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OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING (OPT)

The Basics

OPT is a benefit of a student's F-1 status and is generally applied for 90 days before the graduation.

To be eligible for OPT, students must...

  • Must be in full-time F-1 status for at least one academic year. Some students who have changed their visa status to F-1 and who have been continuously enrolled in a full-time degree program for at least 1 academic year may qualify for OPT prior to 1 year in F-1 status. Please talk to your International Student Advisor/DSO for more information.
  • Seeking employment in the major field of study listed on their current Full Sail I-20.
  • Successfully completing their program of study at Full Sail.
  • Physically present in the United States at time of the application to USCIS.

Applying for OPT

When should I apply for OPT?

You may apply for OPT no earlier than 90 days prior to completing your degree requirements and no later than 30 days prior to your graduation.

Do I need to have a job offer to apply for OPT?

A job offer is not required to apply for OPT.

Can I apply for an additional 12 months of OPT after a second bachelor’s degree?

Not if you use 12 months of OPT after your first bachelor’s degree.

What dates should I request for the start and end dates of my OPT?

You may request your OPT to begin as early as the day after completing your degree requirements and as late as 60 days after completing your degree requirements.

Do I need a Social Security Number to work in the U.S.?

Yes, you will need a Social Security Number (SSN) for any paid employment in the U.S. Students can apply for their SSN as part of their OPT application to USCIS but will not receive their SSN card until after their OPT is approved.

Is there an OPT application fee?

Yes, the application fee for OPT is $410.00. This must be paid by check or money order made payable to: Department of Homeland Security.

How do I apply for Optional Practical Training?

Please email your INTERNATIONAL STUDENT ADVISOR/DSO for Instructions.

While You Wait for your OPT EAD Card

What is my immigration status while my OPT is being processed?

You are still an F-1 student on OPT and while your OPT application is being processed.

How long does it take the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) to process the OPT application?

The average processing time is 90-120 days.

Can I travel abroad after I apply for OPT?

If you have not graduated, you may travel outside and re-enter the U.S. because you are still a student. In order to re-enter the U.S., you will need:

  • A valid passport
  • A valid F-1 Visa
  • I-20 signed for travel within six months

If you have graduated and your OPT is pending, you may travel at your own discretion outside the U.S. and return before OPT start date in order to resume searching for a job (Please talk to your DSO before making travel plans). In order to re-enter the U.S., you will need:

  • A valid passport
  • A valid F-1 Visa
  • I-20 signed for travel within six months
  • I-797 receipt notice (OPT receipt)

If you have graduated and your OPT has been approved, you may travel outside the U.S. only if you have a job offer or are returning to a job. In order to re-enter the U.S., you will need:

  • A valid passport
  • A valid F-1 Visa
  • I-20 signed for travel within six months
  • An Employment Authorization Document (EAD card)
  • Letter from your employer stating that you have not yet graduated

How long can I be on OPT?

Standard OPT is available for a cumulative maximum of 12 months per educational level.

Can I work any job or only in the field of my education?

You can only be employed in the field of your education.

How will I know if the OPT application has been received?

Within 2 weeks of submitting the application, you should receive a receipt (Form I-797).

How can I track my OPT application?

Each receipt has a file number. Using the file number, you can track the Case Status at http://www.uscis.gov. Please use 772 in place of SRC if you are calling USCIS with your receipt number.

If I change my mind and decide not to work, can I cancel my OPT authorization?

If you have already mailed your application to USCIS, a request can be submitted to USCIS to halt processing. Your application fee will not be returned, and we cannot guarantee that your request will be honored. Contact your ISS adviser for assistance.

If you have received your EAD card and wish to cancel the authorization, contact your ISS adviser. Cancellation in this situation is highly unlikely. OPT applications are not meant to be canceled.

Can I begin working before my OPT is approved?

No, it is not legal to begin working until your OPT is approved.

What if I have applied for OPT but I don’t complete the requirements for my degree (i.e. fail a class)?

If the OPT application has not been adjudicated, you can withdraw the application.  Contact your INTERNATIONAL STUDENT ADVISOR/DSO  for instructions.  Your fee is not refundable.

Is there another name for the OPT card?

Yes, the OPT card is called an Employment Authorization Document or EAD.

What happens if I move after I mail my OPT application?

The U.S. Postal Service will not forward mail from USCIS if the address on the envelope does not match the name on the mailbox. Consider using Full Sail Int’l Dept. address: 3300 University Blvd. Intl. Dept. Winter Park, FL 32792 on the I-765 application and apply for SSN after your OPT card is in your hand. We will send you an email when the card arrives.

Or

You can update your address using this link, but this may delay your application processing time.

Rules and Employment Reporting Requirements on OPT

What if I my OPT has been approved but I don’t complete the requirements for my degree (i.e. fail a class)?

Students who have applied for OPT, but for some reason fail a class or discover they still have a class to take can work part-time on OPT while re-taking the class followed by full-time OPT. 

Do I need to report my OPT employment to anyone?

Yes, you must report all employment and any changes to employment to your INTERNATIONAL STUDENT ADVISOR/DSO  within 10 days.  We will update SEVIS.

How do I report my employment information?

Please access the link below to report your employment information to be added to your SEVIS record.

OPT Employment Information Update

Do I have to report volunteer opportunity while on OPT?

Yes, If you are volunteering to avoid exceeding the maximum of 90 days of unemployment allowed on OPT, the volunteer job must also relate to your major and you must work for at least 20 hours per week.  You must report your volunteer employment to your DSO in the same way you are required to report all other employment.

Can I change jobs while on OPT?

Yes, but you must report the start and end date and employer information for each job to your INTERNATIONAL STUDENT ADVISOR/DSO so that the information can be updated in SEVIS.  All jobs must relate to your major.

What is considered qualifying employment while on OPT?

  •  Paid employment.

Students may work part time (at least 20 hours per week when on post-completion OPT) or full time in a job related to their field of study.

  •   Multiple employers.

Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to the student’s degree program.

  •   Short-term multiple employers (performing artists).

Students, such as musicians and other performing artists may work for multiple short term employers (gigs). The student should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration. If requested by DHS, students must be prepared to provide evidence showing a list of all gigs.

  •  Work for hire.

This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by DHS, students must be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.

  •  Self-employed business owner.

Students may start a business and be self-employed. In this situation, the student must work full-time (at least 20 hours/week). The student must be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to the student’s degree program.

  •  Employment through an agency.

Students must be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.

  •   Unpaid employment.

Students on the initial 12-month OPT may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this does not violate any labor laws. The work must be at least 20 hours per week. These students must be able to provide evidence from the employer that the student worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.

Can I have more than one job at a time while on OPT?

Yes, but all jobs must relate to your major.

Can I be unemployed on OPT?

The regulations limit the time of unemployment a student can accrue during OPT to a maximum of 90 days. Your goal is to maintain 20 hours of volunteer/employment activity per week to avoid accruing 90 days of unemployment and being at risk of losing F-1 student status. If you need more time to secure employment, please consider using the 60-day grace period to focus on job searching.

Should I keep records of my employment?

Yes, you should keep careful records of all employment including volunteer work.

  •  Documents to keep track of your employment:
  1. Copies of job offer letters and agreements/contracts with all OPT employers including start and end dates.
  2. Copies of job descriptions including job title, duties, location, pay rate and proposed number of hours to be worked per week.
  3. If you worked for an agency or consultancy, keep evidence of the projects you worked on.
  4. Keep copies of your pay vouchers or pay stubs for all periods of employment.
  5. Maintain copies of your bank statements that show direct or corresponding deposits from your employer(s).
  6. Copies of you W-2 tax forms.
  • If you engage in employment that is not paid while on OPT, we recommend you keep the following records:
  1. Copies of employment agreements or contracts with the employer including start and end dates, training mode (on location, online, etc) and location of the internship/unpaid training for each employer.
  2. Copies of all diplomas, completion certificates and/or certifications that you received related to the training programs identified.
  3. If you worked/trained as an unpaid employee for a third party keep evidence of the projects/contracts you worked on.
  4. Copies of company time and attendance records that document your daily tasks in detail for all employers during the unpaid internship or training.

Can I get a new visa to reenter the U.S. while my OPT is pending or after it is approved?

This is up to the consular officer who interviews you for a new visa.  Because we cannot guarantee that you will be issued a new visa, the International Student Center official recommendation is that you should not travel outside the U.S. if you need a new visa to reenter.

Can I audit classes while on OPT?

Yes, as long as you are working minimum 20 hours a week.

If I am admitted to graduate school while on OPT, when should I have my SEVIS form transferred from Full Sail to the graduate school?

The day after your last date of employment.  Transferring your SEVIS record cancels OPT so wait until you are done working.

Is there a grace period after my OPT ends?

Yes.  There is a 60-day Grace Period after the work authorization end date listed on your EAD (OPT card).  During this time, you will either need to leave the country,  change to a new immigration status, or transfer to a new program.  You are not allowed to work during this time.

If you are leaving the U.S. during your Grace Period, you do not need to inform your INTERNATIONAL STUDENT ADVISOR/DSO .  If you are leaving the U.S. before your OPT ends and will not use your remaining OPT time, make sure to let your INTERNATIONAL STUDENT ADVISOR/DSO  know so that we can update your record.

STEM OPT

Can I get an extension of my OPT?

Effective May 10, 2016, STEM extension of 24 months (for a total of 36 months) is available to applicants who graduated from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics) degree program. Please contact your INTERNATIONAL STUDENT ADVISOR/DSO  to see if your program is eligible.

What is an OPT STEM extension?

A STEM extension is a 24-month extension of your OPT for STEM majors only (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics).  You must apply for the extension before the end date of your OPT. STEM applications may only be submitted up to 90 days prior to the initial 12-Month OPT EAD expiration.  Your employer must prove that they participate in the U.S. government’s E-Verify program, an internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States. The employer will need to provide a training plan related to the field of study, and attestations to wages and compensation being commensurate with "similarly situated U.S. workers by completing Form I-983.

If you have further questions reach out to your INTERNATIONAL STUDENT ADVISOR/DSO .

What type of employment is eligible to apply for STEM? 

Volunteer/unpaid positions and self-employment are NOT allowed. STEM-eligible employers must have e-Verify & EIN numbers and the student must have a "bona fide employer-employee relationship.

Note for Masters Degree Students - Eligibility for *H-1B Program:

Full Sail University is a nationally accredited, private, for-profit university. Masters degrees from private, for-profit universities are not considered under the definition of the master quota for H-1B. According to section 1101(a) of the Higher Education Act of 1965, the definition of an institute of higher education is a nationally accredited, public or other nonprofit institution. Should your employer offer you a sponsorship, please inform your immigration attorney to file your H-1B petition under the BACHELOR CAP and not Master Cap. If your attorney is uninformed, they can assume the student is from a traditional university and may file the application under the wrong section.

*Full Sail International Student Center staff are neither qualified nor permitted to give individual legal advice. Full Sail advises all students with additional visa status questions to consult with one or multiple attorneys knowledgeable regarding immigration/nonresident laws.

What is H-1B?

 H-1B is a work visa that is sponsored by an employer. Students commonly transition from Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization, part of F-1 status, to H-1B status. There are a limited number of H-1Bs available each fiscal year, for most employers, and this limit is often called the “H-1B cap.”

New H-1Bs become effective each October 1, but the application period for most employers begins six months earlier, April 1. The “cap gap” occurs when a student’s F-1 status and/or OPT expire before their approved H-1B begins October 1.

The Cap Gap Extension

The H-1B Cap Gap Extension allows certain students with pending or approved H-1B petitions to remain in the U.S. in F-1 status until the start date of their approved H-1B employment period, even if the OPT authorization and/or F-1 grace period would have otherwise expired before October 1.

Eligibility

You are eligible for the cap gap extension if both:

  • Your employer files an H-1B petition for you, on or after April 1, and requests a change of status to H-1B to begin October 1.
  • You are still within your OPT authorization period when your employer submits the H-1B petition on your behalf (on or after April 1).

If your OPT authorization is still valid when your employer submits your H-1B petition to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), your OPT authorization is extended. You can continue working in F-1 status through the extension date.

How to Apply

The cap-gap extension of F-1 status is automatic. It begins when your employer submits the H-1B petition to USCIS. To obtain an updated document, please reach out to your INTERNATIONAL STUDENT ADVISOR/DSO.