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Optional Practical Training
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Work Permission: Optional Practical Training

Optional practical training is the most common approach to working in the U.S. for international students. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service or INS allows F-1 students to obtain permission to work for one year.

Pre- and Post-Completion Optional Practical Training

Optional practical training is available both during and after the completion of your academic program. These are called pre-completion and post-completion optional practical training, respectively. However, keep in mind that the total amount of practical training permitted is 12 months. For example, if you are authorized for three months of pre-completion optional practical training during the holidays, you will only be eligible for nine more months of post-completion optional practical training after you have completed your degree. Also, any time spent in curricular practical training reduces the amount of time you may work in optional practical training.

Pre-completion optional practical training may be any of following:

  • A part-time or full-time job during an annual vacation
  • A part-time or full-time job after completion of all coursework, but while working on your thesis, dissertation, or project
  • During the academic year, while pursuing a full courseload, only part-time jobs are allowable

For post-completion optional practical training, you may:

  • work as a full-time employee
  • work for as many companies as you want
  • work as an independent contractor

How Do I Apply for Optional Practical Training?

You must apply for optional practical training through your international student advisor sometime before the completion of your studies. The USCIS denies applications that are even one day late! You do not need a job to be eligible for either pre- or post-completion optional practical training. Keep in mind that it could take up to 120 days for the USCIS to approve your application, and you will not be eligible to work before then. Therefore, you must plan ahead, and try to apply at the earliest possible date.

Here are the steps you will need to take:

  • Complete the top portion of form I-538, and give this form, accompanied by your current I-20 ID, to your advisor.
  • Your advisor will certify on form I-538 that your employment is directly related to your major area of study and is appropriate for your educational level.
  • Your advisor will also endorse your I-20 ID. You or your advisor must then send the following items to the regional INS service center that has jurisdiction over your school:
    1. form I-538
    2. a copy of form I-20, with your advisor's endorsement
    3. a completed Application for Employment Authorization (form I-765)
    4. a $100 processing fee payable to the INS
    5. 2 greencard-style photos (1.5 x 1.5 inches, showing three quarters of your right face)
    6. a signature card
  • Usually in two weeks' time, the INS will send you a confirmation, along with a receipt number that you can use to track your status.
  • Within two to four months, the INS will issue you an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Your EAD will allow you to be employed for a maximum of 12 months. However, your optional practical training will terminate no later than 14 months after you complete your studies, regardless of when your employment starts.

Can I Change Jobs?

You may change employers any time after receiving authorization from the INS, if the new job is directly related to your field of study and is appropriate for someone with your level of education.

Can I Work at More Than One Job?

The good thing about optional practical training is that you may have as many jobs with as many companies as you want. You may also work as an independent contractor. However, if you are doing pre-completion optional practical training, you will probably not want to work in several jobs, since you will need to maintain full-time student status.

Can I Go Further?

If you are considering lengthening your stay in the U.S. beyond the maximum 12 months of post-completion optional practical training, you can attempt to get an H1-B visa sponsorship from your current employer.

Warning #1: No second chances!

  • Post-completion optional practical training is a one-time option. If you take one year of practical training after completing your degree, you cannot obtain another period of practical training upon completing another degree.
  • There are two exceptions: First, if you spend at least one year outside the U.S., and then return with F-1 status. Second, if you change from F-1 to another status, spend at least a year in the other status, and then change back to F-1 status.

Warning #2: No cancellation policy!

  • Once authorization to engage in practical training is granted, it may not be rescinded or cancelled. This means that you may lose that 12 months' eligilibity for work if you unexpectedly delay your graduation, cannot find a job, or lose a job.
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