Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a type of work authorization for F-1 students, defined in the federal regulations as "temporary employment for practical training directly related to the student's major area of study." It is intended to provide students with practical experience in their field of study during or, more commonly, upon completion of a degree program.
An F-1 student may be authorized to receive up to a total of 12 months of OPT either before (pre-) and/or after (post-) completion of studies. However, students who have accumulated 12 months or more of full-time curricular practical training (CPT) are ineligible to apply for OPT.
An F-1 student is eligible for 12 months of OPT for each degree level. However, a student cannot apply for OPT at a degree level lower than one for which he/she has already been approved for OPT in the past.
Post-completion OPT is employment authorized after the student's successful completion of studies and program end date. Please note that graduate students who have completed all coursework are eligible to apply for post-completion OPT to begin prior to their graduation date.
F-1 students who have completed a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree in a field that is currently on the Department of Homeland Security's list of STEM fields (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and who are currently engaged in post-completion OPT may apply for the STEM extension if they have a job or job offer from an E-Verify employer.
Pre-Completion OPT is employment authorized before the student's program end date. Students with approved pre-completion OPT may work up to 20 hours per week while school is in session. Students who are eligible to register for the next term, and who plan to do so, may have approval to work full time when school is not in session.
Cap Gap is the period of time between the end of the 60-day grace period following the expiration of Optional Practical Training (OPT) and the start of the H-1B status. Students may apply for an extension under special circumstances.