Working in the US while on an F-1 Student Visa
Practical Training is an authorization to work that gives a student real-world work experience in his or her major field of study.
OPT student must have completed a course of study, except for a thesis or equivalent. Students may file 90 days before, but no later than 60 days after, completion of studies and file within 30 days of their DSO signing the I-20. Thus, students must submit a SEVIS I-20 endorsed by the DSO no more than 30 days prior to the filing of the I-765. The DSO must recommend part or full-time OPT and state the dates of employment.
The student applying for OPT must:
USCIS has established a limit on the number of days a student in a period of post-completion OPT can be unemployed and still maintain F-1 status. For students on regular post-completion OPT or an automatic extension due to the cap-gap provisions, the limit is 90 days. Students with an approved STEM OPT extension will receive another 30 days of unemployment time for a total of 120 days over the entire period of post-completion OPT.
Frequently asked Questions on OPT/ CPT/ EAD/ STEM
Q1) What is the difference between an OPT (Optional Practical Training) and CPT (Curriculum Practical Training)?
CPT is employment authorization for an F-1 student who is engaged in employment which is considered to be an “integral part” of the curriculum in a student’s course of study. In other words the employment is considered to be part of the student’s academic course work and the student must maintain a full-course of study during CPT (with some exceptions as determined by the Foreign Student Officer (DSO).
The Student must also have been enrolled on a full-time basis for 1 full academic year prior to becoming eligible for CPT – except certain graduate programs which permit and require immediate CPT as part of the course of study. A Student is only eligible for CPT before completion of the “educational objective.” (Students enrolled in English training programs are not eligible at all for OPT.)
CPT can be part-time (20 hrs. or less) or full-time over 20 hrs. per week. CPT is tied to a specific employer, location and period of time and is recorded by DSO in SEVIS and I-20.
NO EAD is required for CPT. Rather the I-20 endorsed by the DSO indicating employment is authorized under CPT and which identifies the employer and period of employment authorization under CPT is the document used for I-9 purposes and for evidence of valid non-immigrant status in the US.
1 year or more of full-time CPT eliminates eligibility for Optional Practical Training; but part-time CPT (20 hours or less per week) does not impact OPT. Also If a student becomes ineligible for OPT due to 12 months or more of full-time CPT at the bachelor’s level; that does not impact his/her eligibility for OPT at the Master’s or Ph.D. level.
OPT can be either post-completion OPT or OPT during a student’s course of study in the degree program. OPT as the name implies is “optional” a student does not have to engage in OPT. It provides an opportunity for a student to gain some real-world practical work experience in a field related to the student’s course of study either after completion of a degree or even during the course of study. There is a total aggregate limit of 12 months of full-time OPT.
Pre-completion OPT is limited to 20 hrs. or less per week and any time spent on pre-completion OPT employment counts against the limit of 12 months of full-time OPT. For example if a student is engaged in pre-completion OPT at 20 hrs per week for 12 months, the student would only be eligible for 6 months of full-time post completion OPT
The employment must be related to the course of study, but no pre-employment approval by the DSO is required.
An EAD is required for work authorization/I-9 for OPT. The I-20 is endorsed only with the recommendation by the DSO that the student be authorized for OPT and will list the period of time of the recommended OPT. The student uses the endorsed I-20 to file an I-765 Application for EAD with USCIS and should do so in advance of the projected start date of employment (3 months in advance). Student MUST apply for OPT before completion of his/her degree program and apply for the I-765 before completion of his/her degree program.
The EAD is issued by USCIS for a maximum of 1 yr. but USCIS will not issue an EAD beyond the recommended OPT time period as listed on the I-20, even if USCIS took more than 90 days to issue the EAD. The Student cannot commence work until the EAD is approved and only on the day of the starting validity period of the EAD –NOT the date listed on the I-20 as the “recommended” OPT start date.
The 12 months of OPT employment authorization must be “used” within 14 months of the completion of study – Thus most EADs will end within 14 months of the end of course of studies no matter when it was approved and no EADs will be issued for more than 12 months. But the requested start date of the OPT cannot be more than 60 days from the end of the degree program.
Q2) Is the CPT student also eligible for the EAD?
An EAD is not required. Employment authorization is directly given by the DSO on the Form I-20. CPT students will NOT be issued EADs
Q3) Is the EAD filed by the student himself on the basis of documents given to him by the university or does the university file it for him?
This depends on the institution but most provide the endorsed I-20 and give instruction to the student on how to file for the EAD. DSO generally will assist students completing the Forms with detailed instructions and help in obtaining the EAD.
Q4) The EAD is usually for a year. Can it be extended if it expires prior to the H1 period: i.e. EAD expires in June 2015 and the H1 comes in only in October 2015?
EADs themselves (i.e. the EAD card itself) cannot be extended but the CAP GAP Provisions and in certain cases students eligible for STEM extensions will have employment authorization extended, provided they had valid employment authorization at the time an H-1B petition was filed for them and the H-1B was timely filed during the H-1B acceptance period for H-1B Cap subject Petitions. The I-129 petition must be marked for change of status and should have a start date of October 01.
The extension of the status and employment authorization will be reflected in the SEVIS system after the DSO enters into SEVIS that a timely H-1B petition has been filed for the F-1 student (Status & Employment Authorization extended) and if the H-1B Petition is selected for adjudication, another entry in SEVIS to show status & employment authorization is extended to September 30.
F-1 students who have completed 12 months of post-completion OPT and are in the 60 day Grace Period accorded to F-1 students when an H-1B Petition is filed are NOT employment authorized under the CAP Gap provisions. They can remain in the US while they await word on the H-1B petition, but cannot work until September 30 (assuming that their H-1B will get approved effective October 01).
Q5) Does he have to be from the STEM discipline for it to be extended, beyond a year? If yes, what is this extended time period – one more year?
To be eligible for a STEM extension of 17 months, a student must have engaged in a course of study in a STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics) that is connected to the immediate OPT authorization – meaning an MBA graduate in Finance on OPT does not qualify for a STEM extension if they had a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field of study. The completed degree must be bachelors, master or doctoral – Associates degree NOT eligible. Please note that STEM degree must be the most recent degree completed. Also the current OPT period must not have expired when applying for a STEM extension, as well as the I-765 extension to USCIS. The student can apply for a STEM extension while on a Cap Gap extension.
STEM OPT however does not require a student to have an H-1B Petition filed on his or her behalf. A student on STEM extension may work for multiple employers and place him/herself for employment for hire provided it is related to the field of study. The student may also change employers during a STEM extension. Please note student on STEM OPT can ONLY work for E-Verify employers.
A non-STEM student can take advantage of the CAP Gap provisions, but must be eligible for it – e.g., have an H-1B Petition filed timely and be selected for adjudication.
A student could possibly use both a STEM extension and Cap Gap in either order to extend their stay/employment authorization.
Q6) Does the petitioning company have to be registered to some regulatory site for the beneficiary to extend his EAD?
For STEM extensions the employer must be an E-Verify employer in order to facilitate a STEM extension for a prospective employee. The student can apply as early as 120 days before the end of his/her current OPT for a STEM extension. However, the end-clients to which the student in a STEM extension is placed need not be an E-Verify employer.
Q7) In case the EAD cannot be extended, can the applicant remain in the US without work till the H1 comes through? Or does he have to leave the US?
If on OPT once the EAD expires –unless covered on the Cap Gap provision, the employee must stop working. The student can remain in the US if a timely filed H-1B petition remains pending or for 60 days (cannot work during these 60 days) after the end of the OPT end date.
If approved for STEM extension, the F-1 student can apply for a new EAD to cover the STEM extension period AND CAN WORK FOR 180 DAYS on the expired EAD while the 17 Month STEM extension is pending.
Q8) Can he work and be paid in the US even if his EAD has expired (for some specific time period) but the H1 hasn’t come through?
Only under the provisions of the Cap Gap (must meet the requirements for CAP Gap eligibility requirements). Also see answer to Q7.
Q9) Assuming that the EAD can be extended for a year from its initial one year, is LTTS duty bound to file his H1 then even if they find his performance below par?
A US employer is never obligated to file any immigration benefit unless there was some agreement for it to do so as part of an employment contract. We recommend that you make sure never to bind the Company to unconditionally file for a non-immigrant immigrant visa for any applicant.
Q10) Is a student who has finished his undergrad (Bachelors’ degree) eligible for the OPT and therefore the EAD? (they understand that this student will not be eligible for the Masters’ quota)
So long as they have not engaged in 12 months or more of full-time CPT or used up the aggregate total of 12 months fulltime OPT by working using part-time pre-completion OPT prior to completion of his/her degree program and the student was not enrolled in an English training program and had completed 1 full academic year at the school where he/she was enrolled, the Student should be eligible for OPT (minus any deductions of time spent working on pre-completion OPT) provided the employment is related to his/her course of study.