Eligibility for OPT: Employment Authorization for F-1 Students

Many F-1 students are able to work in their field of study. Here's how it works.

Most F-1 students qualify for a benefit called Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT is a form of employment authorization that is available to F-1 students while they are still enrolled in their studies and/or upon completing their degree program. OPT is available for up to 12 months per higher degree level and is limited to college, university, conservatory, and seminary students. It is not available to students enrolled in English language training programs.

The rules for OPT eligibility differ slightly depending on whether you are applying for pre-completion or post-completion OPT.

Pre-Completion OPT

Pre-completion OPT is granted while you are still a student enrolled in your academic program. You are eligible for pre-completion OPT only after you have completed one full academic year at your institution. Pre-completion OPT must be used for employment that is directly related to your field of study, and is available only if you are able to satisfy the following requirements:

  • You have not participated in full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) for 12 months or more.
  • You have not used 12 months of OPT for a prior degree program that was at the same or higher level than your current program
  • You are not a Mexican or Canadian border student admitted as a part-time F-1 student; they are not eligible for pre-completion OPT; and
  • You agree to not work more than 20 hours a week while school is in session (you are permitted to work full-time only during official school breaks).

If you choose to apply for pre-completion OPT, plan for the fact that the time you spend working during this period will be deducted from the 12-month total, with part-time work deducted at one-half the full time rate. For example, if you work part-time for four months on pre-completion OPT, two months will be deducted from the total and you will be eligible for only ten months of post-completion OPT.

Post-Completion OPT

Post-completion OPT is granted only after you have completed your degree requirements. Post-completion OPT must be used for employment that is directly related to your field of study. It is available only if you satisfy the following requirements:

  • You have not participated in full-time CPT for 12 months or more.
  • You have not used 12 months of OPT for a prior degree program that was at the same or higher level than your current program.
  • You have not used 12 months of pre-completion OPT for your current program.
  • You have picked an employment start date that occurs during your 60-day grace period.
  • You have not left the United States during your 60-day grace period without first filing your OPT application with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS); and
  • Your OPT application is received by USCIS before the end of your 60-day grace period and within 30-days of receiving an OPT recommendation I-20 from your Designated School Official (DSO).

Special Issues

There are some special issues to be aware of as you consider your eligibility for OPT. These include:

  • If your academic program requires a thesis or dissertation, you can apply for post-completion OPT before completing your thesis or dissertation as long as all your other coursework is done.
  • If you completed a degree program that qualifies as a STEM Designated Degree Program, you might be eligible for a 17-month extension of post-completion OPT.

Need Help?

If you are not sure of your eligibility for either pre- or post-completion OPT, you should consult with your DSO. If you want to learn about other options for employment, see Can an F-1 Student Legally Work In The U.S.?

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