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Optional Practical Training
For Students in F-1 Status

On April 8, 2008, the Department of Homeland Security published an interim final rule that implemented several important changes to F-1 OPT rules and procedures.  This page has been updated to reflect those changes.  While the provisions of this interim rule took effect immediately, they are subject to change before the final rule is published.

[NOTE: This page offers information regarding the 12-month period of OPT for which most students in F-1 status are eligible.  If you are seeking information about the 17-month extension of OPT for students in STEM fields, click here].

What is Optional Practical Training?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a benefit of F-1 immigration status that permits up to 12 months of off-campus employment for the purpose of gaining practical experience in the student's chosen field. While the student may work for any employer in the U.S., the job duties must be directly related to the student’s major area of study and commensurate with the student’s educational level.  Practical training experiences that are unpaid are also permitted within certain limitations.  Click here for more information about experiences that count as "employment" for OPT purposes. 

Once approved for OPT, the student may work for one or more employers at the same time, and may change jobs as often as desired within the OPT authorization period. The student may work unlimited hours if the OPT is approved for full-time employment.  The student is required to report information about the location of their OPT experience/employment and may not accrue an aggregate of 90 days of unemployment while on post-completion OPT. 

Eligibility

  • The student must have been lawfully enrolled as a full-time student for at least one full academic year (excluding time spent in an intensive English program), and be in valid F-1 status at the time of application. In limited circumstances, authorized part-time study may count towards this eligibility requirement. The student should discuss this with an ISSO advisor.

  • The student must be in good academic standing with Boston University to be eligible for OPT. Students who are currently on a leave of absence or on suspension from their academic programs are not eligible for OPT.

  • The majority of students are limited to an aggregate of 12 months of full-time OPT per progressive educational level, regardless of how many schools they may have attended. For example, students who use 12 months of OPT during a Master’s program are eligible for another 12 months of OPT if they move on to a Doctoral program, but not if they move on to a second Master’s program.  Student majoring in STEM fields may qualify for an extension of the OPT beyond the 12 month limit (see 17-Month Extension of OPT for STEM Majors below).

  • If a student has engaged in a total of 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) during a program of study, the student is not eligible for OPT for that program.

  • Students enrolled for study at the Center for English Language and Orientation Programs (CELOP) are not eligible for OPT.


  • IMPORTANT NOTE:   If you regain F-1 status with the use of a Form I-20 issued for “Initial Attendance," time accrued toward eligibility for OPT will begin when the new F-1 status is granted upon arrival at the port of entry with the new I-20. Any time previously spent in F-1 status will not count toward eligibility.   An application to change immigration status to the F-1 classification from within the U.S. may also affect eligibility for OPT.  Students should discuss eligibility with an ISSO advisor if considering OPT within the first two full semesters after changing to F-1.

Part-time versus Full-time OPT
F-1 students do not have to use their entire 12 months of OPT at one time. OPT is available on a part-time basis (20 hours or fewer per week) or on a full-time basis (more than 20 hours per week). Part-time OPT will be deducted from the 12 months of available OPT at one-half the full-time rate (i.e., if a student engages in part-time OPT for four (4) months during the summer, then only two (2) months of OPT will be deducted from the 12-month total).

Periods in which students can engage in OPT
DHS now differentiates between pre-completion OPT (OPT that begins and ends prior to the completion of the program of study) and post-completion OPT (OPT that begins and ends after the completion of the program of study).  Students may no longer apply for a single period of OPT that begins before they complete their program and extends beyond their program end date.


Pre-Completion OPT

  1. Part-time or full-time OPT during the annual vacation (summer break) and at other times when school is not in session provided that the student is eligible to register and intends to continue studies in the following term.

  2. Part-time OPT while school is in session.

  3. Part-time or full-time OPT for graduate students who are finishing thesis/dissertation research or the equivalent, but have otherwise completed all course requirements and continue to register for “certified full-time” study. Students will need to provide a letter from their academic department verifying completion of course requirements, and the date they are expected to submit the final version of their thesis or dissertation. Students in a graduate program should discuss their "completion date" with their ISSO advisor as this date may vary based on college, program of study and degree requirements.

Post-Completion OPT

  1. Full-time OPT after completion of the program of study.  Students must be registered for graduation in the University Information System (UIS), or provide a letter from their academic department verifying the date of expected completion of the program of study when they meet with their ISSO advisor to apply for OPT. 

    Please Note: Students who do not graduate when expected must continue to register, and must apply for an extension of their Form I-20 prior to the expiration date on page one of the Form I-20.

    Failure to graduate when expected may affect eligibility for OPT. Students should consult with their ISSO advisor.
When to Apply for OPT

When students are eligible to submit OPT applications to the USCIS differs depending on whether they are applying for the OPT to begin prior to completion of studies, or after.


Applying for Pre-Completion OPT:  Students may apply as early as 120 days before the date they wish to begin OPT; however, they may not apply more than 90 days before meeting the one full academic year enrollment requirement.

Applying for Post-Completion OPT:

Students may submit their OPT application up to 90 days prior to their program end date, and up to 60 days after the program end date when applying for post-completion OPT. Also, students may not apply for OPT more than 90 days before meeting the one full academic year enrollment requirement.

USCIS must receive the OPT application no more than 30 days after the ISSO advisor signs the recommendation for OPT on the student's Form I-20.

We recommend that students apply as early as possible (three to four months in advance of the intended OPT start, if they are eligible) as it can take this long for the USCIS to reach a decision on the application.

Students may remain lawfully in the U.S. while the OPT application is still pending (even if beyond the end of the 60-day grace). Students should not travel out of the U.S. following completion of studies until the OPT application is approved. Students on post-completion OPT must present the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and proof of employment in order to reenter the U.S. (See “Maintenance of F-1 Status for Students Engaging in OPT After Completion of Studies” section below.)

Filing the Post-Completion OPT application during the 60-day grace period. Students who choose to wait to file their OPT application after the completion of their program must be aware that they cannot choose an OPT start date later than the last day of their 60 day grace period and could lose some of their OPT time if their application is not adjudicated quickly.  Students who choose to leave the U.S. prior to submitting an application for OPT during the 60 day grace period are not permitted to return to apply for OPT. If a student exits the U.S. during this 60 day period, their F-1 status ends and they are no longer eligible to submit an OPT application.  A student must apply for OPT from within the United Stated during the grace period.

How to Apply for OPT

1.  Complete Forms and Documentation
Download the following set of PDF documents to begin your application (paper copies are also available at the ISSO):


OPT Application Package:   This package includes the OPT application form (Form I-765), a list of the documents you must prepare before meeting with your ISSO advisor; photo specifications; and the OPT Acknowledgement that you must sign before receiving an OPT recommendation from the ISSO.

2.  Register for Graduation, if applying for Post-completion OPT

Students who are applying for OPT to begin after completion of their program of study will need to register for graduation with their academic department. Students should consult with their academic advisor prior to applying for OPT regarding questions concerning completion of all their degree requirements.

3.  Schedule an Appointment with your ISSO Advisor

Students must schedule an appointment with an ISSO advisor to process the OPT application paperwork and to receive a new Form I-20 with a recommendation for OPT. 

4.   Mail the Application

Applications must be received by USCIS no later than 30 days after the DSO recommends the student for the OPT authorization.

After receiving a new Form I-20 with a recommendation for the OPT authorization from the ISSO advisor, students must mail the completed application to the USCIS Lockbox facility at one of the the following addresses.  After the Lockbox facility processes the check and mails a receipt notice to the student, the application will be forwarded to the appropriate USCIS Service Center for adjudication.

By Mail:   By Express Mail or Courier Service:

USCIS

PO Box 660867

Dallas, TX 75266

 

USCIS

Attn:  AOS

2501 S. State Highway 121

Business Suite 400

Lewisville, TX 75067


We recommend sending the application by an overnight or express courier service (U.S. Express Mail, Federal Express, DHL or UPS ) or via the U.S. Post Office via Certified Mail with a Return Receipt requested to provide confirmation of delivery.

NOTE: In the event that the application is lost or if ISSO follow-up is required, it is very important that students keep official verification that their applications were mailed and received by the USCIS. It is also important to provide the ISSO advisor with the receipt number (usually beginning with “EAC“) provided on the USCIS Notice of Action (see below).

E-Notification of Application Acceptance (new service as of February 2010):    If you would like an email and/or text message sent to you informing you that USCIS has accepted your application, you may submit a Form G-1145 with our OPT application.  Please be aware that this is NOT a subsititute for proof that the application was delivered to USCIS.  If USCIS were to lose your application before opening the envelope and completing data entry, your signed Return Receipt from the Post Office or other shipper's proof of delivery would be required to establish that you attempted to file your application in a timely manner.

USCIS Processing of the OPT Application

Notice of Action or Request for Evidence
Students should receive an official Notice of Action (Receipt Notice) from USCIS approximately two to four weeks after mailing the application. This notice will confirm official receipt of the application and assign a case number to the pending application.

In the course of adjudicating the application, USCIS may send a blue Form I-797 “Request for Evidence” to an applicant when an item in the above checklist is missing, or USCIS requires additional information before making a decision on an application. If such a letter is received, students should contact the ISSO immediately for assistance.

Checking the Status of the OPT Application
Students may check their case status on-line at https://egov.uscis.gov/cris/Dashboard.do. Students who still have questions after checking the case status on-line should contact the ISSO. It may take up to 90 days to reach a decision on the case. If the application takes longer than 90 days from the date on the official receipt notice, students may contact the ISSO immediately to inquire about procedures to request a temporary employment authorization card.

Cancellation of OPT Application
USCIS has no provision for canceling an OPT recommendation after adjudication. For students who have applied for OPT to begin after completion of study, failure to complete the program of study as expected (due to an "incomplete" or failing grade, or otherwise failing to meet graduation requirements) can result in permanent loss of OPT for the student's current level of education. Students who have not yet mailed their application for OPT, may request cancellation or change of dates on their OPT recommendation through a second appointment with their ISSO advisor. Students who have a pending application for OPT (not yet approved) and who learn that they may not graduate as expected, should contact the ISSO immediately to determine if cancellation of their OPT is still possible. All students are advised to confirm their eligibility for graduation with their academic advisor or department prior to applying for OPT, since change or cancellation of an OPT application at a later time may not be possible.

Approval
Once the application is approved, USCIS will mail the student an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to the address the student indicated on the Form I-765. Students must bring this card and their I-20 to the ISSO so the EAD can be copied for the file and the I-20 can be endorsed for travel. It is illegal to begin employment before receiving the EAD or before the start date on the card.

Maintenance of F-1 Status for Students Engaging in OPT after Completion of Studies

On-Campus Employment after Completion of Program
Students are not eligible to continue working on-campus at Boston University after the completion of their program unless they have received an EAD and their OPT dates cover the dates of employment. Students who intend to work on campus after completion of their program will no longer be paid through the Student Employment Office and will need to complete a new I-9 form at the ISSO during designated walk-in hours in order to be paid as an employee/scholar paid through the Office of Payroll.


Reporting Requirements

Students are required to report the following information to the ISSO through the entire period of OPT.  Failure to report properly could be considered a violation of F-1 immigration status.


OPT Location/Employer Reporting Requirement
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) now requires all students in F-1 status who have been granted Optional Practical Training employment authorization to report the name and address of their OPT location/employer.  Students must also report if their employment is interrupted at any point.

Click here
for reporting instructions.


Report Changes of Your Name and Address
Students are required to report any change of their name or U.S. address (within 10 days of moving) to Boston University for as long as they remain in F-1 status. The ISSO has arranged for students on OPT to maintain access to the Student Link throughout their period of OPT.  Report any address changes in the Immigration-U.S. address field in the Student Link (http://www.bu.edu/studentlink). Report name changes through the ISSO Contact web page or by sending an email message to isso@bu.edu. Failure to report a name or address change could be considered a violation of F-1 status and may result in termination of the OPT.

Restrictions on Unemployment
Students approved for post-completion OPT may not accrue more than an aggregate of 90 days of unemployment during the entire 12-month OPT period.  Students must be engaged in at least 20 hours of OPT activity per week; periods with activity of less than 20 hours per week will be counted toward unemployment accrual.

It is strongly recommended that students keep thorough and accurate records of their OPT experience/employment in case they are ever required to show proof of their OPT activities.

Restrictions regarding OPT Employers
There are no restrictions on the maximum hours a students may work once they have been authorized for post-completion OPT; they may work part-time (at least 20 hours per week), full-time or overtime, and may work for multiple employers. Students may only work after receipt of the EAD, only for the dates as specified on the EAD, and only in the field of study related to the degree on which the OPT was recommended.  Click here for more information about experiences that count as "employment" for OPT purposes.

Traveling outside the U.S.
Students should consult with an ISSO advisor BEFORE traveling outside the U.S. if they have applied for OPT to commence after completion of their studies. Students should not travel outside the U.S. after completing their studies unless they have received their EAD. In order to reenter the U.S. in F-1 status during OPT after completion of studies, students will need their EAD, Form I-20 with the OPT endorsement, a travel signature less than six months old signed after receiving the EAD, a valid F-1 visa, and a valid passport. Students should also carry proof of their employment or other valid OPT activity, or a job offer. Students who have not secured OPT employment in their field are advised not to travel abroad after degree completion as they may not be readmitted to the U.S. in F-1 status.

Extended Absence from the U.S. or Entry to the U.S. in a New Immigration Status
Authorization for OPT is automatically terminated if the student is physically absent from the U.S. for more than five months or if the student is admitted to the U.S. in another immigration status (such as entry as a B-2 visitor).

Beginning a new program of study
Authorization for OPT is automatically terminated if the student officially transfers their SEVIS record another school or begins study at another educational level.

Legal Options after Post-Completion Optional Practical Training
17-Month Extension of OPT for STEM Majors

Students who graduate with certain majors in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) may be eligible for an extension of their OPT authorization.  Click here to learn more about this limited benefit.

H-1B Cap-Gap Extension of Status and Work Authorization

A student's F-1 status and OPT employment authorization will be extended if the student is the beneficiary of a timely filed H-1B petition requesting change of status and an employment start date of October 1st of the following fiscal year. This benefit applies to all students on post-completion OPT. The extension of status and work authorization automatically terminates upon the rejection, denial or revocation of the H-1B petition filed on the student's behalf.   Students should make an appointment with their ISSO advisor -- prior to the expiration of their OPT -- to discuss how they can take advantage of this benefit. 

Click here
for more information about the cap-gap provisions.


60-Day Grace Period

Once students have completed their period of post-completion OPT, they are permitted to remain in the United States for up to sixty days in order to prepare for departure from the U.S. Students are not permitted to continue employment during this period. While travel within the U.S. is permitted during the grace period, departure from the country and reentry in F-1 status is not permitted during this time. Once a student departs the U.S., the grace period is concluded.

Change of Program Level
Students who intend to continue their education immediately following completion of OPT must obtain an I-20 for the new program of study within 60 days of the end of their OPT and must begin the new program of study within five (5) months of the end of the OPT. If the program of study will begin more than five months after the end of the OPT, the student will need to leave the U.S. within the 60-day grace period and request a new "initial attendance" I-20 in order to reenter to begin the new program of study.

Change/Adjustment to another Immigration Status
Students who intend to remain in the U.S. following completion of OPT and whose primary purpose will not be full-time study may qualify to apply for a change of immigration status. The ISSO advisor may be able to give general information about eligibility for change to another nonimmigrant status (such as H-1B or TN temporary nonimmigrant worker categories, or F-2 dependent category). General information about immigration status can be found on the USCIS web site at www.uscis.gov.

A Note of Caution Regarding Illegal Employment
While USCIS regulations allow OPT as an employment benefit, working without proper authorization is a serious violation of nonimmigrant status. Students must wait until they receive their EAD before beginning employment. Although the ISSO can advise students on immigration policy, it is ultimately the student’s responsibility to comply with all USCIS regulations that pertain to their lawful F-1 status and employment.

 

ISSO
Boston University
February 24, 2012

Boston University International Students & Scholars Office