Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is off-campus work authorization issued by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for work experience in your field of study. Students must be in F-1 status for an academic year to be eligible for OPT. Both pre-completion (to be used before graduation) and post-completion OPT may be available. However, students are eligible to apply for one year of OPT per degree level (with an exception for students in the STEM fields). If 12 months of OPT are used before graduation, post-completion OPT will not be available.
For further information, consult the USCIS guidelines for OPT.
Students who have been in F-1 status for one academic year are eligible to apply for pre-completion OPT as early as 90 days before the employment start date. For Post-completion OPT, students may apply up to 90 days before the program end date (graduation or completion of studies for graduate students).
Types of Employment Allowed
The following activities are considered allowable employment on both pre-completion and standard post-completion OPT, provided that the job is directly related to the student’s program of study.
- Regular paid employment in a position directly related to the student’s program of study. For post-completion OPT, the work must be for at least 20 hours per week.
- Payment by multiple short-term multiple employers. “Students, such as musicians and other performing artists, may work for multiple short term employers . The student should maintain a list of all employers, the dates and duration.
- Work for hire. When a student performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. Students should be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
- Volunteers or unpaid interns. Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns (the work should not violate any labor laws). The work should be at least 20 hours per week. A student should be able to provide evidence, acquired from the student’s employer, to verify that he or she worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.
- You remain in F-1 status while you are on OPT, so you must continue to follow all regulations that govern your visa status.
- A maximum of 12 months of OPT may be granted for each degree level completed in the U.S. (e.g. bachelor’s, master’s, PhD). (Exception: STEM extensions)
- A student who takes advantage of full-time CPT for 12 months or more is NOT eligible for Optional Practical Training.
- Report any change of address or employment updates to Drew University ISSS. In case of address change, send an email to Drew University’s Immigration Services Coordinator with the following information:
- Current Address (must notify ISSS within 10 days of moving)
- Change of Employer (address and start date)
- Unemployment (date that job was lost)
- Change in Immigration status
- Departure from the U.S. if earlier than the date on the EAD
- USCIS recommends that students maintain evidence, for each job, of the position held, proof of the duration of that position, the job title, contact information for the student’s supervisor or manager and a description of the work.
- If it is not clear from the job description that the work is related to the student’s degree, it is highly recommended that the student obtain a signed letter from the student’s supervisor or manager or the employer’s hiring official stating how the student’s degree is related to the work performed.
Unemployment During OPT
- During post-completion OPT, a student (including STEM students) may not be unemployed for an aggregate of more than 90 days. If a student receives a 24-month STEM extension, the limit on unemployment is raised to an aggregate of no more than 120 days.
- Weekends and time spent outside of the U.S. are counted towards the period of unemployment.
Travel While on OPT
- Student who needs to travel outside the U.S. before receiving the EAD must have the receipt (I-797) from USCIS **ISSS does not recommend students travelling outside the US and reentering while OPT is PENDING.
- If Student has received the EAD but has not started work, you must have letter from prospective employer to prove you have employment.
- Student must present the following documents upon re-entry to the U.S. while on OPT:
- Form I-20 with OPT APPROVED endorsed by ISSS for travel within the preceding 6 months
- An unexpired EAD card
- Proof of employment
- Valid Passport (valid 6 months from date or planned entry into the US)
- Valid F1 Visa
Health Insurance While on OPT
International students require health insurance while on the F1 visa. Your Drew insurance will end Aug 14. While Drew University cannot evaluate, recommend, or endorse any specific private health insurance company or policy, here are a few options that our students use:
OPT Application Procedure
- Apply for Graduation – https://drew.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/91/2023/06/STEP-1-OPT-Presentation-Spring-2023.pdf
- Decide on an OPT Start Date/Submit OPT Request Form to ISSS – OPT I-20 emailed to student within 24-48 hrs (as long as request is made within 90 days of graduation)** https://drew.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/91/2023/06/STEP-2-OPT-Presentation-Spring-2023.pdf
- Review OPT I-765 Online Application guidelines/tips – https://drew.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/91/2023/06/OPT-I-765-Online-Filing-PDF-3.pdf
- Gather all supporting documents – https://drew.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/91/2023/06/STEP-3-OPT-Presentation-Spring-2023.pdf
- Create USCIS account https://drew.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/91/2023/06/STEP-4-OPT-Presentation-Spring-2023.pdf
- After receiving OPT I20 from ISSS, Log into your USCIS Account and Complete I-765 online application
*NOTE: You MUST have a new I20 with OPT from ISSS before proceeding with completing the I-765 application. Application must be received by USCIS within 30 days after the OPT I-20 is requested by ISSS!
***The I-765 application is your personal application for employment authorization. You are responsible for following all USCIS instructions and making sure that the application is correct and complete. The International Student Center will not have access to your application and cannot correct, edit, or change any information on your application for you. If you have any issues or questions regarding your I-765 application, you will need to work directly with USCIS.
Helpful Tips for Completing Form I-765: https://drew.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/91/2023/06/Helpful-Tips-OPT-Presentation-Spring-2023.pdf
OPT Employment Form
Students with Approved OPT
Students on approved OPT / STEM OPT are responsible for providing the school a description of how their practical training opportunity relates to their major area of study.