Optional Practical Training (OPT) (F-1)
Your F-1 student status allows up to one full-year (12 months) of off-campus employment authorization for each higher level of college/university education completed, in order to gain practical experience related to your major field of study. This year of U.S. work permission is called Optional Practical Training (OPT).
Students in certain Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) majors, may qualify for a 24-month extension of OPT. Eligibility for a STEM OPT, as well as the application process, and the requirements for STEM OPT employment, are different than those outlined below for OPT.
As an F-1 student you are eligible for up to 12 months of OPT authorization for each 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), but not if you move to a new program at the same or lower level.
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 or full-time OPT.
Part-time authorization allows you to work up to 20 hours per week, while full-time authorization is required if you will work more than 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
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?
OPT applications must be received by USCIS within a specific filing window in order to be considered. Application received before or after the filing window will likely be denied by USCIS.
We recommend that students apply for OPT as soon as they are able as it can take 90 days or longer for the USCIS to reach a decision on the application.
- USCIS will accept applications for OPT up to 90 days before your program end date (for post-completion OPT), or up to 90 days before the requested OPT start date (for pre-completion OPT).
- Applications must arrive at USCIS no later than 30 days after the OPT recommendation is made on your I-20 by an ISSO advisor.
- Applications must arrive at USCIS no later than the end of the 60 day grace period after the program end date. Applications arriving this late may not be approved for the full 12-months of eligibility.