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International OPT FAQs

OPT Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of OPT?
The purpose of OPT is to allow students the opportunity to engage in off-campus employment, which is related to their major field of study, but is neither required nor will the student earn course credit for their degree program.

Do I have to have a job offer?
It is not necessary to have an offer of employment to apply for OPT.

How can my OPT be used?
OPT can be used during your academic program or saved for after completion of your degree program. Part-time OPT used during your program will be counted at the rate of 50% (two months part-time OPT authorization equals one month full-time OPT). NOTE: Part-time employment is 20 hours per week and less, full time is 21 hours per week or more. Students seeking pre-completion OPT must apply at least three months prior to the anticipated time of authorization needed.

What types of employment are allowed for students during post-completion OPT?                                                                            OPT employment must be directly related to the student's major field of study and commensurate with the degree level.  The following types of paid and unpaid experiences are considered valid OPT activities according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and should be reported to the ISO.

  • Paid employment. Students may work part time (at least 20 hours per week when on post-completion OPT) or full-time.

Multiple employers. Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to the student's degree program and for pre-completion OPT cannot exceed the allowed per week cumulative hours.

Short-term multiple employers (performing artists). Students, such as musicians and other performing artists may work for multiple short term employers (gigs). The student should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration. If requested by DHS, students must be prepared to provide evidence showing a list of all gigs.

Work for hire. This is also commonly referred to as 1099 independent contractors where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by DHS, students must be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.

Self-employed business owner. Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. In this situation, the student must work full time. The student must be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to the student's degree program.

Employment through an agency. Students on post-completion OPT must be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.

  • Unpaid employment. Students may serve as volunteers, unpaid interns, researchers, community service workers, etc, where this does not violate any labor laws.  These students must be able to provide evidence from the organization that the student performed services at least 20 hours per week during the period of post-completion OPT.

Can I travel while my OPT is pending?
If you have completed your studies and your OPT application has not been approved by USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services), you should not travel outside of the United States. If you leave the U.S. while the application is in process, the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services may consider the application to have been abandoned.

Can I travel after I receive my OPT?
A student on OPT following completion of studies who travels outside the U.S. temporarily can be readmitted for the remainder of the authorized training period, provided the student presents the I-20 form signed by an immigration adviser at WTAMU within the past six months and has a valid visa and passport.

When can I start working?
OPT is recommended by an immigration adviser at the International Student Office (ISO) but it is authorized by USCIS. The ISO will mail your application for processing but it will take at least 90 days or more to process your OPT application. Since you may begin working only after receiving your EAD (Employment Authorization Document), we recommend that you apply early to avoid delays in starting your employment.

What will be the dates of my OPT?
The dates of your OPT are the dates you request. However, for post completion OPT dates, USCIS requires the OPT be completed within 14 months of a student's graduation date. When you have received OPT authorization, you use the time requested regardless of whether or not you have actually worked (ex: Your work dates are 8/15/08 to 8/15/09 but you did not start working until 12/03. Your work authorization still expires on 8/15/09).

What is my visa status during OPT?
While your OPT application is pending and after you receive OPT approval, your non-immigrant status remains F-1.