Optional Practical Training (OPT)
A F-1 student may engage in temporary employment (paid or unpaid) if the work is related to one's program of study. The purpose of Practical Training is to gain hands-on experiences that compliment the classroom learning. There are two types of Practical Training - Curricular Practical Training (during your program of study) and Optional Practical Training (after your program of study).
What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?
OPT is practical work experience in your field of study (typically after completion of a degree) and Initial OPT can last up to 12 months. Students on OPT are still considered to be F-1 students at EMU even if working elsewhere in the U.S. The Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is not a working permit; it is an extension of your F-1 status for the purposes of practical training.
- F-1 students who are legally maintaining their status; and
- Who have been enrolled full-time for at least eight months at EMU; and
- Who will be completing a course of study this term; and
- Whose proposed OPT employment will be directly related to their course of study
When to File?
Students can apply for OPT up to 90 days before, and 60 days after, the program completion date on their I-20. Program completion is the last day of the term during which you're registered for all the necessary credits for your program. It does not mean graduation nor does it mean that you can delay your OPT application until fulfilling incomplete credits.
It is currently taking three months for USCIS to process applications and you must have your EAD card in-hand in order to start work. Your OPT may end no later than 14 months after your program completion date.
- Attend a mandatory OPT seminar to learn about OPT regulations and how to apply. You are required to come to a seminar before applying. To view seminar dates and to register to come, see the OISS calendar.
- After completing the OPT seminar, you must submit your OPT packet to the OISS front desk. If you have questions, please see an advisor during walk-in hours.
Documenting proof of unpaid (volunteer) employment
As specified in a recent USCIS Request for Evidence: If the position was unpaid please identify and provide:
- A detailed listing of employment activities and projects with which you were engaged and specify the number of weekly hours that you were engaged in each of the activities or projects identified.
- Copies of company daily time and attendance records that document your affiliation with the company, including start and end date of affiliation.
- Evidence of your physical presence in the company location such as rental agreements, receipts or bank statements.
In addition, if the position was considered voluntary training, you must also provide:
- Copies of all diplomas, completion certificate and/or certifications you received related to the training programs identified.
What is the 24-month OPT STEM extension?
Students that are STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) majors may be eligible to apply for a 24-month extension of their initial OPT.
How can I learn more about STEM OPT?
There are two primary ways to learn about the STEM OPT Extension:
- Attend an OISS OPT seminar – highly recommended if in the Ypsilanti area; see the OISS calendar for dates and times of upcoming seminars.
- Read the STEM OPT Packet [PDF] carefully – required of all applicants; it can be found in the "forms" section of the OISS website.
Who is Eligible for the STEM OPT Extension?
- Students must have their degree conferred in a field included on the STEM designated majors list found on the DHS website. If your degree has not yet been conferred, but you have only a thesis or equivalent remaining, you may also apply for the STEM extension. You will need to provide a letter from your academic advisor indicating you have completed all degree requirements, with the exception of the thesis or equivalent.
EMU STEM eligible majorsStudents that are STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) majors may be eligible to apply for a 24-month extension of their initial OPT. Approved STEM fields are based on standardized CIP (classification of instructional program) codes that correspond to your program of study. You can find the CIP code for your major on page 1 of your I-20, by the major. To see if your program of study is approved for the STEM extension, please see the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) website for their current list [PDF] and for the list effective May 10,2016.
- Students must be currently on an approved, 12 month initial OPT authorization.
- Student employer must be enrolled in the U.S. government's E-Verify program. View the E-verify Employers Search Tool.
- Students must demonstrate proof of employment during initial OPT period; this is best proven with copies of the first and last pay stub you received from each employer.
- Student must not have accrued more than 90 days of unemployment during the Initial OPT period.
- Work must be at a level commensurate with the student's degree level.
24-month STEM OPT
- Can base STEM OPT on previous STEM degree earned in US. Student must provide previous school accreditation and SEVP certification.
What types of employment are allowed for students during a 24-month extension of OPT?
A student authorized for a 24-month extension must work at least 20 hours per week for an E-Verify employer in a position directly related to his or her DHS-approved STEM CIP.
From the Federal Register:
"There are several aspects of the STEM OPT extension that do not make it apt for certain types of arrangements, including multiple employer arrangements, sole proprietorships, employment through 'temp' agencies, employment through consulting firm arrangements that provide labor for hire, and other relationships that do not constitute a bona fide employer-employee relationship. Accordingly, DHS clarifies that students cannot qualify for STEM OPT extensions unless they will be bona fide employees of the employer signing the Training Plan, and the employer that signs the Training Plan must be the same entity that employs the student and provides the practical training experience."
What is the Application Process?
- USCIS must receive your STEM extension application before the initial OPT's end date. We recommend you apply 90 days prior to the end date of your initial OPT.
- The complete information packet is on the OISS website; see the OPT-24 section for additional information, application instructions and application materials.
What are the Reporting Requirements?
- Name, Address or Employer Changes - You must report all name, US address and employer name/address changes to OISS within 10 days, using the IR-24 form found on the OISS website. Your address must describe where you live; it cannot be a PO box or an office address.
- Mandatory Validation Reports - You are also required to advise OISS of your address and employment information every six months, even if you have given it to us recently. Failure to keep this information current can jeopardize your immigration status! Use the IR-24 form to complete this reporting.
Can I Change STEM Employers?
- It is possible to change employers while on STEM OPT, but specific procedures need to be followed, determined by whether your STEM extension is pending or if it has been approved.
- Changing Employers while on Approved STEM 24-month OPT - If you change employers while on an approved STEM 24-month OPT, you need to submit the following documents to the OISS within 10 days of leaving the first employer:
- OISS IR-24 - a new, completely filled OISS IR-24 Reporting form … this must include all periods of employment and unemployment from the beginning of your INITIAL OPT start date.
- Submit Form I-983 (training plan for STEM OPT students)
- Changing Employers with Pending STEM 24-month OPT - If you change employers while your STEM 24-month OPT application is pending:
- OISS IR-12- a new, completely filled OISS IR-12 Reporting form ... this must include all periods of employment and unemployment from the beginning of your initial OPT start date.
- You can find the IR-12 form and Employer Letter requirements on the OISS website, in the Forms section, under employment, OPT 12.
- New I-765 – you must submit a new, completely filled I-765 that includes item 17 filled with information of your new employer. This form must be typed and signed in blue ink and sent to the appropriate USCIS Service Center. See your original STEM application for an example. Find the current form [PDF].
- New I-983 (training plan)
- Once I-983 is submitted and approved, OISS will issue a new, continuing I-20 indicating your new employer.