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Optional Practical Training (OPT) lets eligible F-1 students work in their field of study in the United States for up to 12 months after completing their program. F-1 students with a degree in a STEM field—science, technology, engineering or math—may be eligible for a 24-month extension of their 12 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT).

Section 1

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

You need to get approval for OPT from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This may take 90 days or more. Plan accordingly so you can start working as soon as you get your OPT card.

You do not need to have a job offer when you apply. Once you get your OPT Employment Authorization Document, you have 90 days from the start date on the document to find employment in your field of study or you will lose your F-1 status.

You can study part-time while on OPT. Full-time study with an I-20 for a new program cancels OPT.

Eligibility for OPT

To be eligible for OPT, you must:

  • Maintain valid F-1 status.
  • Have completed one academic year as a full-time student.
  • Apply for OPT up to 90 days before and up to 60 days after your expected program end date.
  • Not have worked 12 months or more of full-time CPT in your current degree level.

You cannot be unemployed for more than 90 days during the 12-month OPT period. If you lose your job in this period, getting an unpaid volunteer role in your field of study for 20 hours a week or more can qualify as employment.

Applying for OPT

  1. Fill out the following documents:
    • Form I-765
      • For #5, list the OISS address if you want the card to come to our office first: 32 Sayre Drive, Coxe Hall, Bethlehem, PA 18015
      • For #27, list (c) (3) (B) 
    • Form G-1145 (optional)
  2. Login to iHome and fill out the OPT Request Form under F-1 Student Services.
  3. Once OISS approves the request, we will send you an email to schedule an appointment with an OISS advisor. Bring the following documents to the appointment:  
    • Completed and signed Form I-765 (single-sided)
    • Completed and signed Form G-1145 (optional)
    • Check or money order for $410 payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security”
    • Two passport photos taken within the last 30 days (print your name and I-94 number on the back of both photos)
    • Copies of your Form I-94, passport photo page, and current visa page
    • Copies of all previous I-20’s 
    • Copy of the previous Employment Authorization Document (front and back), if any 

Reporting Requirements on OPT

You must notify OISS through iHome within 10 days if any of the following information changes:

  • Legal name
  • Residential address (Post Office Box is not acceptable)
  • Employer name and address
  • Ending OPT due to a change of status to H-1B / another status or leaving the U.S.

Traveling on OPT

If you travel outside the U.S. while on OPT, bring the following documents with you: 

  • Valid passport
  • Valid F-1 visa to re-enter the U.S.*
  • OPT I-20 with a travel signature from an OISS advisor within the last six months
  • Proof of employment or offer letter from your employer and a valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD)

*A valid F-1 visa is not required to re-enter the U.S. if you travel to Canada, Mexico or the adjacent islands (except Cuba) for 30 days or fewer. Citizens of Iran, Syria and Sudan must always have a valid visa. Canadian citizens do no require a visa.

Time spent outside of the U.S. while employed does not count toward the unemployment allowance. 

 

Section 2

STEM OPT Extension

F-1 students with a degree in a STEM field— science, technology, engineering or math—may be eligible for a 24-month extension of their 12 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT).

Eligibility for STEM OPT Extension

To be eligible for STEM OPT Extension, you must:

  • Currently be on post-completion OPT
  • Hold an appropriate degree in one of the DHS-approved STEM fields, received from an accredited U.S. institution within the past 10 years
  • Have not exceeded 90 days of unemployment in the 12 months of regular OPT
  • Submit your STEM OPT application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services before the expiration date of your current OPT

Your prospective employer must be registered with E-Verify. The employer needs to complete the Form I-983 with formal training and learning objectives for the training opportunity and how it directly relates to your qualifying STEM degree.

Applying for STEM OPT Extension

  1. Log into iHome to complete an OPT Extension Request (Under F-1 Student Services).
  2. Upload the following documents:
    • Completed and signed Form I-983
    • Completed and signed Form I-765
    • OPT Employment Authorization Document
    • Job offer letter
  3. Once OISS approves the request, we will send you an email with instructions to mail your OPT extension application.
    • Do not mail the application until you have received your new I-20 from OISS.
    • Do not mail your application more than 90 days before the expiration date on your current OPT.

Once you receive your new I-20 with STEM OPT recommendation, mail the following documents to USCIS:

  • Completed and signed Form I-765
    • For #5, list the OISS address if you want the card to come to our office first: 32 Sayre Drive, Coxe Hall, Bethlehem, PA 18015
    • For #27, list (c) (3) (c)
  • Completed and signed Form G-1145 (optional)
  • Check or money order for $410 payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security”
  • Two passport photos taken within the last 30 days (print your name and I-94 number on the back of both photos)
  • Copies of your Form I-94, passport photo page, and current visa page
  • Copies of your previous I-20’s
  • Copies of your current and previous Employment Authorization Documents (front and back), if any
  • Copy of the new I-20 issued by OISS with the 24-month STEM extension recommendation (make sure you sign the I-20 before making a copy)
  • Evidence that your degree meets the STEM requirements: official transcript from the Lehigh University Registrar's Office and a copy of your diploma that shows your degree level and program of study
  • Job offer letter from a registered E-Verify company printed on official letterhead

Reporting Requirements for STEM OPT

You must notify OISS through iHome within 10 days if any of the following information changes:

  • Legal name
  • Residential address (Post Office Box not acceptable)
  • Employer name and address
  • Ending OPT due to a change of status to H-1B or another status or leaving the U.S.

If you are on the 24-month STEM OPT Extension, you must also notify OISS of the following changes and submit a new I-983:

  • Change in Employer Identification Number (EIN)
  • Reduction in your compensation that is not tied to a reduction in hours worked
  • Significant decrease in hours per week that you get STEM training
  • Changes to the employer’s commitments or your learning objectives as documented on the Form I-983

Students on the 24-month STEM OPT Extension must also submit an annual Evaluation of Student Progress.

Traveling on STEM OPT

If you travel outside the U.S. while on STEM OPT, bring the following documents with you:

  • Valid passport
  • Valid F-1 visa to re-enter the U.S.*
  • STEM OPT I-20 with a travel signature from an OISS advisor within the last six months
  • Proof of employment or offer letter from your employer and a valid Employment Authorization Document

*A valid F-1 visa is not required to re-enter the U.S. if you travel to Canada, Mexico or the adjacent islands (except Cuba) for 30 days or fewer. Citizens of Iran, Syria and Sudan must always have a valid visa. Canadian citizens do not require a visa.

Time spent outside the U.S. while employed does not count toward the unemployment allowance.

Unemployment Allowance for STEM OPT

If you are on the 17-month STEM OPT Extension, you are allowed up to 120 days of unemployment between your 12-month OPT and 17-month extension.

If you are on the 24-month STEM OPT Extension, you are allowed up to 150 days of unemployment between your 12-month OPT and your 24-month extension

Taking Courses on STEM OPT

You can take courses while on STEM OPT as long as you study part-time and do not seek a degree.

If you are seeking a new degree, you need to cancel your STEM OPT and get a new I-20 to pursue full-time study in the new degree program. If the degree is at a new school, you will need to receive admission and contact OISS to transfer out your SEVIS record.

On the transfer release date (new school) or the date a new I-20 is created (Lehigh), your STEM OPT will end. If you intend to continue in F-1 status, you must receive admission from a new academic program and get an I-20 before the 60th day after your STEM OPT ends.

If you transfer to a new school and receive your new I-20, you may remain in the U.S. for up to five months between when your STEM OPT ends and the new program begins. If there will be more than five months between programs, you need to leave the U.S. and re-enter within 30 days of the start of your new program.