If you’re studying in the US on an F1 visa, you’ve probably started to wonder what will happen after you graduate.

The good news is that any student with a degree from an accredited institution can apply to work in the US for 12 months after graduation.  This is called the Optional Practical Training program (OPT).

Depending on your major and the job you’ve lined up, you may be eligible to stay in the US for an additional 17 to 24 months.  For more information on OPT extensions, check out our article on OPT Extensions for STEM Fields.  Importantly, in order to qualify for OPT, you have to work in a field that is related to your degree.  So you can’t graduate in math and take a job as a waitress!

What is Optional Practical Training?

OPT is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s field of study.  You can apply for OPT either during or immediately after your degree program. 

If you apply before degree completion, it’s important to remember that you have to complete at leasts 1 full year of study before applying for OPT.  In addition, students applying for OPT before degree completion must work part time while school is in session, but can work full time during school breaks. 

Those applying after degree completion are free to work full time for the entire duration of the OPT.

How Can I Apply for OPT?

You must apply for OPT within 60 days of graduation. 

The first step to apply for OPT is to get in touch with the Designated School Official (DSO; sometimes called an ISS) at your school.  The DSO will then have to endorse your Form I-20.  At that point, you can file Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorisation).  You’ll also have to complete the E-Verify forms on the USCIS Website.  According to USCIS policy, you must wait until your I-765 is approved before starting in your OPT job.

What Kind of Jobs are Eligible or OPT?

In order to be eligible for OPT, you must be working in the same field as your degree.  You must be employed for a minimum of 20 hours per week, and you may not be unemployed for more than 90 days during the OPT period. 

You’re welcome to work for multiple employers, work for yourself, or even work as a volunteer or unpaid intern.  You don’t need a job offer to be approved for OPT, but if this is the case, don’t forget about the 90-day unemployment allowance.

Can I Travel Abroad While my OPT Application is Pending?

Many students get excited to travel outside of the US after completion of their degree, and rightfully so.  This is a fantastic time to see the world, see your family, or get one last hurrah before officially joining the workforce. 

Before graduation (but after completing your OPT application), you can reenter the US as a student using your regular travel documents, but you’ll also need your new Form I-20 with the OPT recommendation printed on page 2.  After graduating, we recommend staying within the US until your OPT is approved, unless you have a reliable person to monitor your address for mail from USCIS.  If USCIS requests additional documents for your application, you don’t want to miss it because you’re off sipping tequila in Tahiti.

Can I Travel Abroad after my OPT is Approved?

You can certainly travel abroad after your OPT is approved, on the condition that you have proof of employment.  Without proof of employment you may have significant difficulty reentering the US, even with your approved OPT.  

Bon Voyage!