Optional Practical Training

What is OPT?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is practical work experience for F-1 students directly related to their field of study and commensurate with their level of study. OPT enhances or enriches an academic or curricular experience.

Post-completion OPT is most common and refers to work authorization after completing coursework and/or degree requirements.

Pre-Completion OPT is less common and used before finishing program requirements. Pre-completion OPT may only be part-time while school is in session, if the student has not yet completed all required course work.

OPT Eligibility, Application, & Reporting Information

Before OPT & How to Apply +

Eligibility: Requirements

F-1 students eligible for OPT are: 

  • In F-1 status for at least one academic year

  • In good academic standing

  • Maintaining legal status

  • Authorized for less than 12 months of full time CPT.

    • F-1 students who have used one year or more of full time CPT are no longer eligible for OPT.

    • Use of part-time CPT does not affect eligibility for OPT

Please note that you do not need a job offer to apply for OPT.

Eligibility: Duration

F-1 students may be authorized for a maximum of 12 months of full time OPT during or following each advancing degree level. Part-time pre-completion OPT accrues at a rate of 50 percent (e.g., six months of part-time OPT counts as three months of the total).

Some students may be eligible for a STEM OPT extension after completing the initial 12 months.

Application Process

1. Attend a Post-Completion OPT Workshop (for post-completion OPT) or the Off-Campus Employment Workshop (for pre-completion OPT)

2. Prepare your OPT application using our tutorial

3. Review your prepared OPT application with an adviser during our walk-in hours

4. Receive a new I-20 with OPT recommendation from our office

5. Submit your complete OPT application to USCIS

6. Wait for your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card

Please be sure to review the other information on this page, especially regarding OPT delays, unemployment while on OPT, and reporting OPT updates.

When to Apply

Pre-completion OPT applications can be submitted to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) up to 90 days before the proposed OPT start date. The application must be received by USCIS within 30 days of the date an international student adviser enters the OPT recommendation into SEVIS.

Post-completion OPT applications can be submitted to USCIS up to 90 days before the degree requirements completion date and up to 60 days after the degree requirements completion date. The application must be received by USCIS within 30 days of the date an international student adviser enters the OPT recommendation into SEVIS.

OPT PROCESSING DELAYS
F-1 students across the country who have applied for OPT are facing unprecedented delays in receiving their EADs (employment authorization documents). F-1 students are not permitted to begin working until they get their EADs. They cannot travel outside the US and reenter without their EAD and a job offer. Therefore these delays can result in loss of opportunities or jeopardize a student’s legal status in the U.S. While in previous years, OPT applications have taken an average of 2-3 months to be processed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), processing times this year are much longer than in previous years. Recent estimates are that OPT processing times could take as long as 5+ months.

Follow these links for more information on these delays:
-- Check USCIS Case Processing Times 
-- Contact USCIS for a status update (if your OPT/STEM application has been pending for more than 90 days)

Once an OPT application goes to the USCIS, Rutgers has no control over the progress of the application. We would like to advise all our students who are considering applying for OPT, to plan well in advance.

OPT applications can be sent to the USCIS up to 90 days before the end of a student’s coursework, and for up to 60 days after. This means that with enough advance planning, a student can apply in a timeline such that they receive their EAD card in time and can begin working according to their plans. It may also help to inform potential employers about the possibility of a delay in receiving work authorization. Finally, it is important to note that students still have legal status in the U.S. during the OPT adjudication period as long as they filed in the correct time frame.

Feel free to contact an international student adviser during our advising hours or via email us with any questions or concerns.

For job search tips and resources, please visit University Career Services International Student Resources.

During OPT +

Proof of Employment

When approved for OPT, an F-1 student receives an EAD (employment authorization document) card displaying the relevant validity period. Employment is authorized only after you receive your EAD card, and you may begin work on the start date listed on your card. 

Keep documentation of your OPT employment history for your own records. You might need it for future benefits applications. The immigration regulations do not specify what documents are “proof of employment.” Examples of employment documentation could include:

  • Offer letter from your employer
  • Letter from your supervisor on official letterhead that confirms continued employment (or internship/volunteer service)
    If the connection between your field of study and your employment/practical training is not obvious, it might be helpful for the letter to explain how your practical training relates to your studies.
  • Payment records
  • Timesheet/activity log for unpaid practical training experience

OPT Reporting Requirements

Please Note: USCIS issued a new policy guidance on September 30, 2019, titled, “Practical Training: Determining a Direct Relationship Between Employment and a Student’s Major Area of Study”. The guidance explains that students are responsible for providing a description of how their job duties relate to their major area of study. It also provides examples of a direct relationship with the course of study. You can learn about the guidance in detail here.  

Using our OPT Data Update e-Form via the RGlobal portal, you are required by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to inform Rutgers Global–International Student and Scholar Services about:

  • All changes of U.S. address, phone number, and email address
  • Any legal name changes
  • The name and address of every OPT employer you have
  • If your employment with any OPT employer is terminated or interrupted, the date of such termination or interruption

There is a 10-day regulatory deadline for reporting each item on the list above. Schools are then required to report this information to DHS via the SEVIS database. Please use the OPT Data Update Form Tutorial for detailed OPT reporting instructions.

Students on active post-completion OPT will receive an email regarding the SEVP portal. However, Rutgers Global - International Student and Scholar Services requires that you continue to submit all OPT information updates using the OPT Data Update e-Form via the RGlobal portal. Do not report any information via the SEVP portal after you submit your updates via the RGlobal portal. You may still create an SEVP portal account to review your information in SEVIS.

Unemployment During OPT

During the initial 12-month period of post-completion OPT, no student (including STEM students) may be unemployed for an aggregate of more than 90 days. If a STEM student receives a 24-month extension, the limit on unemployment is raised to an aggregate of 150 days, applied to the entire 36-month period during which the student is on post-completion OPT.

Unemployment days start counting from your approved OPT start date (as indicated on your EAD card). To stop accruing days of unemployment, you must report (via the OPT Data Update e-form) your employment to Rutgers Global.  

Full-time employment is considered more than 20 hours per week. Students authorized for post-completion OPT may work part time (20 or less hours per week) or full time (more than 20 hours per week). However, students will continue to accumulate days of unemployment in SEVIS when working 20 or less hours per week

There is no unemployment limit for students authorized for pre-completion OPT.

International Travel During OPT

  • Traveling abroad between submitting an OPT application and before receiving the USCIS receipt notice, or when waiting for a STEM extension EAD (after initial EAD has expired) could result in the loss of OPT and denial of readmission to the United States

  • While on post-completion OPT or an extension, regulations allow F-1 students to re-enter the United States to resume employment
  • While on OPT, please note that an F-1 visa application may be a high risk application and the chances of denial could be greater than normal

For more information on travel and visas, please visit our Travel and Visa Information page.

After OPT +

End of Post-Completion OPT Authorization

Your OPT authorization ends when you start another degree program, when you change to another status, when your EAD card expires, if an a STEM extension request is denied, or if your H-1B cap-gap extension is denied. Learn more about OPT extensions.

After the completion of OPT, F-1 students have a grace period of 60 days within which to depart the United States, transfer to a new school or program, or apply to change your legal status (if eligible). If you are eligible for the 24-Month STEM OPT Extension, USCIS must receive your application before the expiration of your initial 12 months of OPT.