Making The Most Of Your Allowed OPT Time: How Academic Students Maximize Work Permits

Students file Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, to apply for, renew, or replace an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), a work permit.

F-1 visa holders — academic students — may apply for a work permit once they’ve been enrolled as a full-time for at least one full academic year at a USCIS-approved school.

Each time you advance to a higher level of education, you’re eligible for 12 months of practical training. There are two kinds of practical training: Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT).

During your first year of school, it helps to consider how many months of internship your degree will require you to complete after the first school, as well as how many months for which you’ll then be eligible for optional training.

As described below, you may not need an EAD for the curricular internships, but you want to be sure to apply for your first work permit on time for any optional training you’ll pursue the following year. Later, you can apply for EAD renewal up to 120 days before the current card expires. You may also be able to apply for permission to work in post-graduation training.

Curricular Practical Training

CPT is a an internship, alternative work/study, or any other type of experience that is required by your degree program in order to graduate and which is arranged through cooperation with the school.

Academic students don’t need a work permit for CPT and can begin working once they get a Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Non-Immigrant Status from their Designated School Official (DSO).  

Optional Practical Training

OPT is temporary work that relates to your major, but isn’t required by your school’s curriculum. You can apply for an EAD when you’ve been offered work for OPT, but you can’t start working until the date on the EAD.

Work after graduation

Once you’re nearing degree completion, you may want to know How to get a job in the US after graduating from a US college.

To work at a practical-training job directly related to your major after completing your degree, you can apply for a work permit up to 90 days before the program ends or within 60 days after it ends.  

However, you can’t apply for a work permit or to extend a work permit for practical training after graduation if you’ve had 12 months of CPT during school (unless you enroll in a graduate program that immediately requires more CPT.)

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