Students and Employment

If you would like to study as a full-time student in the United States, you will need a student visa. There are two nonimmigrant visa categories for persons wishing to study in the United States. These visas are commonly known as the F and M visas.

You may enter in the F-1 or M-1 visa category provided you meet the following criteria:

  • You must be enrolled in an “academic” educational program, a language-training program, or a vocational program
  • Your school must be approved by the Student and Exchange Visitors Program, Immigration & Customs Enforcement
  • You must be enrolled as a full-time student at the institution
  • You must be proficient in English or be enrolled in courses leading to English proficiency
  • You must have sufficient funds available for self-support during the entire proposed course of study
  • You must maintain a residence abroad which you have no intention of giving up.

F-1 Student Visa

The F-1 Visa (Academic Student) allows you to enter the United States as a full-time student at an accredited college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or other academic institution or in a language training program. You must be enrolled in a program or course of study that culminates in a degree, diploma, or certificate and your school must be authorized by the U.S. government to accept international students.

Employment

F-1 students may not work off-campus during the first academic year, but may accept on-campus employment subject to certain conditions and restrictions. After the first academic year, F-1 students may engage in three types of off-campus employment:

For both F-1 and M-1 students any off-campus employment must be related to their area of study and must be authorized prior to starting any work by the Designated School Official (the person authorized to maintain the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)) and USCIS.

For more information on the Student and Exchange Visitors Program, see the “Student & Exchange Visitor Program, Immigration & Customs Enforcement” and the Study in the States “Training Opportunities in the United States” pages.

OPT

optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 Students

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. Eligible students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization before completing their academic studies (pre-completion) and/or after completing their academic studies (post-completion). However, all periods of pre-completion OPT will be deducted from the available period of post-completion OPT.

Types of OPT

All OPT must be directly related to the student’s major area of study. Students may participate in OPT in two different ways:

  • Pre-completion OPT:  F-1 students may apply to participate in pre-completion OPT after they have been enrolled in school for one full academic year. Students authorized to participate in pre-completion OPT must work part-time while school is in session. They may work full time when school is not in session.
  • Post-completion OPT:  F-1 students may apply to participate in post-completion OPT after completing their studies. Students authorized for post-completion OPT may work part-time (at least 20 hours per week) or full-time.

Please Note:  Students may participate in OPT both before and after completing their studies. However, all periods of pre-completion OPT will be deducted from the available period of post-completion OPT.

STEM OPT Extension

Students who have earned degrees in certain science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields may apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion OPT employment authorization if they:

  • Are an F-1 student who received a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) degree included on theSTEM Designated Degree Program List,
  • Are employed by an employer enrolled in E-Verify, and
  • Received an initial grant of post-completion OPT employment authorization based on their STEM degree.

If you are interested in applying for a STEM OPT extension, please see our Optional Practical Training Extension for STEM Students (STEM OPT) page for more information.

Applying for OPT

Generally, if you are an F-1 student who wants to apply for OPT, you must:

  1. Request that your designated school official (DSO) at your academic institution recommend the OPT. Your DSO will make the recommendation by endorsing your Form I-20 and making the appropriate notation in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).
  2. Properly file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization with USCIS, accompanied by the required fee and the supporting documentation as described in the form instructions.

When to apply

If you are applying based on a… For… Then you…
STEM degree Pre-completion OPT
  • Must apply within 30 days of your DSO entering the recommendation for OPT into your SEVIS record, and
  • May apply up to 90 days before you complete a full academic year, as long as you do not start OPT employment until you complete one full academic year.

 

Initial post-completion OPT
  • Must apply within 30 days of your DSO entering the recommendation for OPT into your SEVIS record, and
  • May apply up to 90 days before you complete your degree, but no later than 60 days after you complete your degree.

 

Post-completion STEM OPT extension
  • Must apply within 60 days of your DSO entering the recommendation for OPT into your SEVIS record, and
  • May apply up to 90 days before you complete your degree, but no later than 60 days after you complete your degree.

 

Non-STEM degree Pre-completion OPT
  • Must apply within 30 days of your DSO entering the recommendation for OPT into your SEVIS record, and
  • May apply up to 90 days before you complete a full academic year, as long as you do not start OPT employment until you complete one full academic year.

 

Post-completion OPT
  • Must apply within 30 days of your DSO entering the recommendation for OPT into your SEVIS record, and
  • May apply up to 90 days before you complete your degree, but no later than 60 days after you complete your degree.

 

You may begin your OPT only after USCIS approves your Form I-765 and you receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

Cap-gap Extension for F-1 Students with Approved H-1B Petitions

If you are an F-1 student with a timely filed H-1B petition and change of status request, and your F-1 status and employment authorization will expire before the change of status to H-1B occurs (typically October 1), you may be eligible for a cap-gap extension. Go to our Cap-Gap Extension page for more information.


Requirement 1 – Your OPT must relate to your major or course of study.


While on F-1 OPT, the work you will perform must directly relate to your major area of study. If you are starting a business, the majority of the work you perform must be directly related to your major area of study.


Requirement 2 – You will need to decide whether you wish to engage in OPT while you are still attending school (pre-completion OPT) or after you graduate (post-completion OPT), or a combination of the two. 


An F-1 student may be authorized up to a total of 12 months of full-time practical training at each educational level (e.g., undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate). If the student chooses to engage in pre-completion OPT, he or she may not work more than 20 hours per week while school is in session, but may work full-time during his or her annual vacation and other times when the school is not in session. If a student engages in pre-completion OPT, the student’s eligible period of  post-completion OPT will be reduced by 1 month for every 2 months of part-time pre-completion OPT that is worked when he or she graduates. Students who graduate with a qualified Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) degree, and are currently in an approved post-completion OPT period based on a designated STEM degree may apply for a 17-month STEM extension of their post-completion OPT.

+ How do I apply for F-1 OPT?

Once you receive a recommendation for post-completion OPT from your Designated School Official (DSO) to pursue OPT, you must apply for an employment authorization document (EAD) with USCIS within 30 days. Additionally, you may file up to 90 days prior to your program end-date and not later than 60 days after your program end date.

+ How do I get a 17-month STEM extension of my post-completion OPT?

If you have completed a qualifying Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) degree, and you are currently in an approved post-completion OPT period based on a designated STEM degree, you may be eligible to apply for a 17-month STEM extension of your  post-completion OPT. For a STEM degree to qualify, it must appear on the STEM Designated Degree Program List. If you want to apply for a STEM extension, you must file for an extension of your EAD with USCIS before your current OPT work authorization expires. USCIS recommends that you file 90 days before the expiration of your OPT.
Optional Practical Training Extension for STEM Students (STEM OPT)

On March 11, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security published a final ruleallowing certain F-1 students who receive science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees, and who meet other specified requirements, to apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion OPT. The 24-month extension will replace the 17-month STEM OPT extension previously available to STEM students (see73 FR 18944). Eligible students may now apply for a 24-month STEM OPT extension.

Eligibility for the STEM OPT Extension

To qualify for the 24-month extension, you must:

  • Have been granted OPT and currently be in a valid period of OPT;
  • Have earned a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree from a school that is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency and is certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) when you submit your STEM OPT extension application.
    • Previously obtained STEM degrees: If you are an F-1 student participating in a 12-month period of post-completion OPT based on a non-STEM degree, you may be eligible to use a prior STEM degree earned from a U.S. institution of higher education to apply for a STEM OPT extension. You must have received both degrees from currently accredited and SEVP-certified institutions, and cannot have already received a STEM OPT extension based on this prior degree. The practical training opportunity also must be directly related to the previously obtained STEM degree.
      • For example: If you are currently participating in OPT based on a master’s degree in business administration but you previously received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, you may be able to apply for a STEM OPT extension based on your bachelor’s degree as long as it is from an accredited U.S. college or university and the OPT employment opportunity is directly related to your bachelor’s degree in mathematics.
    • STEM degrees you obtain in the future: If you enroll in a new academic program in the future and earn another qualifying STEM degree at a higher educational level, you may be eligible for one additional 24-month STEM OPT extension.
      • For example: If you receive a 24-month STEM OPT extension based on your bachelor’s degree in engineering and you later earn a master’s degree in engineering, you may apply for an additional 24-month STEM OPT extension based on your master’s degree.
  • Work for an employer who meets all the requirements listed below in the STEM OPT Employer Responsibilities section.
  • Submit the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization up to 90 days before your current OPT employment authorization expires, and within 60 days of the date your designated school official (DSO) enters the recommendation for OPT into your Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) record.

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Applying for a STEM OPT Extension

To apply for an extension, you must properly file:

  • Form I-765 with the application fee on or after May 10, 2016,
  • Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status, endorsed by your DSO on or after May 10, 2016, and
  • A copy of your STEM degree.

If you file your extension application on time and your OPT period expires while your extension application is pending, USCIS will extend your employment authorization for 180 days.

Note: If you are currently participating in STEM OPT based on a 17-month extension or you have a pending application for a 17-month STEM OPT extension, please see the OPT Students Who Currently Have (or Have an Pending Application for) a 17-Month Extension section below for more information.

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After Receiving a STEM OPT Extension

Reporting responsibilities

If you receive a STEM OPT extension, you must:

  • Report changes to your DSO within 10 days of the change. You must report changes to:
    • Your legal name
    • Your residential or mailing address
    • Your email address
    • Your employer’s name
    • Your employer’s address
  • Report to your DSO every 6 months to confirm the information listed above, even if none of your information has changed.

For more information, please refer to the DHS STEM OPT Hub.

Unemployment during the OPT period

The law allows you to be unemployed during your OPT period for a limited number of days.

If you received… You may be unemployed for… For a total of…

(during the OPT period)

Initial post-completion OPT only Up to 90 days 90 days
17-month extension An additional 30 days 120 days*
24-month extension An additional 60 days 150 days*

*If you are granted an additional 7-month extension in addition to your 17-month STEM-OPT (for a total of 24-month STEM OPT extension) then you may be unemployed for a total of 150-days during the OPT period.

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STEM OPT Employer Responsibilities

If you are an employer who wants to provide a practical training opportunity to a STEM OPT student during his or her extension, you must:

  • Be enrolled in E-Verify and remain in good standing.
  • Report material changes to the STEM OPT student’s employment to the DSO within 5 business days.
  • Implement a formal training program to augment the student’s academic learning through practical experience.
  • Provide an OPT opportunity that is commensurate with those of similarly situated U.S. workers in duties, hours, and compensation.
  • Complete the Form I-983, Training Plan for STEM OPT Students. In this form,  you must attest that:
    • You have enough resources and trained personnel available to appropriately train the student;
    • The student will not replace a full- or part-time, temporary or permanent U.S. worker; and
    • Working for you will help the student attain his or her training objectives.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement may visit your worksite(s) to verify whether you are meeting the STEM OPT program requirements, including whether you are maintaining the ability and resources to provide structured and guided work-based learning experiences for the STEM OPT student.

For more information, please refer to the DHS STEM OPT Hub.

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OPT Students Who Currently Have (or Have a Pending Application for) a 17-Month Extension

If you currently have a 17-month STEM OPT extension, you may apply to add 7 months to your STEM OPT period on or after May 10, 2016, as long as you have at least 150 days of valid employment authorization remaining on the date you properly file your new Form I-765. Please note that you must properly file your Form I-765, with fee, on or before August 8, 2016. USCIS will deny applications with less than 150 days of validity remaining and applications filed after August 8, 2016.

We granted a 17-month extension to any STEM OPT extension application approved before May 10, 2016. This included applications in which the student mistakenly requested a 24-month extension before being eligible to do so.

If your application for a 17-month STEM OPT extension was pending on May 10, 2016, USCIS will send you a request for evidence (RFE) to allow you to demonstrate that you are eligible for a 24-month STEM OPT extension.

The chart below outlines your options.

If You… And… Then…
Currently have a 17-month STEM OPT extension You do NOT want to add any additional time to your STEM OPT extension You do not need to file any new forms or pay any new fees. You are authorized to keep working until your 17-month STEM OPT period expires, or is terminated or revoked.

 

You want to request to add 7 months to your STEM OPT extension You may submit a Form I-765, with fee, on or after May 10, 2016. If you do so, you must:

  • Properly file on or before August 8, 2016;
  • File your Form I‑765 within 60 days of your DSO’s recommendation;
  • Have at least 150 days of valid work authorization remaining on the date you properly file your new Form I-765;
  • Include a Form I-20, endorsed by your DSO on or after May 10, 2016; and
  • Show that you, your DSO, and your employer meet all the 24-month STEM OPT extension requirements, including submitting the Training Plan for STEM OPT Students.

 

Have a pending application for a 17-month STEM OPT extension You do not withdraw your Form I-765 application If your application was still pending on May 10, 2016, we will send you a request for evidence to allow you to demonstrate that you are eligible for a 24-month STEM OPT extension.

You must then submit a Form I‑20 endorsed on or after May 10, 2016, indicating that your DSO recommends you for a 24-month OPT extension and that you, your DSO, and your employer meet the requirements for a 24-month extension.

You will not need to pay an additional fee or refile the Form I-765.

Are a STEM student without a current STEM OPT extension or a pending extension application You want to apply for a STEM OPT extension You must file:

  • Form I-765
  • Form I-20, endorsed by your DSO within the past 60 days, and endorsed on or after May 10, 2016
  • A copy of your degree
  • Your employer’s name as listed in E-Verify
  • Your employer’s E-Verify Company Identification Number or valid E-Verify Client Company Identification Number