F-1 visa holders are entitled to up to one year of employment authorization following graduation in order to seek employment in their field of education. During that year of Optional Practical Training (“OPT”), the employee may seek to extend his/her stay with a request for a different type of work visa. While on OPT, the employee remains in F-1, student status for immigration purposes, and must abide by various rules as a result of that classification.
OPT employment may begin only after receipt of the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and is only valid for employment “related to” the employee’s major field of study. Therefore, for instance, a gifted pianist who majored in Biology would NOT be permitted to use his/her OPT for employment as a piano teacher. S/he would be able to work as a faculty member or assistant in the Biology department.
Typically, OPT is valid for only one year, although students majoring in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields may be eligible for an additional 17 months. Whether or not one is granted the 17 month extension will depend on the particular degree obtained; questions should be addressed to International Student and Scholar Services.
International travel while on OPT should be taken with caution. If the employee is in possession of a valid F-1 visa, s/he may travel after obtaining a signature on the I-20 from his/her school’s Designated School Official, AND while carrying a letter from his/her employer, indicating that s/he has a job in the U.S. related to his/her degree. If the employee does not have a valid visa, s/he should discuss the circumstances with International Student and Scholar Services prior to traveling.