Optional Practical Training (OPT)

International students in the U.S. in valid F-1 immigration status can apply for temporary permission to work off-campus in optional practical training (OPT) status. OPT employment must be directly related to your degree.

You can work while you're in college (called pre-completion OPT) and after you graduate (called post-completion OPT).

However, you are authorized to work only within the dates listed on the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card. You will receive an EAD card from USCIS if your application is approved.

Students are eligible for an additional 12 months of OPT for each level of higher education completed. If you completed degrees in specific science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, you may be eligible for a STEM OPT Extension in certain cases.

Through Pre-Completion OTP, F-1 students can apply for off-campus work authorization before the end of their academic program.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you choose this option:

  • Applying for OPT includes an application fee paid to USCIS and it takes 75-90 days or longer to be processed.
  • Students are eligible for up to 12 months of OPT at each higher level of study. Pre-completion OPT counts toward that 12-month limit. For instance, if you work 4 months (one semester) of pre-completion OPT then you are eligible for only 8 months of post-completion OPT.
  • Eligibility for pre-completion OPT ends on the students I-20 program end date.
  • During the semester, students cannot work more than 20 hours per week (at the same time as carrying a full-time course load).
  • During summer or at other times when school is not in session, the student can work full-time as long as the student is eligible and intends to enroll the following semester.

Post-completion OPT is completed after you finish your academic program.

  • Students are eligible for up to 12 months of OPT at each higher level of study.
  • Post-completion OPT must be full-time.
  • Post-completion OPT must be completed within 14 months after completion of your degree.
  • Any OPT employment must be directly related to your area of study. This relationship must be documented on your OPT Reporting Form.
  1. Review the OPT Presentation or STEM OPT Presentation and complete the I-765G-1145 and OPT recommendation form to the best of your ability
  2. Compile the following (more details provided in presentations above):
    • Passport and visa photocopies (photo page including expiration)
    • Printout of your electronic I-94 information ‘Get Most Recent I-94’
    • I-20s: Photocopies of current & prior I-20s that list CPT, previous SEVIS numbers and/or other employment
    • Verification of application for graduation (email from Register’s Office) 
    • Two recent passport-style photos with name and SEVIS number on the back
    • $410 check or money order payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (do not abbreviate to DHS)
    • Letter confirming job offer and from I-983 (this is required for STEM extension only)
    • If applicable, copy of previous EAD(s)

     3. Meet with an International Advisor to review your OPT application and
         explain your OPT reporting requirements

There is a 24-month STEM extension of post-completion OPT for those F-1 non-immigrant students with certain degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) from U.S. institutions of higher education.

The STEM OPT extension includes additional requirements such as:

  • Implementing formal training plans by employers
  • Adding wage and other protections for STEM OPT students and U.S. workers
  • Allowing extensions only to students with degrees from accredited schools

To be eligible for a STEM Extension, you must:

  • Already be approved for standard post-completion OPT
  • Have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher in a field included on the U.S. government’s list of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields within the last 10 years
  • Be employed in a paid job directly related to your field of study
  • Have a job or job offer from an employer who is enrolled in the U.S. government’s e-Verify program

Students on OPT are required to send the OPT Reporting Form (PDF) to ISSS by email at is@winona.edu for the following reasons:

  • You change your address-- you must report this within 10 days of moving
  • Changes in employment within 10 days of leaving a position or starting a new position
  • If you decide to end your OPT employment before the end date on your EAD card
  • If your visa status changes while on OPT
  • Future international travel – you will need a travel signature to reenter the U.S.

Additional STEM Extension requirements

  • Report your employment validation every 6 months by completing the OPT Reporting Form
  • At the 12-month and 24-month validation, attach an updated I-983