Table of Contents

Overview of F-1 OPT

July 21, 2023
This is some text inside of a div block.

The article highlights the 1990 Immigration Act's impact, emphasizing the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for international students in the U.S., including its types and significance for post-graduation employment.

Excerpt “Today I am pleased to sign S. 358, the "Immigration Act of 1990" -- the most comprehensive reform of our immigration laws in 66 years.” shared President Bush, signing the Act on November 29th, 1990. “[This Act] dramatically increases the number of immigrants who may be admitted to the United States because of the skills they have and the needs of our economy. This legislation will encourage the immigration of exceptionally talented people, such as scientists, engineers, and educators.”

And it did.

The 1990 Act introduced a host of non-immigrant visas, along with the F-1 OPT program.

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a period during which, as an international student on an F-1 visa, you get a chance to work for 12 months during or after your studies. If your degree is in a qualifying science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) field (as designated by the Department of Homeland Security), you also get an additional 24 months (or a total of 3 years) to work after graduation.  

Since being introduced, the OPT has been the go-to choice for international students who want to work in the U.S. beyond their education. In 2022, there were about 185,000 students enrolled in the OPT program.

Infographic: Number of international students on OPT

The Pandemic Drives Unprecedented Decline in International Students

Let’s take a look at the various types of OPT and how you can use them.

Types of OPT

There are three types of OPT in total: pre-completion OPT, post-completion OPT, and STEM OPT. Let’s first look at how they differ below.

Table: Pre-completion OPT, post-completion OPT, and STEM OPT

Pre-Completion OPT Post-Completion OPT STEM OPT
Application Eligibility After one year of full-time enrollment. After you graduate.* After post-completion OPT. You have to apply before your OPT expires.
Hours per week Part-time when the academic term is active (up to 20 hours/week). Otherwise, full-time. At least 20 hours a week. At least 20 hours a week.
Duration 12 months in total (which can be split over your entire degree). 12 months minus the time on pre-completion OPT. 24 months.
Employer No need to be on E-Verify. No need to be on E-Verify. Must be E-Verified.
Unemployment limits Not applicable. Maximum days of unemployment is 90. Maximum days of unemployment is 60 + unused days from OPT.

*You cannot start working on post-completion OPT until you get your EAD card. We’ve covered this under “Steps, Timeline, & Cost” at the end of the chapter.


We have seen too many cases of students who apply for the STEM OPT extension at the last minute and realize they made an error – such as sending the wrong check amount or signing in the wrong place – and got their application rejected. Begin the process as soon as possible, and apply before your post-completion OPT expires!

Pre-completion OPT versus CPT

Generally, students don’t go for pre-completion OPT. This is because they’d rather save the entire 12 months to be used after graduation through the post-completion OPT. Also, because there’s another option that you can use to work during your studies called Curricular Practical Training (CPT).  

CPT is a program that lets you engage in internship opportunities during your studies and, in most cases, get some academic credit. This is what students use to intern full-time over the summer at companies. But there is a restriction to using the CPT: you can get it only after you have a letter of employment in hand. This is unlike the pre-completion OPT, which you can apply for without a job offer.


If you work full-time on your CPT for 12 months, you can’t apply for the OPT post-graduation. However, working part-time (i.e., 20 hours per week or fewer) on your CPT for 12 months is okay.

While the OPT and STEM OPT extension gives you three good years to put your skills to use and earn money, you probably want to work in the U.S. beyond that. Subscribe to our newsletter on to stay on top of immigration news and learn from the journey of over 7,100+ immigrants!


We publish content to help aspiring talent visa holders (O-1/EB-1) & entrepreneurs. Want to get such resources directly in your Inbox? Join 8000+ immigrants who hear from us every Wednesday.

Click to learn more →