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University of Illinois Springfield

Office of International Student Services University of Illinois Springfield

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Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT is a privilege provided by the U. S. government to international students who desire to gain employment experience in their major field of study. Most students avail themselves of this privilege following completion of their program of study. However, OPT may also be used during a vacation period if a student intends to register for the following session, or part-time while school is in session.

International students interested in applying for this privilege should carefully read all instructions below before contacting the Office of International Student Services.

Eligibility & Explanations

International students who have completed at least one full academic year of study (two semesters) may engage in Optional Practical Training upon approval by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of the U. S. Department of Homeland Security. The application may be submitted up to 90 days prior to the completion of one academic year, but the authorization will be granted only from the date the student actually completes a full academic year.

OPT may be authorized for up to 12 months for each level of education. For example, a student pursuing a bachelor’s degree may accumulate a total of 12 months OPT during and following completion of the degree. A master’s degree student will become eligible for an additional 12 months following completion of one full academic year of study toward that degree. Students enrolled in the English Language Institute are not eligible for OPT.

OPT may be full-time or part-time. Full-time OPT may be authorized during summer breaks, after completion of all course work but prior to completion of the thesis (for master’s degree students), or after graduation. Part-time (up to 20 hours per week) OPT is permitted while school is in session, but the student must maintain a full course load. Part-time OPT is counted at half the regular full-time accumulation. For example 4 months of part-time OPT will be counted as equal to 2 months of full-time OPT. Any part-time OPT used during school sessions will be deducted from the 12 months total remaining following completion of studies.

A student that desires to participate in OPT following completion of studies must apply prior to the completion of studies. The process may take from 2 to 3 months. Employment cannot begin until the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is received.

It is not necessary for a student to already have a job offer in order to apply for OPT. However, OPT, once granted, cannot be recovered if a job offer does not materialize. The employment must be directly related to the student’s major field of study and must be appropriate for someone with the student’s level of education.

Once the EAD has been received and employment has been obtained, students may travel with an endorsed I-20 form. If a student leaves the U. S. after completing the program of study but before receiving the EAD or obtaining employment, re-entry to the U. S. will most probably be denied. Even with the EAD, a letter from the employer indicating that the student is expected to resume duties after a brief absence is recommended.

To apply for OPT:

  1. Obtain form I-765 from the Office of International Student Services or from the USCIS website. Complete the form I-765. Under number 16 write (c)(3)(A) for pre-completion OPT or (c)(3)(B) for post-completion OPT. NOTE: the I-765 requires an address that will still be valid following completion of studies.
  2. Ask your Academic Advisor (or Program Office) to sign theOPT form (pdf) specifying your major and the anticipated date for completing your studies. The Office of International Student Services (HRB 52) must receive this completed form prior to making an OPT appointment.
  3. Write a check in the amount of $380.00 payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Write your I-94 number on the bottom of the check.
  4. Make a photocopy of both the front and back of your I-94 card.
  5. Make a photocopy of any previous Employment Authorization Documents.
  6. Make photocopies of your passport ID page and your visa.
  7. Have two identical color passport photographs made according to these specifications.
  8. Print your name and I-94 number on the back of each photograph with a pen or pencil.
  9. Contact the Office of Internatioanl Student Services to make an OPT appointment once they have recevied your OPT Request Form (see #2). When you call, tell the office staff person the date that you would like to start working, whether you will be applying for the full 12 months, and your employer’s name and address (if you have one already).
  10. If you would like to receive an electronic (either e-mail or text message) notification when your application has been received, please fill out form g-1145.
  11. Bring all of the above to the appointment.