OPT for F1 students: what is it and why is it in the American government’s sights?

By Lucas Rodrigues Gotelip and Louanni Cesário

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has recently decided to revoke or not renew over 1100 OPT permits for students in the United Sates, which has created much apprehension for international students the world over.  That being said, that is an OPT and why is it in the sights of the American government?

  • What is OPT?

The acronym OPT stands for what is called “Optional Practical Training”.  This gives a temporary permission to work for some students who are in the United States under a F-1 visa status. It is important to note that an OPT should not be confused with a new visa: with an OPT, the student or recent graduate maintains their F1 visa status, but are now authorized to work in the field of their studies.

OPT can be divided into two categories, depending on when the student presents their application.

The first, called “Pre-completion OPT”, refers to a work permission given to students who are regularly enrolled in a full time program, during a full academic year, at one of the institutions registered in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  Students with an approved “Pre-completion OPT”, may work part time, that is, up to 20 hours a week during the school period and full time during the holidays.

On the other hand, the second category, known as “Post-completion OPT”, applies to students who have already completed their studies.  The granting of a Post-completion OPT allows young graduates to work both full time or part time. 

The length of the OPT, in both categories, is up to a maximum of 12 months.  For this reason, any student who applies for a Pre-completion OPT with a length of 3 months, for example, will only be allowed to apply for a Post-completion OPT with a maximum length of 9 months.  However, there is an exception, known as STEM OPT Extension: students who obtain diplomas in some programs related to certain sciences, technology and engineering and mathematics, can apply for an extension of 24 months to a an already granted Post-completion OPT, provided the employer is registered in the E-verify program and that the diploma obtained is on the official DHS list. 

It is also important to note that the OPT will only be granted in cases where the training is directly related to the area of study of the applicant, that is, the student will only receive his OPT if the indicated program is related to the area of his studies. 

Finally, to apply for an OPT, the student needs to get in touch with the Designated School Official (DSO) of their educational institution, in order to make a recommendation, through Form I-120, and proceed to make an annotation on the OPT in the SEVIS system (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System).

  • For what reasons is the American government taking a close look at the OPT of some students?

According to various media outlets in the United States, in October 2020, DHS announced it would revoke or not renew more than 1100 OPT in the days following the announcement. 

According to the DHS, the majority of the affected OPTS are linked to fraud, mainly in the case of students who take part in paid activities which have no relation with their academic studies.   In other cases, some students were even arrested for stating, fraudulently, that they worked for companies, that in fact, did not exist.

These measures are part of an initiative by the American Government called Operation OPTical Illusion, whose objective is to protect the American labor market, weakened as a result of COVID-19, and to prevent students, through fraudulent means, from competing with American workers.  The operation also follows the platform put forth by President Donal Trump, to obstruct or revoke visas for students, under the allegation that international students, mainly from China, use the OPT to steal research, technologies and other intellectual properties. 

As a result, the government announced that Universities could also face punishment with firing of Designated School Officials who recommended students for fraudulent OPT programs. 

In view of this scenario, it is extremely important that international students, before applying for an OPT, make sure that all requirements for their approval have been met and, mainly, that their occupation has a direct relationship with their study program and that contracting companies are legally constituted institutions.

Scroll to Top