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What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), “Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study.”

Why is OPT important for your future career in the United States?

Many outstanding OPT students have leveraged their work experience in the United States (US) to successfully obtain their H-1B visa and build their business empire. For example, Robin Li – the founder of the largest search engine in China (Bai Du) – graduated from the State University of New York (Buffalo campus). Prior to returning to China and starting his remarkable enterprise, Robin worked for several US-based companies and built his network and the foundation for his success.


How long does an OPT placement last?

Students with an F1 visa can typically apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment before and/or after completing their academic program.


Who can apply for an OPT extension?  

Those who have earned degrees in certain science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs may apply for a 24-month extension after being authorized for OPT employment, if certain conditions are satisfied. In other words, if you qualify for the extension, you could receive up to 36 months of OPT employment.

Note, if an international student secured a 24-month Optional Practical Training extension after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in a STEM-related area, he or she can apply for another 2-year extension upon completion of a STEM-related master’s degree.


Which academic disciplines are considered STEM-related?

The United States Department of Homeland Security provides a comprehensive list of fields of STEM study, accessible here.

In terms of coding, the 2010 CIP code contains 6 digits. The first 2 digits of the CIP code stand for the main field of study. For example, the code for engineering is 14; biological and biomedical sciences is 26; mathematics and statistics is 27; physical sciences is 40. The last 4 digits of the CIP code indicate the area of concentration.

The table below shows the academic disciplines considered STEM-related that will help you qualify for a 24-month Optional Practical Training extension.


Recommended reading for OPT related topic:
1.Optional Practical Training Could Become a Thing of the Past
2.OPT: More Foreign Students Stay in the U.S. to Work
3.International Students: OPT and Getting Hired in the U.S.A.