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Oct 6, 2008
F-1 Options After Graduation
- Atty. Reuben S. Seguritan Email this article

1 international students are faced with myriad concerns upon completion of their studies.  They want to know how they can extend their stay and remain legally in the U.S., how they can gain work experience and support themselves, how long they are allowed to work and what other options are available to them after their studies.


After completion of their studies, F-1 students are allowed full-time work in the U.S. for a maximum period of 12 months under the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program.  However, the hours used up during pre-completion OPT will be deducted in calculating the remaining period for authorized post-completion OPT work. 


To be eligible for OPT, the F-1 must maintain his/her status.  This means that he/she had been enrolled in an academic program for at least one (1) year, remained in good standing and has not violated his/her status by engaging in unauthorized work. The authorized work must also be related to the student’s field of study.


Students need to apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before graduating.  There is no need for a job offer.  They can only begin working upon receipt of the EAD card indicating the start and end dates for employment. 

The new regulations require that designated school officials (DSO) track and confirm a student’s status even after completing his/her schoolwork by reporting the name, addresses, employment and other relevant data through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) that is linked with the USCIS system.

To maintain status, F-1 students cannot accumulate more than 90 days of unemployment during the initial 12-month OPT period.  Hence, when one applies for OPT, one cannot put in a start date for employment of more than three months from graduation.

Under a recent interim rule, the OPT period of students in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) was extended to additional 17 months for a total of 29 months OPT.  This was done in order to retain talented individuals in these fields and to allow them to transition into H-1B status.  For students in these fields, they cannot accumulate more than 120 days of unemployment during that entire 29-month period of OPT.  They must also make validation reports to the DSO every six months regarding their employment status.   

Traveling outside the U.S. during the post-completion OPT period poses certain risks to the F-1 holder, particularly if the F-1 visa stamp on the passport has expired or is about to expire.  To avoid re-entry problems, the F-1 student should advise his/her DSO of his/her travel plans and consult about the latest information and documentation requirements to be able to return to the U.S. 

Currently, the policy allows re-entry if the student can present an EAD receipt notice, a DSO-endorsed I-20 within six months for OPT and a valid visa stamp.  It is better if the F-1 student can present an approved EAD card with still ample validity period remaining in order to secure a new visa stamp at a U.S. consulate or Embassy.

Prior to the expiration of the OPT period, the F-1 holder can decide to enroll in another academic program.  A new I-20 will be issued and an I-539 form submitted to extend his/her status.  He/she remains in “duration of status” (“D/S”) while pursuing full time studies in the U.S.  A student who was not able to report to the school in a timely manner can have his/her status reinstated.  The F-1 student can also change to another status in the U.S. by filing the I-539 form. 


The 12-month OPT period is renewed for each new educational level from Associate, Bachelor, Master up to Doctorate degrees. 


OPT even while there is a remaining period on the EAD card automatically terminates when a student enrolls in a new degree program or transfers to another school.       


Once the post-completion OPT has ended and the F-1 student decides not to re-enroll in school for further studies or to change to another status, he/she has up to 60 days from the expiration of the OPT to prepare for departure from the U.S.


Editor’s Note: REUBEN S. SEGURITAN has been practicing law for over 30 years. For further information, you may call him at 212 695 5281 or log on to his website at


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