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OPT, or Optional Practical Training, is a program available to students studying in the United States on F-1 visas who wish to pursue temporary employment related to their area of study. OPT is available both during one’s studies and after one’s studies, but it is only granted for up to twelve (12) months total (with the exception of STEM OPT, which will be discussed later).

Prior to a student’s program completion, he may be eligible for OPT if he has been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year at a college, university, conservatory, or seminary that has been certified by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to enroll F-1 students. It is not necessary for the student to have had F-1 status for the one full academic year; the “one full academic year” requirement can be satisfied as long as the student had a valid nonimmigrant status during that time. Students in pre-completion OPT may work part-time (20 hours or less) while school is in session, and full-time when school is not in session.

After completion of his studies, a student granted OPT may work either full-time or part-time. Any pre-completion OPT in which he took part will be deducted from his total twelve-month maximum OPT period; for example, if a student completed four months of pre-completion OPT, he would be eligible for a maximum of eight months of post-completion OPT.

STEM OPT is available to individuals who have earned degrees in certain STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. Not all STEM degrees qualify, so it is important to verify that one’s degree appears on USCIS’ STEM Designated Degree Program list. Such individuals may apply for OPT and then, when their initial OPT period is running out, they may apply for a 24-month STEM OPT extension that will enable them to continue to work in their field for another 24 months.

There are specific time periods in which an individual must apply for OPT and STEM OPT, depending on whether one is applying prior to degree completion or after and whether one is applying for OPT or STEM OPT. It is important to discuss the timeline for applying for OPT with your Designated School Official (“DSO”) and/or attorney prior to your DSO entering the OPT recommendation into your SEVIS record, because you will have a period varying from between 30 and 90 days to apply after that recommendation is made, depending on your particular circumstances.

If you would like to learn more about OPT or STEM OPT, contact Tanner Law Offices at 717-836-0471 to schedule a consultation.