OPT (optional practical training) provides F-1 students up to one year of employment authorization to gain practical training in their field of study. OPT is authorized by USCIS and takes approximately 90 days for processing. OPT may be utilized while in school, but most students use their OPT after completing their degree (post-completion OPT). Students should discuss OPT with their international student advisor for questions about eligibility and the application process.
Students in certain STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields may apply for a 24-month OPT STEM Extension. The STEM fields are eligible based on the U.S. Department of Education code designated for your specific major. The eligible areas of study are available at https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/stem-list.pdf.
In addition to having a designated STEM field degree, students must already be using their first year of OPT, have an employer who participates in E-verify and must timely apply. F-1 students interested in the STEM Extension should see their international student advisor for more information.
The cap gap is designed to cover the gap of time between the end of F-1 status or OPT and beginning of H-1B. Each year, U.S. laws limit the number of individuals who may receive H-1B status to 65,000 plus 20,000 for students awarded graduate degrees from a U.S. university this is the “cap.” Employers must wait until April 1 of each year to submit their applications (see discussion of H-1B registration above), and the start date of the new H-1B will be October 1. This is the gap time. If you have applied for an H-1B visa, see your international student advisor regarding cap gap questions.