Information for Employers of International Students on
Optional Practical Training (OPT)
What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?
U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) has created this immigration benefit to allow individuals on an F-1 Student visa to work in a position directly related to their degree. These positions are not part of their academic curriculum and take place after the student has completed his/her coursework. Students are able to work up to one year on "Regular" OPT.
USCIS has also established a second type of OPT known as STEM OPT (for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math degrees). This new OPT allows students who graduated with majors in one of these areas to work for an additional 17 months.
Can a student extend his/her OPT?
Regular OPT authorizations are only granted for 12 months. If, as mentioned above, the student majored in one of the STEM degrees, an additional 17 months can be authorized--allowing a total of 29 months.
Even if the student you hire is only eligible for Regular OPT, there are options for keeping an individual employed with your company after the 12 months ends. See below for further information ("What if our company would like to hire this student for permanent employment?").
How do students apply for OPT?
Students must first attend a workshop at ODU that explains their rights and responsibilities with regard to OPT. Afterward, they can submit the paperwork to ISSS and, if all requirements are met, a new F-1 visa document is used to show our office's endorsement of the application. This part of the process can take up to ten business days.
Next, the student sends the paperwork to Immigration where it can take up to approximately 90 days for the employment permission to be granted. Upon approval, an Employment Authorization Document (EAD or I-766) is issued. In order to avoid Department of Labor and Immigration violations, students cannot work--even as a volunteer--before they receive their EAD and/or before the EAD start date has arrived.
How do I validate a student's I-9?
Documentation used for I-9 validation will include the student's passport, as well as the EAD card's number and expiration date. Documentation examples can be found below.
Are students on OPT exempt from being taxed?
For more information on taxation for F-1 visa holders, please visit the resource compiled by Immigration.
Are students eligible to work if the visa in their passport has expired?
Yes. An expired visa stamp does not indicate a violation of a visa status as the visa stamp is issued for entry purposes only. A valid EAD, a properly endorsed I-20 and a valid passport are the only documents required to maintain status while on OPT.
How many hours per week can a student work?
There is no limit to the number of hours per week or the number of employers s/he may have. A student can be a volunteer for at least 20 hours per week, provided that the work does not violate any labor laws. Our office recommends students contact a labor lawyer or a company's HR office to verify whether or not their volunteer work is in compliance.
What if our company would like to hire this student for permanent employment?
The most common immigration step following OPT is an H-1B visa, which allows an individual to work at your company up to six additional years. This process is relatively simple and requires assistance from an immigration attorney who can guide you through the application. ODU policy prevents us from recommending a lawyer, but we can suggest the following criteria for assistance in selecting legal counsel for immigration purposes:
is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA)
has a fixed--not hourly--fee for services like an H-1B employment visa application
practices immigration law only
The visa status change takes anywhere from three to seven months, depending on the processing you choose--normal or expedited.
Here is a typical progression of employment options that most students take:
Regular OPT: 12 months of employment
STEM OPT (if eligible): 17 months of employment
H-1B: 6 years of employment
Immigration and tax laws are subject to change; therefore, we recommend you stay in touch with legal counsel who specialize in this area of the law.
F-1 Student Visa Documentation
Documentation used for I-9 validation will include the student's passport, as well as the EAD card's number and expiration date. Further documentation examples of the EAD (also known as Employment Authorization Document or I-766), I-94 card and I-20 F-1 Student visa document can be found below.