24-month (STEM) OPT Extension: This is a 24-month extension of post-completion OPT for qualifying students with approved science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees. Students approved for STEM OPT can engage in training for an additional 24 months after finishing their regular post-completion OPT. Students can participate in up to two separate STEM OPT extensions if they earn a second qualifying STEM degree at a higher education level.
How to Apply for OPT
There are several key steps to apply for OPT:
1. F-1 students must request approval from their designated school official (DSO).
2. The DSO makes a recommendation in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and by endorsing a student’s Form I-20—the Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.
3. The student must then file the Form I-765, which is the Application for Employment Authorization, and supporting documents with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
4. If approved, USCIS will issue a Form I-766—the Employment Authorization Document.
5. Once the F-1 student receives authorization from USCIS, they can begin their Optional Practical Training.
How EducationUSA can help
EducationUSA is the official source of information on U.S. higher education and helps Indian students navigate the process of applying to American universities through accurate, current and comprehensive information. EducationUSA advisers guide students to identify their educational and professional priorities, make informed choices and become active decision-makers in the admissions process. The advisers equip the students with skills and resources to successfully transition to life at U.S campuses.
“Practical training opportunities are a hallmark of U.S. higher education that allow students to translate academic knowledge into employable skills and gain relevant work experience in their program(s) of study,” says Bhavvna Jolly, EducationUSA senior program officer. “OPT is a stepping stone to building successful careers and provides the opportunity to students to gain a ‘return on investment’ on their education—an important factor for Indian families in selecting universities abroad.”
Jason Chiang is a freelance writer based in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.