The F-1 OPT nonimmigrant visa classification is for F-1 students in the U.S. who seek to start businesses directly related to their major areas of study. However, students in English language training programs are ineligible for OPT.
Additionally, you may not qualify for a Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) OPT extension if the employing entity is not already established.
Yes, you can start your own business during the initial OPT period. To qualify for a STEM OPT extension, the entity must be an employer in good standing with E-Verify. Your start-up entity must also sign a training plan for you and have adequate resources to comply with its proposed training program.
While the above-mentioned entity requirements for a STEP OPT extension do not preclude you from having an ownership interest in the entity, you cannot be your own employer or sign the training plan attestation on your own behalf.
For more information about STEM OPT extensions, please visit the DHS website.
The only requirement for the type of work you can perform while in F-1 OPT status is that the work must be directly related to your major area of study in the U.S.
F-1 students are authorized up to a maximum of 12 months of full-time practical training at every educational level (that is, undergraduate, graduate, post-graduate, etc.). When authorized to engage in pre-completion OPT, you cannot work over 20 hours per week while school is still in session. On the brighter side, though, you may work full-time during annual vacations and other breaks when school is not in session.
If you engage in pre-completion Optional Practical Training, your eligible post-completion OPT period after graduation is reduced. For instance, if you have received a one-year part-time pre-completion OPT, the maximum full-time OPT available post-completion would be reduced by six months (50% of the previously authorized year at the same education level).
In the scenario described above, you would only be entitled to a post-completion full-time OPT period of six months.
If you had already received a one-year full-time pre-completion OPT, the duration of a full-time post-completion OPT available would be reduced by one year (100% of the previously authorized year at the same education level. In that case, you would not be entitled to a post-completion OPT at that education level.
F-1 students who manage to graduate with a qualified STEM degree and are already in an approved post-completion OPT may apply for a two-year STEM extension for their post-completion OPT.
Upon receiving a recommendation from your Designated School Official to pursue OPT, you must follow that with an application for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) with USCIS.
For pre-completion STEM OPT, you can apply up to 90 days before the completion of a full academic year if you don’t commence OPT until you have completed a full academic year.
For post-completion STEM OPT, you must apply within 30 days after your designated school official enters the recommendation into your SEVIS record. You may also apply up to 90 days before your program end date but no later than 60 days after your program end date.
If you have already completed a qualifying STEM degree and are currently in an approved post-completion OPT period, you may be eligible to apply for a two-year STEM extension for a post-completion OPT.
Your STEM degree must appear on the DHS STEM Designated Degree Program List to qualify for this extension.
To apply for a STEM extension, you must apply with USCIS before your current OPT work authorization expires, but not more than 90 days before your OPT expires. You are required to apply within 60 days after your designated school official enters the recommendation into your SEVIS record.