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Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT allows eligible F-1 students to engage in employment directly related to their major area of study for up to 12 months per educational level.

Most students use their 12 months of OPT upon degree completion [post-completion OPT]. OPT is granted by the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services, and approvals can take a long time. You will need to submit your OPT paperwork 90 days before you want to start working.

OPT can be authorized at the following times:

  • During the student’s annual vacation and at other times when the school is not in session if the student is currently enrolled and eligible, and intends, to register for the next term or session;
  • While school is in session, provided that it does not exceed 20 hours per week;
  • After the completion of all course requirements for the degree, excluding thesis or equivalent, if the student is in a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree program;
  • After completion of the course of study.

Information Reference for OPT

PRECONDITIONS: Students must have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis at a DHS-approved school for one full academic year before being eligible for OPT. Available both before and after completion of the educational objective, but different rules apply to pre- and post-completion OPT.

LOCATION: Students may engage in OPT for the duration of OPT authorization anywhere within the U.S., as long as the employment qualifies under OPT standards and F-1 status is maintained.

DURATION: Cumulative maximum of 12 months during any uninterrupted stay in F-1 status. Part-time OPT is deducted from the 12 month limit at 50%

HOURS PER WEEK: Limited to 20 hours per week for pre-completion OPT done while school is in session and student still has coursework to complete. Over 20 hours/per week can be requested for pre- completion OPT done during official school breaks or after student has completed all coursework required for the degree while the student is completing a thesis or dissertation. For post completion OPT, only full-time OPT can be requested.

Must be directly related to and commensurate with the level of the student’s course of study.

OFFER OF EMPLOYMENT: not required, but the student is expected to work or be actively seeking employment after the OPT/EAD is issued

EFFECT ON OTHER WORK: Prior use of full-time Curricular Practical Training for one year or more eliminates eligibility for OPT

APPROVAL PROCESS: Must apply for and receive EAD from USCIS with assistance of the DSO before work begins. Student must begin application procedures sufficiently in advance to allow the DSO to update SEVIS record with the recommendation, and to ensure that the Form I-765 be accepted by USCIS before the deadline.

MISCELLANEOUS: If doing pre-completion OPT, the student must maintain a full course of study during the period of employment (unless done during school breaks). Degree candidates that have completed all coursework must continue to make normal progress towards completing the thesis or dissertation required for their degree.

For students in certain STEM majors there is an opportunity to extend OPT for an additional 24 months at the end of the approved 12 month period.

How to Apply For OPT

In order to apply for OPT, you should meet with a DSO 3 – 4 MONTHS IN ADVANCE to allow the SEVIS record to be updated and for the Form I-765 to be received by USCIS in a timely manner. After your I-20 has been issued, please bring the following materials to the scheduled meeting with your school’s DSO:

  • Completed OPTRequest
  • Two U.S. passport-style photographs. DO NOT CUT THE PHOTOS DOWN. Lightly print your name and I-94 number on the back of each photo in pencil.
  • I-94 card Print Out
  • Photocopies of your passport identification pages, and visa.
  • Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) completed, marked with the appropriate code.
  • Filing Fee in the form of a check or money order. Make it payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security. If you are using a personal check, it must have your name and address on it.
  • Copy of previous Employment Authorization Document(s) (if applicable)
  • Copy of your job offer letter, if you have one (this is not required)

Initial 12 Month OPT Applications: You may chose to use our office address or your own address to file the application.

What happens after USCIS receives your OPT application?
You will receive a receipt notice from USCIS after your application has been filed. You can check the status of your application with the receipt notice number by going to the USCIS Case Status web page at: USCIS Case Status Web Page.

Up to 90 days after applying, you will receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and approval letter. Please note that you are not authorized to work until you have the card in hand or before the effective start date on the card.


The STEM OPT extension is a 24-month period of temporary training that directly relates to an F-1 student’s program of study in an approved STEM field.

Eligible F-1 students with STEM degrees who finish their program of study and participate in an initial period of regular post-completion OPT (often for 12 months) have the option to apply for a STEM OPT extension. Students may not apply for STEM OPT extensions during the 60-day grace period following an initial period of regular post-completion OPT. The process to apply for a STEM Extension is almost identical to an initial OPT request. However, there are some important differences:

Your STEM employer must be registered with e-verify.

You will need to complete an I-983 training plan with your current supervisor.

After that the checklist is similar as it was for your OPT application:
Code: (c)(3)(C) and enter the e-verify information in box 21
degree should match “degree type” on your I-20
copy of your diploma/transcript (to verify major)
Copy of EAD
Students who file for a STEM extension will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending, until a final decision is made by USCIS or for 180 days, whichever comes first. The receipt notice from USCIS will serve as work authorization until the new work authorization card is approved.

Post-Completion OPT Travel Regulations

If you have graduated and your OPT is pending:
Students have reported issues at the border when trying to re-enter the U.S. to continue to look for employment while in OPT pending status. It is best to avoid travel until you have OPT approved unless you have an immediate need to travel outside of the U.S.

For All Applicants

All students on OPT are required to report the following to TCNJ:

  • Check-in every six months to confirm no changes have occurred
  • Address within 10 days of change
  • Legal name within 10 days of change
  • Employer name and address within 10 days of change
  • When your employment ends within 10 days of change

Limited Periods of Unemployment to Maintain Status:

It is expected that you will be actively seeking employment while your OPT is pending and for a period of time after your OPT is approved. Students must not be unemployed for more than 90 days throughout their OPT approval period. Once you reach the 90 days of unemployment it is anticipated that you will depart the U.S. within 15 days.

How many hours does a student need to work during post-completion OPT to be considered employed?
A student must work at least 20 hours per week in a qualifying position to be considered employed. If a student has a variable schedule in a given month, it should average out to at least 20 hours per week. Students may work multiple part time jobs to reach the 20 hour limit.