Optional Practical Training (OPT) (F-1)
Your F-1 student status allows up to one full-year (12 months) of off-campus employment authorization to gain practical experience related to your major field of study. This year of U.S. work permission is called Optional Practical Training (OPT).
- Allows for paid and unpaid experiences
- Must be used for training related to your major field and appropriate to your level of education
- Allows multiple employers and self employment within authorized dates.
As an F-1 student you are eligible for up to 12 months of OPT authorization per academic level. You can choose to start using your OPT time after you have been enrolled for one full academic year, but many students choose to save your OPT year for after graduation.
You may earn a new year of OPT eligibility if you move to a higher level of education in the U.S. (for instance, from a Bachelor’s to a Master’s degree).
You may be eligible to apply for OPT if:
- You hold valid F-1 status
- You have been lawfully enrolled as a full-time college/university student for at least one full academic year (two full semesters)
- You are in good academic standing with Boston University
You may NOT qualify to apply for OPT if:
- All or part of your last academic year was spent in an English-language training program, including BU’s Center for English Language and Orientation Programs (CELOP)
- You were previously authorized for 12 months of more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT); part-time CPT does not affect your eligibility for OPT
- You have previously received OPT authorization for the same or higher educational level
- If you are on a leave of absence or suspension from BU
- You have had violation or break in F-1 status in the past academic year, and have restarted your F-1 status by travel with a new “initial” I-20
In order to count summer as a “full semester” towards OPT and CPT eligibility, you must be enrolled for 12 credits or both summer terms. While 8 credits in one summer term is usually considered “full-time” registration, this is not considered a “full semester” of study for the purpose of employment eligibility.
Keep in mind that an ISSO advisor will review your academic record and your immigration history to evaluate whether we can recommend you for a period of OPT. The final decision on whether to approve your case is made by USCIS.
Part-Time and Full-Time
When you apply for OPT, you must indicate if you are requesting permission for part-time (20 hours per week or less) or full-time (anything over 20 hours) OPT. Part-time authorization allows you to work up to 20 hours per week, while full-time authorization is required if you will work over 20 hours per week.
You can apply for periods of OPT authorization as follows:
- Part-time during a regular semester of study
- Part-time or full-time during summer vacation
- Part-time or full-time if you are a graduate student done with all course work and completing the thesis or dissertation stage of your degree
- Full-time to begin after graduation
Part-time authorization allows you to work up to 20 hours per week, while full-time authorization is required if you will work over 20 hours per week.
If you apply for part-time authorization, it will be deducted from your 12 month total at half the rate. For instance, if you apply for 4 months of part-time OPT, you have used the equivalent of 2 months of full-time OPT and are still eligible to apply for your remaining 10 months.
Types of OPT
You can apply to begin using your OPT time once you have been enrolled for one full academic year (two full semesters), and while you are still completing your program of study.
Pre-completion OPT is available part-time only during semesters of required study, but you can choose either part-time or full-time during summer vacation periods or if you are in the thesis or dissertation stage of a graduate degree.
You may wish to save all or most of your 12 months of OPT eligibility to use after your completion of your program of study.
You must be registered for graduation or have a letter from your academic department verifying the date of expected completion of the program of study when applying for OPT.
When should I Apply for OPT?
We recommend that students apply 90 days before their requested OPT start date as it can take this long for the USCIS to reach a decision on the application. The timing of submitting your OPT application differs depending on whether they are applying for the OPT to begin prior to completion of studies, or after.