Optional Practical Training for F-1 Students

When can you apply for Optional Practical Training?

  • If you have been in F-1 status for at least 9 months you are eligible for optional practical training (OPT) which is temporary employment in your current field of study for purposes of gaining practical experience.
  • You will receive only twelve months for all practical training. (Students do not get twelve months of practical training for each degree unless they were absent from the United States or were in a visa status other than F-1 for a time period longer than 5 months before starting a new degree program). For part-time (20 hrs or less per week) OPT only half time is deducted from the 12 months (e.g. for 4 months of part-time OPT only 2 months is deducted.)

You may apply for authorization for optional practical training directly related to your major area of study in the following cases:

  • During your annual vacation (summer) as long as you intend to register for the next semester. It is advisable to have a job offer at the time of application in this case. The job can be full or part-time.
  • While school is in session, provided that practical training does not exceed twenty hours a week. Must have a job offer before applying.
  • After completion of course requirements except thesis. Should have a job offer before applying. The job can be full or part-time.
  • After completion of the course of study. Application for OPT in this case can be submitted as early as 120 day before the completion of the program, but no later than 60 days after graduation. Post completion practical training has to be completed within 14 months from graduation.

If you meet these qualifications, you can proceed with the application for practical training authorization. Upon completion of all the forms, an advisor will review your application and decide either to recommend or not recommend your application for submission to INS for adjudication. Application packets are available in front of 214 Sandy Hall. Please follow the instructions included in the packet and assemble your application according to the checklist on the cover page. Submit your completed application in 214 Sandy Hall for review. Processing takes 2-3 days. You will have to pick up your I-20 form after processing has been completed.

Checklist for application:

  • I-538 form (Section A completed and signed by you. Section B will be completed and signed by the International Student Advisor)
  • I-765 (completed and signed by you)
  • I-20 form (your most recent, valid I-20 form)
  • Passport and I-94 card (these will be copied and immediately returned to you at the time when you submit your application)
  • $100 check made payable to INS
  • Recommendation letter or job offer (from your department, or the company; samples are included in the application packet)
  • Two color photos (please follow the instructions included in the application packet)
  • Signature card (will be given to you at the time when you submit your application)

Frequently asked questions and answers:

Q When told to bring "original I-20 form" do you mean my very first I-20?

No, we mean your current, valid I-20, but instead of a photocopy, the original, so that we can endorse it for OPT.

Q "Date admitted to the U.S." Is this the last time?

This is the last time when you were inspected and admitted to the U.S. A stamp in your passport and on your I-94 card shows the last date and place of entry.

Q When was I first granted F-1 status? When I got my visa at the consulate?

You were first granted F-1 status when you entered the U.S. in F-1 status for the first time, or when INS first approved a change of status to F-1 from any other visa status.

Q Can I change jobs during OPT?

Yes, you can, as long as the job is related to your area of study.

Q What if I use a company letter and decide not to work for them?

That is all right. Your OPT authorization allows you to work for any company within the time period specified on your OPT card, as long as you remain within your area of study.

Q What if I move after I put down my address on the I-765?

You will have to notify INS in writing of your change of address. Unfortunately documents from INS are not forwarded to a new address by the postal service but instead returned to INS. If you know you will move within a few days or weeks after you submit your application, give a P.O.Box address or someone's address whom you trust where you will be able to receive correspondence and your OPT authorization from INS.

Q Can I split up my time on OPT?

Yes, you can apply for OPT for a shorter time period initially, than extend it, if necessary. Remember, however, that for an extension you have to go through the same application process, which takes 6-8 weeks. Also, you have to complete your practical training within 14 months of your graduation. Splitting up your time is advisable when you expect to return to school for another degree and want to save some of your time for after the other degree. Please consult with the International Student Advisor if you have any doubts about what you can do and what not.

Q What if I don't use all my OPT because I go back to school?

Unfortunately once you applied for and were granted Optional Practical Training, INS will consider it used, whether you actually work or not. Occasionally a student can return a card immediately after receiving it from INS along with a letter to INS requesting the cancellation of the work authorization, but it doesn't always work.

Q Can I go home just before I complete my degree?

You should not travel outside the U.S. right before your graduation unless you already have an approved OPT and a job offer in your hand. If you leave the U.S. after you have applied for OPT but before receiving the authorization or before even applying for OPT, you may not be able to return to the U.S., and thus lose your practical training.

Q What if my I-20 expires before my practical training runs out?

The expiration date in item #5 on your I-20 says that you have to complete your studies no later than that date. When you apply for OPT, your I-20 form is endorsed for practical training, which automatically extends your I-20 until the end of your practical training regardless of the date in item #5.

Q What if I want to travel during OPT. Do I need to get a travel signature from VT?

Yes, you do. You will have to bring or send your I-20 form to us for travel endorsement. We will mail the signed I-20 form back to you to the address you specify. Please allow sufficient time for mailing, or send us a self-addressed stamped priority or express mail envelope for fast service. We mail documents by regular first class mail. If you need to renew your F-1 visa before you return to the U.S., a new I-20 form will be issued, that reflects that you are on practical training.

Our mailing address is:

Attn: International Student Advisor
Graduate School
Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, VA 24061-0325