Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a benefit for F-1 students to work
off-campus in a field directly related to their major areas of study. An offer
of employment is not required to apply for OPT.
Eligibility for this category requires that students be in F-1 student status
for one academic year. A job offer is not required in order to apply for OPT,
however the eventual employment must be directly related to the student's field
of study. Students are allowed a total of twelve months of full-time OPT per
degree level. They may apply for periods of OPT during school terms, during
summer vacation time before completion of studies, save the total twelve-month
period to be used after completion of studies, or use a combination. Such
employment may be full-time or part-time, and it may take place at any location
in the United States.
Any periods of OPT used before completion of studies will be deducted from
the total twelve-month period available. For example, full-time employment for
two months during a summer vacation would leave a student with only ten months
of OPT available after graduation. Students may become eligible for another
twelve months of OPT when they change to a higher educational level. However,
simply beginning another degree program does not automatically confer this
Students may use OPT before completion of studies during
any of the following periods:
- full-time during annual summer vacation periods
- part-time (up to 20 hours per week) while school is in session
- full-time after completion of all courses, but prior to thesis or
To be eligible to apply for F-1 OPT after completion of
studies students must have been in lawful full-time student status for one
academic year and apply for OPT no later than 60 days after the date of
completion of studies.
When to apply
Students may apply for pre-completion OPT as early as 90 days before the
proposed start date of the employment. Students in their first year of F-1
student immigration status should work closely with their HIO advisors to
confirm their eligibility and to determine the employment start date.
Students completing a program of study can apply for post-completion OPT as
early as 90 days before the date of completion and/or graduation. For most
degree programs, the date of the graduation ceremony is the program completion
date. For students completing their programs at other points in the academic
year, their HIO advisor can assist in determining the program completion date
for OPT purposes. For post-completion OPT students must submit their OPT
applications so that they are received at USCIS by the 60th day after
graduation/program completion. Students who have had a break in their F-1
student status (such as a leave of absence outside of the United States) should
work closely with their HIO advisors to confirm their eligibility to apply for
How to Apply for OPT
All F-1 students who plan to apply for either pre-completion or post-completion OPT must follow the following procedure. There are three steps in an OPT application:
1. Completing forms and putting an application packet together
2. Submitting the packet to the HIO to obtain OPT recommendation
3. Mailing the OPT packet with the HIO recommendation to USCIS
To complete Step 1, you must watch the F-1 OPT instruction video on the HIO web site at www.hio.harvard.edu/opt/. Once you watch the video you are expected to complete the required forms, put together the application, and submit the application to the HIO. The HIO will provide the OPT recommendation in the form of a new I-20. Once the new I-20 is issued you will get an e-mail from your HIO advisor to pick up your OPT packet from the HIO. If you choose to have your OPT paperwork mailed back to you please include a self addressed large envelope. You will be given detailed written instructions on how to complete Step 3 in the OPT packet that you pick up from the HIO.
You are advised to apply for OPT well in advance of the start dates of your anticipated employment. Job offers are not required in order to apply for OPT. In most cases, provided that you have obtained the required recommendation from your HIO advisor and submitted the required documents to USCIS, OPT is not denied by USCIS. However, problems occur when the application guidelines are not followed (e.g. incorrect mailing address, wrong photograph format, etc.).
Note: Students who apply for post-completion OPT and then fail to
graduate on the date indicated in their applications risk violating their
student visa status and possibly forfeiting their OPT. Students who do not
graduate as planned must contact their HIO advisors immediately.