Skip to content

F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)

F-1 students are allowed up to 12 months of off-campus employment authorization to gain practical experience, related to the major field of study, known as Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT is granted once per degree level. Students in STEM majors may qualify for an additional 24 month extension of OPT. The information below outlines OPT but STEM OPT Extension has separate eligibility and application process.

OPT Eligibility
As an F-1 student, you are eligible for up to 12 months of OPT authorization at each degree level. You may earn a new period of OPT eligibility if you move to a higher level of education (for example, from a Bachelor’s degree to a Master’s degree), but not if you move to a new program at the same or lower level.

F-1 students become eligible for OPT authorization after one full academic year but many students choose to save the OPT period for after graduation.

You may be eligible to apply for OPT if:
  • You are currently in the US in F-1 status
  • You have been lawfully enrolled as a full-time student in a university degree program for at least one full academic year (two full semesters – excluding Summer)
  • You are in good academic standing with the University of Hartford
You may NOT qualify to apply for OPT if:
  • All or part of your last academic year was spent in the English Language Institute or any other English-language training programs (including the International Pathway Program)
  • You were previously authorized for 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
  • You have previously received opt authorization for the same or higher educational level
  • You are on a leave of absence or suspension from UHart
  • You have had a violation or break in F-1 status in the last academic year and have restarted your F-1 status by travel with a new SEVIS ID/I-20
Full Academic Year: Only a full Spring and a full Fall semester (of full-time coursework) count towards the academic year. Summer is optional and any courses that you may take during the Summer semesters do not count towards the academic year needed for OPT eligibility.

The International Center will review your academic and immigration history to evaluate in order to recommend (or not) a period of OPT. The final decision to grant OPT authorization is made by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
 
Part-time and Full-time OPT
You will need to indicate if you are requesting work authorization for part-time or full-time, when applying for OPT.

Part-time authorization allows you to work up to 20 hours per week.

Full-time authorization is required if you will work over 20 hours per week.

You can apply for periods of OPT authorization as follows:
  Part-time Authorization Full-time Authorization
While taking courses during a fall or spring semester Yes No
While enrolled during the summer semester Yes Yes
If you have completed all coursework, except thesis or dissertation (graduates only) Yes Yes
If your OPT begins after graduation No Yes

If you apply for part-time authorization, it will be deducted from your 12 month OPT total at half the rate. For example, if you apply for 4 months of part-time OPT, you have used the equivalent of 2 months of full-time OPT and are still eligible to apply for your remaining 10 months.

 

Types of OPT
PRE-COMPLETION OPT

After you have been enrolled for one full academic year, you can apply to use some or all of your OPT time during your program of study. Pre-completion OPT (OPT that is done prior to program completion) is available part-time only during semesters of required study, but you can choose either part-time or full-time during summer or if you are in the thesis or dissertation stage of your graduate degree.

Whether you are granted part-time or full-time authorization depends on the request you submit during the OPT application process and it will be reflected on your EAD (Employment Authorization Document) card. Pre-completion OPT can be paid or unpaid training related to your major field of study. You may work for multiple employers as long as your cumulative number of hours is within your authorized limit.

Under pre-completion OPT, there is no limit on unemployment time. If you do not find a job during your period of authorization, you will use up the amount of OPT eligibility for which you were authorized, but you are not required to report your OPT employer information.

POST-COMPLETION OPT

You may choose to save all or some of your 12 months of OPT eligibility to use after the completion of your degree program. You must have applied for graduation and/or have verification from your academic department confirming the expected completion date of your program of study when applying for OPT.

Post-completion OPT (OPT that is done after the completion of your degree requirements) authorizes you for full-time OPT (20 hours or more per week). Post-completion OPT can be paid or unpaid training experience related to your major field of study. You may work for multiple employers. In order for your OPT work to be considered active, you must be working a minimum of 20 hours per week between all OPT jobs combined. If your combined OPT employment is under 20 hours per week in total, this time may count against your unemployment time.

During post-completion OPT, you may not accrue more than an aggregate of 90 days of unemployment during the entire 12 month OPT period. You must be engaged in at least 20 hours of OPT activity per week to count as active employment. Any activity less than 20 hours per week will count towards your unemployment accrual.

It is highly recommended that you keep detailed and accurate records of your OPT experience/employment in case you are ever required to show proof of your OPT activity.

Applying for OPT
WHEN TO APPLY FOR OPT?

OPT applications must be received by USCIS within a specific timeframe in order to be considered. Applications that are received too early or too late will likely be denied by USCIS.

The International Center recommends that students apply for OPT as soon as they are able as it can take an average of 3 months (sometimes longer) for USCIS to respond with a decision.
  • USCIS will accept application for OPT up to 90 days before the program end date (for post-completion OPT), or up to 90 days before the request OPT start date (for pre-completion OPT)
  • Applications must arrive at USCIS no later than 30 days after the OPT recommendation is issued on your I-20 by the International Center.
  • Applications must arrive at USCIS no later than the end of the 60-day grace period after the program end date. Any applications arriving after the grace period may be denied or may not be granted for the full-12 months.

HOW TO APPLY FOR OPT?

The International Center hosts an OPT Workshop each semester (usually in September/October and February) and we encourage you to attend prior to applying for OPT.

After attending the workshop, you will gather the documents needed to apply for OPT. Once you have all the documents, you will upload (PDFs, scans, or photos) to the International Center for review and feedback. Once you upload, the review process can take 1-2 weeks so please plan accordingly.

After your application is reviewed by the International Center, you will receive a new I-20 with your OPT recommendation listed on page 2 and you will be able to mail your completed application packet to USCIS for review. USCIS takes and average of 3-5 months to make a decision regarding your OPT.

For information regarding the application process and to get started, please email us at opt@hartford.edu