Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an employment benefit for international F1 visa students to work in the U.S in a job related to the student’s field of study. It is intended to enhance and supplement the formal, classroom education. United States Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) adjudicates and authorizes OPT.

Program completion date guidelines:

For students who are registered full or part time, and/or students who have Graduate Assistantship positions, the program completion date will automatically default to graduation/commencement date or the last day of classes in the semester of OPT application

Graduate students who have completed all coursework except their thesis/dissertation, are administratively registered for 1 credit hour, and anticipate completing their degree in one academic year, may apply for post-completion OPT. These students may use their published defence date as the program end date. 

The recommended employment start date must be after the student's program completion date and no later than the end of his/her 60 day grace period.

Eligibility

Optional Practical Training may be taken during or after a course of study, provided that the following conditions are met:

Post Completion OPT

  1. Students may apply for Post Completion OPT between 90 days prior to his or her program end date and 60 days after his or her program end date. The student must complete all course requirements for the degree (excluding thesis or equivalent).The current rule allows F-1 students seeking initial post-completion OPT to apply during their 60-day departure preparation periods in the same way that they are allowed to apply for a change to H-1B status during their departure preparation periods. Students may apply for an OPT extension at any time prior to the expiration date of their current OPT period. Continued enrollment, for the school’s administrative purposes, after all requirements for the degree have been met does not preclude eligibility for optional practical training.

Types of Employment

Students may work part-time (at least 20 hours per week when on post-completion OPT) or full-time.

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

2.     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.

3.     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 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.

4.     Self-employed business owner. Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. In this situation, the student must work full-time. 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.

5.     Employment through an agency. Students on post-completion OPT 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 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 for students on post-completion OPT. 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.

Employment MAY be unpaid in the regular 12 month period of OPT

For regular post-completion OPT, the employment does NOT have to paid employment. Therefore, a student who is self-employed (including performance majors with regular “gigs”), interning or volunteering in a position directly related to the academic field would be considered “employed” for the purposes of OPT employment.

LIMIT on total days of unemployment allowed: 

The regulation adds a new requirement that F-1 students on OPT may not remain unemployed for more than a total of 90 days out of a 12 month OPT period, or 120 days out of a 24 month OPT period. The days of unemployment will start on the start date of your OPT card, or the day the OPT is approved (whichever is later) if you are not employed. All OPT employment, including post-completion OPT, must be in a job that is related to the student’s degree program.

Applying for OPT

Please note: You must allow for at least 10 business days (from the date we receive a complete and correct request) for your application to be reviewed and processed. You will be notified by email when your I-20 is ready for pick up.

Application Process

  1. Assemble your application documents and submit them to INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS & SCHOLARS SERVICES (ISSS).
  2. The documents you submit will be examined and a new I-20 will be issued with the recommendation recorded on page 3.
  3. A signed Statement of Intent bearing in mind the program completion date guidelines provided above. You may NOT work for pay or volunteer for the company that intends to hire you between the program end date on your new OPT I-20 issued by ISSS, and the start date on your Employment Authorization Document (EAD); for full-time pre-completion OPT, you may request dates that correspond to the summer break. Please use your MIX e-mail address.
  4. An OPT recommendation letter on Departmental letter head from your Academic Advisor or Department Chair. Please note the departmental personnel authorized to provide OPT recommendation letters in College of Engineering below.
  5. You may NOT work after the end date on your new I-20 until you have received your Employment Authorization Card and the starting date has arrived.
  6. Please allow up to twelve weeks for the EAD card to be mailed back to you. If you must move before you receive your card in the mail, you must:
    1. submit your change of address (AR-11)
    2. contact the USCIS office where you filed your application, using the customer service telephone number you will find on your receipt, and provide them with your new address. Please note: The U.S. Postal Service will NOT forward your EAD card top your new address.
  7. Email ( isss-students@mail.wvu.edu ) or bring a good, legible photocopy of your EAD card to ISSS as soon as you have it and then submit the  OPT Compliance Form 10-15 days after you begin employment. Please notify ISSS of any change in your contact information or visa status throughout your year of OPT (for details, see the OPT handout).

Application Steps

Assemble your documents in the following order and present them to ISSS (step 1 in processing—see above) :

  1. You must submit two (2) identical color passport photos of yourself taken within 30 days of the filing of the OPT application. The photos must have a white to off-white background, be printed on thin paper with a glossy finish, and be unmounted and unretouched. Please print your name on the back of the photos in pencil.
  2. $410 check or money order, made out to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security”
  3. A signed Statement of Intent . NOTE:—for full-time post-completion OPT, you may request any start date within 60 days after completion of your coursework or program requirements or the end of finals for your graduating semester, but you may NOT work for pay or volunteer for the company that intends to hire you during the period between your anticipated completion and the start of your approved OPT (the new end date for your I-20 will be the day your Academic Advisor says that you will complete your thesis or dissertation, or graduate); for full-time pre-completion OPT, you may request dates that correspond to the summer break. Please use your MIX e-mail address.
  4. A letter from your Academic Advisor or Department Chair, on department letterhead, stating:
    • That he/she recommends Practical Training directly related to your degree program;
    • The stage of your studies (whether coursework has been completed or when it will be completed), and
    • Your anticipated completion date for all program requirements.
  5. Bring both originals and copies  of each original: I-20 that has ever been issued to you.
  6. Bring your passport and a copy of the identity pages and current F-1 visa stamp.
  7. Print and bring a copy of your I-94.
  8. A completed I-765 (this is a fillable pdf document; it is best if you fill it in and then print for legibility).

    Faculty & Staff Authorized to Sign OPT Recommendations

             Sarah Offutt - Office of Student Services (Room 141 ESB)

    Instructions for Students Who Have Applied For or Have Been Granted OPT

    IMPORTANT!!!! Please remember that your obligation to strictly comply with the SEVIS rules DOES NOT STOP with the issuance of the OPT/ EAD card. In order for your SEVIS record to be kept updated and your visa status valid throughout the OPT period, you must pay special attention to the following requirements:

    1. Provide our office with a legible copy of your EAD as soon as you have it.
    2. If you move to a new address, it is important that you complete and forward a new AR-11 to our office. This action must be taken within 10 days of moving to the new address.
    3. Once you begin working, you must complete the OPT Compliance Form within 10 days.
    4. If you need to travel outside of the U.S., you must be sure to obtain a travel signature from ISSS. A travel signature from our office is good for up to six months. Please contact our office at least a week in advance in case you need the signature re-validated.
    5. If you change visa status (e.g. F-1 to F-2), please provide ISSS with a copy of your approval notice.
    6. If you have completed your OPT and return to your home country, please complete the Exit Form.

    By following these simple rules, you will be able to continue to live and work in the US legally.

    OPT Extension Procedures