Optional Practical Training
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT) gives F-1 students an opportunity for work experience in the U.S. before and/or after completion of their degree. It is limited to a total of 12 months in a field directly related to their course of study. Students apply for OPT at the end of March during the Senior year.
Students must obtain a Social Security card before starting an on-campus job. The International Student Advisor will arrange a trip to the Social Security Office with those needing a card.
F-1 students are eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT) if they have maintained full-time student status for at least nine months.
Students can apply for OPT:
- during vacation period
- after completion of all course requirements
- part-time during the academic year and
- full-time after completion of the program of study.
Optional Practical Training (OPT) can be split between educational programs (e.g. 3 months after completion of a bachelor's degree and 9 months after completion of a master's degree).
Part-time OPT allows employment for no more than 20 hours per week.
Full-time OPT allows employment in excess of 20 hours per week.
Part-time OPT is calculated at one half of the full-time rate. Thus, six months of part-time OPT is seen as 3 months of full-time OPT.
- Students must have submitted their application prior to graduation. It must be received by USCIS by this date or it will be denied.
- Students must complete their Practical Training within 14 months after graduation.
- Students do not have to have a job offer to apply for Optional Practical Training.
- Students who have engaged in one year or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) are ineligible for Optional Practical Training.
Checklist of documents to be mailed to USCIS:
- Check for $180 made payable to "US Department of Homeland Security"
- 2 photos (please put your name and I-94 number in pencil on the
back of the photos)
- I-765 (original)
- Copy of SEVIS I-20 form with endorsement and signature (ISA will
provide) - remember to sign it before copying!
- Copies of any previous I-20 forms, front and back
- Copy of any previous Employment Authorization Documents (EAD cards)
- Copy of F-1 Visa and I-94 card (front and back)
- Copy of identity pages in passport
Mail documents to:
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
US Citizenship and Immigration Services
Vermont Service Center
75 Lower Welden St.
Saint Albans, VT 05479
Frequent Questions about Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Q. When can I apply for OPT?
A. If you are graduating, you MUST apply within the 90 days preceding graduation. The SEVIS system will not accept applications for OPT after graduation. Applications must be received at the Service Center by the date of graduation.
Q. Do I need a job offer to apply for OPT?
A. No. A job offer is not a requirement for applying for OPT.
Q. I did 12 months of OPT for a previous degree. Can I get another 12 months based on my current degree?
A. Yes, an F-1 visa holder is eligible for another 12 months of optional practical training when he or she changes to a higher educational level.
If you plan to travel while on OPT (after you have graduated from Wheaton College) please note the following:
- Visa: If your F-1 visa stamp in your passport has expired, DO NOT make any travel plans without consulting the International Student Advisor at the CGE.
- I-20: Get a travel signature on the back of the I-20 from OIE.
- Passport: Make sure it is valid at least six months into the future.
- Employment Authorization Document(EAD): Take the card with you to show to the DHS upon your return to the U.S. If you have not yet received this card but have sumbitted an application for OPT, we do not advise you to travel outside the US as you may not be allowed to re-enter.
- Letter from Employer: It is recommended that you carry a letter from your employer stating your dates of employment, your job responsibilities, and the fact that you will return to the position.
You should not travel outside the United States from the time you have submitted your application until the time your EAD is received.
Q. I am scheduled to start work very soon, but have not yet received my Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Can I start work and get paid for that work at a later date?
A. No. Working without a work permit is a severe violation of your legal status.
Q. Once I start working, will taxes be taken out of my paycheck?
A. There are three kinds of tax in the U.S.: federal, state, and Social Security/Medicare. You will have federal and state tax taken out of your paycheck. Social Security/Medicare taxes should not be withheld while you are on OPT unless you are considered a resident alien for tax purposes. For further information, please see IRS Publication 519, Page 42, Chapter 8. IRS Publication 519 is available at:
Q. What is the maximum amount of time that I may remain in the U.S. based on my post-completion practical training EAD?
A. You may remain in the U.S. sixty days after the expiration of your EAD. This is a time for you to travel within the U.S., pack your things, relax, etc. You should not be working or studying during the sixty-day grace period.