Certain F-1 Students Can Extend Optional Practical Training Period

If you're in the U.S. with F-1 status, a relatively recent Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rule may allow you to extend your maximum possible period of Optional Practical Training (OPT) from 12 to 29 months. (This began as a temporary, interim rule for 2008/2009, which will probably be replaced at some point with more permanent regulations.) To qualify, you must:

  • have successfully completed a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM), which degree must be on the DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List, and be from a college or university certified by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Student and Exchange Visitor Program
  • already be participating in a 12-month period of approved post-completion OPT by having accepted a job or working for a business enrolled in USCIS's E-Verify program
  • be doing a job that's directly related to your major area of study, and
  • continue to properly maintain your F-1 status.

The new rule will also allow students to apply for OPT within 60 days of graduation.

Part of the purpose of this extension is to acknowledge that many businesses would like their OPT employees to receive an H-1B visa, but can't get USCIS approval or an available visa in time to avoid the student having to return to his or her home country. In fact, the rule also automatically extends the period of stay and work authorization for all F-1 students with pending H-1B petitions until October 1 of the fiscal year for which the visa was requested.

For more information, and assistance in applying for the extension, talk to your school's foreign student officer (DSO) and see the full text of the rule at www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/press_opt_ifr.pdf.