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New OPT Extension Times

by: Justin Burton

If you are an international student in the United States, you are likely here on an F-1 Visa. The F-1 visa is given to full-time students that are enrolled in a program that is approved by the government that results in a degree, diploma or certificate.

Students on the F-1 Visa often want to work in the field of their study while they are in school and shortly after completion. How can a student gain eligibility to work? There are two options. One is Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and the other is Optional Practical Training (OPT).

Curricular Practical Training

Curricular Practical Training (CPT) allows you, as an F-1 student, to work when the work experience is required for degree completion or is done for academic credit. The following are the requirements for CPT authorization.

  1. School enrollment of at least one year with the F-1 Visa. If you are a graduate student, you can bypass this one-year requirement if your program requires immediate training or employment.
  2. CPT must be a requirement for the degree program or course in which you are enrolled.
  3. You have a qualifying job offer before applying for CPT authorization.
  4. The job must be in your field of study.

When you are authorized for CPT, you can only work at the job you were offered and for the specific dates that were authorized. CPT can be authorized for either part-time work, which is 20 hours or less per week, or full-time work, which is more than 20 hours per week.

Optional Practical Training

The other option you have is optional practical training (OPT). OPT allows you to work even if the work is not necessary for the degree program or a course. OPT can be authorized either while still pursuing the degree or after completion of the degree.

For OPT authorization before completion of the degree, the following requirements need to be met.

  1. Employment is directly related to your field of study.
  2. You must be a full-time student.
  3. You only work 20 hours per week during school. You can work more when school is on break.

For OPT authorization after obtaining the degree, the following requirements must be met.

  1. Employment must be directly related to your field of study.
  2. You should have applied for OPT before completion of the degree.
  3. You must not have been engaged in 12 or more months of full-time CPT.
  4. All OPT must be completed within 14 months of obtaining your degree.

If you have a degree in science, technology, engineering or math, you can apply for an OPT extension which will authorize you to work beyond the initial 12 month period after completion of your degree. The Department of Homeland Security has recently altered the extension period from 17 months to 24 months. If you apply for a STEM OPT extension on May 10, 2016 or anytime thereafter, you will receive a 24 month extension.

If you have any questions or are unsure about what options are open to you, you should contact the appropriate advisor at your school or consult with an experienced attorney.

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