Optional Practical Training

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Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a period during which undergraduate and graduate students with F-1 status who have completed or have been pursuing their degrees for one academic year are permitted by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to work for one year on a student visa towards getting practical training to complement their education.

On April 2, 2008, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff announced a 17-month extension to the OPT for students in qualifying STEM fields.[1][2] To be eligible for the 12-month permit, any degree in any field of studies is valid. For the 17-month OPT extension, a student must have received a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics degree as defined by USCIS.

On May 31, 2008, the Immigration Reform Law Institute filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of various organizations and individuals challenging the validity of the 17-month OPT extension. A similar lawsuit in November 2014 challenging the STEM extension was successful, with the court giving the U.S. government up to February 12, 2016, to formulate new rules.[3][4] The deadline was subsequently extended by three months.

On March 11, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security published a final rule allowing certain F-1 students who receive STEM degrees and who meet other specified requirements to apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion OPT, giving STEM graduates a total of 36 months of OPT. The 24-month extension replaces the 17-month STEM OPT extension previously available to STEM students (see 73 FR 18944). Eligible students could apply for a 24-month STEM OPT extension starting on May 10, 2016.[5]

There also exists a post-completion Optional Practical Training option for students on M-1 visas, but it is significantly more restrictive than that for F-1 students.[6][7] Unless otherwise specified, Optional Practical Training is understood to refer to Optional Practical Training for F-1 students.


Number of receipts, approvals, denials, and revocations by fiscal year[edit]

Statistics below are for the United States fiscal year that runs October to September. For instance, Fiscal Year 2008 runs from October 1, 2007 to September 30, 2008. Data is from a Government Accountability Office report.[8]

Note that the counts here are of receipts, approvals, denials or revocations that happened in the fiscal year, regardless of when other activities surrounding that application occurred. For instance, if an application was approved in Fiscal Year 2009 and revoked in Fiscal Year 2010, the revocation would be counted in 2010 rather than 2009. Thus, the number of receipts for a given year need not equal the sum of the number of approvals and denials for that year.[8]

Fiscal Year Receipts Approvals Denials Revocations
2008 38,730 28,497 360 1
2009 87,636 90,896 2,125 71
2010 99,876 96,916 1,731 57
2011 109,895 105,357 2,226 67
2012 117,141 115,303 2,801 71
2013 128,591 123,328 3,400 77
Total 581,869 560,297 12,643 344

IIE data on number of Optional Practical Training students (total and by country)[edit]

The Institute of International Education maintains data on the number of international students as part of its Open Doors project, supported from a grant by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in the U.S. Department of State.[9] The data is collected through surveys of over 3,000 accredited U.S. higher education institutions, and does not rely on any privileged access to government data; in particular institutions not included in the survey (such as high schools that issue student visas, and non-accredited institutions that are SEVP-certified) may be omitted from the statistics.[10] Since the 2006–2007 academic year, these surveys have included data on usage of the Optional Practical Training program.

The data below summarizes both total OPT usage and the usage based on country of origin for the top countries of origin. More detailed data is available at the IIE website.[11]

Since the Optional Practical Training program duration is a year for most people (though the STEM extension and cap gap allow for longer OPTs under some circumstances), the number of approvals in a given year should roughly match the number of students on Optional Practical Training. However, because of various mismatches such as that between the fiscal and academic year, and between the date of approval and the start date, and the fact that the Open Doors survey does not cover all SEVP-certified institutions, the numbers may not exactly match those from the GAO table.

Year Total use of OPT Mainland China India South Korea ROC Canada Japan
2006-07 48,387 7,171 10,703 4,497 2,993 1,653 2,350
2007-08 56,766 7,718 10,846 4,965 3,178 1,869 2,459
2008-09 66,601 8,212 14,886 5,134 3,444 1,778 2,237
2009-10 67,804 11,003 19,657 5,862 3,569 1,969 2,068
2010-11 76,031 13,268 24,665 6,026 3,737 2,204 1,820
2011-12 85,157 18,394 26,742 5,807 3,377 2,140 1,593
2012-13 94,919 23,968 27,831 6,268 3,417 2,333 1,630
2013-14 105,997 33,401 27,696 6,639 3,540 2,568 1,458
2014-15 120,287 43,114 29,388 6,635 3,622 2,683 1,285
2015-16 147,498 52,193 42,328 7,039 4,017 2,897 1,416
2016-17 175,695 59,835 57,132 7,784 4,223 3,139 1,447
2017-18 203,462 65,680 75,390 7,714 4,496 3,225 1,501


Introduction of the STEM extension[edit]

The STEM extension was announced in a memo by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on April 2, 2008, published in the Federal Register issue of Tuesday, April 8, 2008.[1] The STEM extension appears to be directly attributable to Congressional testimony by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, March 12, 2008.[12][13][14][15]

Immigration Reform Law Institute challenge in 2008[edit]

The OPT STEM extension announced in April 2008 was challenged in a lawsuit by the Immigration Reform Law Institute filed on May 29, 2008. On August 5, 2008, the lawsuit was rejected by a New Jersey district court judge.[16][17]

Proposed changes as part of the Obama administration's November 20, 2014 immigration executive action[edit]

A November 20, 2014 memo by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Charles Johnson outlining proposed executive action on immigration endorsed by President Barack Obama included some suggested changes to the OPT program.[18] The proposals were discussed and critiqued in National Law Review.[19][20]

November 2014 challenge[edit]

In August 2015, a US federal court gave the green light to a lawsuit challenging the 17-month OPT STEM extension, filed by the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers and three IT workers who claimed that the OPT STEM extension had created unfair low-wage competition that had materially hurt them.[3][21][22] On August 12, 2015, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia vacated the 2008 OPT Regulations but stayed the order until February 12, 2016,[4] later extended to May 10, 2016,[23] to allow DHS to provide a transition. The D.C. District explicitly rejected the reasoning of the New Jersey District and Third Circuit in dismissing the earlier 2008 challenge.[4]

March 11, 2016: new OPT STEM extension rules effective May 10, 2016[edit]

The proposed rules suggested in the November 20, 2014 memo by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson were finalized by the USCIS on March 11, 2016, to be effective May 10, 2016, just in time to address the November 2014 court challenge to the original STEM extension.[24][25][26] While the USCIS changes for the most part expanded the STEM extension, they did add a requirement that the employer attest to non-displacement of US workers, thereby addressing the concerns raised in the lawsuit challenging the STEM extension.[27]

April and May 2020: Trump administration proposals to limit OPT[edit]

In April and May 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the increase in unemployment due to the pandemic and associated lockdowns, the administration of President Donald Trump was reported to be exploring new restrictions on OPT, with the possibility that some of the measures may be targeted specifically at Chinese students.[28][29][30]


  1. ^ a b "Federal Register, Volume 73, Number 68 (April 8, 2008)". April 2, 2008. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  2. ^ "Questions and Answers: Extension of Optional Practical Training Program for Qualified Students". USCIS. 2012-04-25.
  3. ^ a b "Washington Alliance of Technology Workers vs United States Department of Homeland Security". United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  4. ^ a b c "17 Months STEM OPT Extension revoked for F1 Visa Students". 2015-08-13. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. ^ https://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/students-and-exchange-visitors/students-and-employment/stem-opt Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  6. ^ "Students and Employment". United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Retrieved March 5, 2016.
  7. ^ "OPT (Optional Practical Training)". USA Visa Now. Retrieved March 5, 2016.
  8. ^ a b "Student and Exchange Visitor Program. DHS Needs to Assess Risks and Strengthen Oversight of Foreign Students with Employment Authorization" (PDF). February 1, 2014. Retrieved April 8, 2016.
  9. ^ "Open Doors". Institute of International Education. Retrieved April 9, 2016.
  10. ^ "Open Doors FAQs". Institute of International Education. Retrieved April 9, 2016.
  11. ^ "International Place of Origin". Institute of International Educators. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  12. ^ Chiappari, Ted J.; Paparelli, Angelo J. "A Rare Carrot for Employers: F-1 Optional Practical Training Extended" (PDF). Retrieved December 24, 2014.
  13. ^ "Bill Gates written transcript from today's congressional testimony". Network World. March 12, 2008. Retrieved December 24, 2014.
  14. ^ "Bill Gates Urges Congress to Foster Innovation & Immigration (video)". YouTube. March 12, 2008. Retrieved December 24, 2014.
  15. ^ Rosenthal, Rachel (March 10, 2021). "The STEM Graduate System Is Broken. Here's How to Fix It". Bloomberg News. Retrieved 19 March 2021.
  16. ^ New Jersey District Court (August 5, 2008). "Order and Opinion" (PDF). Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  17. ^ Thibodeau, Patrick (August 7, 2008). "Judge rejects student visa injunction sought by H-1B opponents. Tech workers don't have standing to fight Bush administration visa move". Computer World. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  18. ^ "Policies Supporting U.S. High-Skilled Businesses and Workers" (PDF). Department of Homeland Security. November 20, 2014. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  19. ^ Cohen, Susan J. (November 20, 2014). "Immigration Developments for Highly Skilled Workers: Changes the Business Community Can Expect as a Result of President Obama's Executive Action on Immigration Reform". National Law Review. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  20. ^ Cohen, Susan J.; Ramos, Cassie M. (December 3, 2014). "President Obama's Executive Immigration Reform: Shining a Spotlight on Reforming Optional Practical Training "OPT"". National Law Review. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  21. ^ Thibodeau, Patrick (November 24, 2014). "Court OKs IT worker lawsuit over student visa work program". Computer World. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  22. ^ Ward, Kenric (December 3, 2014). "Court ruling challenges Obama immigration action". Human Events. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
  23. ^ "Stem OPT Extension Judge Decision - Jan 23, 2016". 2016-01-23. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  24. ^ "Optional Practical Training Extension for STEM Students (STEM OPT)". United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  25. ^ "STEM OPT Rulemaking". NAFSA. March 22, 2016. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  26. ^ "STEM OPT". Study in the States, U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  27. ^ "Employers and the Form I-983". Study in the States, U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  28. ^ Anderson, Stuart (May 4, 2020). "Next Trump Immigration Target: OPT For International Students". Forbes. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  29. ^ Hackman, Michelle; Korn, Melissa (May 23, 2020). "Trump Administration Expected to Limit Work Program for Foreign Graduates. White House to curb popular OPT program, saying jobs should go to Americans during downturn; business groups warn move would harm growth, blunt U.S. recovery". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  30. ^ Narea, Nicola (May 24, 2020). "Trump reportedly wants to restrict visa programs for skilled workers. Some Republicans are pressuring the president to suspend the programs for a year". Vox. Retrieved May 26, 2020.

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