The United States allows eligible international students and new graduates the opportunity to gain on-the-job-learning that supplements knowledge gained in their academic studies. To participate in one of the below training opportunities, an international student does not need to change their nonimmigrant status. Instead, the student must work with their designated school official (DSO) to ensure eligibility as well as apply for and receive proper authorization. Remember, all international students who receive financial compensation of any kind must apply for a social security number.
Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 Students
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a form of training, often paid, that directly relates to your program of study. You can apply for OPT during your program of study, which is now a pre-completion OPT, or after you finish your program of study, know as post-completion OPT. In order to apply for OPT, F-1 students must request approval from their DSO. A DSO makes this recommendation in SEVIS and by endorsing a student’s Form I-20, “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.” The student must then file the Form I-765, “Application for Employment Authorization” and supporting documents with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and if approved, USCIS will issue a Form I-766, “Employment Authorization Document.” You cannot begin your training until you receive your authorization from USCIS. OPT may include the following:
- Pre-completion OPT.
- Post-completion OPT.
- 24‑month extension of post-completion OPT.
- H-1B Cap‑Gap (when an H-1B is properly filed while OPT or STEM OPT EAD was valid)
24‑month extension of post-completion OPT (STEM OPT)
Eligible F-1 nonimmigrant students with STEM degrees from Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified and accredited U.S. colleges and universities may apply for a 24-month STEM OPT extension. Interested F-1 students must apply for and receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Students may NOT apply for STEM OPT extensions during the 60-day grace period following an initial period of regular post-completion OPT.
Reporting Requirements: There are reporting requirements associated with STEM OPT extensions.
STEM Designated Degree Program List: DHS's STEM Designated Degree Program List includes all STEM fields qualifying an F-1 student for a STEM OPT extension. DHS determined a “STEM field” is a field included in the U.S. Department of Education's Classification of Instructional Program (CIP) taxonomy within the two-digit series containing engineering (CIP code 14), biological sciences (CIP code 26), mathematics (CIP code 27) and physical sciences (CIP code 40), or a related field. The current list is similar to the previous list under the 17-month STEM OPT extension. All fields of study in the four core STEM areas of engineering, biological sciences, mathematics and physical sciences are included.
In general, related fields will include fields involving research, innovation or development of new technologies using engineering, mathematics, computer science or natural sciences (including physical, biological and agricultural sciences). This means that DHS may consider a degree to be in a STEM field even if it is not within the CIP two-digit series for the four identified core areas and may designate CIP codes meeting the definition at the two-, four- or six-digit level.
Unemployment: DHS allows STEM OPT students an additional 60 days of unemployment during the 24-month STEM OPT extension period. This means a total of 150 days of unemployment is allowed during OPT/STEM validity period.
Curricular practical training (CPT) is an alternative work/study, internship, cooperative education or other type of required practicum that a sponsoring employer offers through cooperative agreements with your college or university. CPT is only available for F-1 students when it is part of an established curriculum within a school. CPT must be integral to your program of study; however, unlike pre-completion OPT, CPT can be full time and is not restricted by a weekly 20-hour work limit.Example of documents to show maintenance of F-1 CPT status:
- Cooperative agreement between university and employer
- Document to show that immediate participation in CPT was required within the first academic year
- Document to show that CPT directly relates to the applicant’s major area of study
- Evidence to show how the beneficiary found the job
- Enrollment records
- Class schedules
- course catalog/syllabi
- student handbook
- proof of tuition payments, receipts for books and school supplies, On-campus parking passes, housing, flight tickets to attend school
Practical Training for M-1 Students
M-1 students are only eligible to participate in one type of paid training with an employer, referred to as practical training (PT). Like the F-1 training opportunities, your PT must directly relate to your program of study. PT allows you to gain training experience in your vocational field.
The U.S. government considers starting your own business in the United States, also known as entrepreneurship (also ready our article), as work. Therefore, if you are an F-1 student who plans to start your own business in the United States, you must qualify and apply for OPT.
The OPT, and thus the business, must relate to your program of study and can occur either before (pre-completion OPT) or after the completion of a program of study (post-completion OPT). Please note, F-1 students in English language training programs are not eligible for OPT.
Please note, you cannot be your own employer for the purpose of the STEM OPT extension.
If you want to start your own business while you study in the United States, speak to your DSO and visit USCIS’ Entrepreneur Visa Guide.
Check out webinar by Adhikari Law PLLC on Maintenance of Status, COVID-19 Reliefs for Int'l Students, H-1B, L1 and other Work Visa Updates and Options:
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