After Graduation: Optional Practical Training

Work Experience

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is employment or training which provides an opportunity for you to obtain actual work experience in the U.S. that is directly related to your field of study.

As an F-1 student you are allowed up to 12 months of OPT for each degree you pursue. For example, if you take 12 months of OPT after completing your Bachelor’s degree, you are eligible for another 12 months of OPT if you later go on to complete a Master's or Ph.D.

In order to be eligible for practical training you must be in lawful F-1 student status for at least one full academic year (three quarters) and submit the application materials to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in a timely manner.

While you are on OPT, the UCSB Office of International Students & Scholars will continue to maintain your SEVIS record (even though you have already graduated from UCSB).

24-month STEM OPT Extension Recipients of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in certain government-designated Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields may be eligible for a 24-month extension of Post-Completion OPT (for a total eligibility period of up to 36 months).  The 24-month STEM Extension OPT is approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). More here.

Option for a second STEM OPT Extension. A second STEM OPT extension may be possible, but must be based upon a degree completed at a higher educational level than the first STEM extension. 

STEM OPT Extension based on a prior degree. F-1 students participating in an initial 12-months of post-completion OPT based on a non-STEM degree can use a prior eligible STEM degree from a U.S. institution of higher education as a basis to apply for a STEM OPT extension, as long as both degrees were received from currently accredited educational institutions and the practical training opportunity is directly related to the previously obtained STEM degree.

How to Apply

This presentation will walk you through the application process. View the online OPT Tutorial here.

Approval Timeline

  • It can take up to 90 days for USCIS to approve your application – plan accordingly.
  • Once OPT is authorized by USCIS, it cannot be cancelled.

Employment Requirements while on OPT

During post-completion OPT, F-1 status is dependent upon employment. Students may not exceed an aggregate of 90 days of unemployment during the post-completion OPT period. Exceeding the 90-day period of unemployment may have a negative impact on your status in the USA or immigration benefits in the future.

The following types of employment allowed are:

  • Paid employment: Students may work part-time (at least 20 hours per week) or full-time. Students may work in paid positions such as multiple employers, short-term multiple employers (performing artists), work for hire, self-employed business owner, or employment through an agency. However, all employment must be related to the degree program listed on your I-20.
  • Unpaid employment: Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this does not violate US labor laws. The work must be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. Again, all employment must be related to the degree program listed on your I-20.

If requested by the US Department of Homeland Security, students must be prepared to provide evidence of employment. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the student to maintain evidence, for each job, of the position held, proof of the duration of that employment, the job title, contact information for the student's supervisor or manager, and a description of the work. 

Reporting Requirements while on OPT

You will continue to be in F-1 student status so you must continue to report certain information about your stay in the USA. Please contact OISS within 10 days if you:

  • Change your name
  • Change your address in the USA
  • Change your employer or location of employment
  • Have interruptions in employment
  • Complete your practical training early
  • Enroll in a new degree program or transfer to another academic program
  • Decide to return home permanently

Please complete the OPT Employment Verification form once your find employment and return it to OISS in person or by email to oiss@sa.ucsb.edu.  

Travel Outside of the U.S. and Re-Entry

Students on OPT are still in F-1 student status. To re-enter the USA, you must have:
  • Current passport that is valid up to six months after reentry date
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • Current I-20 with valid travel signature on page 3
    Note: Even if your OPT position is in another city, you need to have valid travel signature from OISS on your I-20. If you are unable to bring your I-20 to OISS to have it signed, you may need to mail your I-20 to OISS to have it signed.
  • Original EAD card
  • Original job offer letter or verification of employment from employer on company letterhead

In addition, students with expired visas may find it extremely difficult to renew their F-1 visa for practical training purposes. Students on OPT are advised to plan carefully before leaving the USA.