Optional Practical Training (OPT)
- OPT STEM Extension
- Pre-completion OPT
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- Cap Gap Extension
- USCIS – Case Inquiry
- USCIS – Check Your Case Status
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 and attend an OPT workshop before contacting the Office of International Student Services.
To be eligible for Post-Completion OPT:
- The student must have been enrolled full-time for one academic year preceding the OPT application.
- The student must be in F-1 status at the time of application.
- The student must be in the last 90 days of their academic program.
- US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) must receive an OPT application BEFORE the end of the official 60-day grace period.
- Students must attend an OPT Workshop prior to applying.
International students who have completed at least one full academic year of study (two semesters) may engage in Optional Practical Training upon approval by USCIS. 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.
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.
Dates of OPT Authorization
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, once granted, OPT 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 US after completing the program of study but before receiving the EAD or obtaining employment, re-entry to the US 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.
- Complete the OPT Advisor’s E-Form (via iStart) which will be electronically signed by your academic advisor. Check UIS Enterprise prior to submitting the E-Form – make sure your address and emergency contact are up to date, all holds have been removed, and you have completed your graduation application. Once your OPT Advisor E-Form has been submitted, a DSO will confirm your eligibility and schedule an OPT Appointment for you.
- Bring the following documents to your OPT Appointment:
- Typed Form I-765 (PDF). The address entered in section 3 of the form should be either the address where you will be living when the application is approved or our office address. The F-1 OPT code for section 27 is ( c )(3)(B ). Please note: This is optional, but you can now apply for your Social Security Number (if you do not already have one) on the new form I-765. If you choose to apply for the SSN using the I-765 (PDF) then you MUST use your own address. If you use the ISS office address and you do not already have a SSN, then you must apply for your SSN AFTER you receive your EAD.
- Typed Form G-1145 (PDF).
- $410.00 made payable to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. View the Paying USCIS Fees website for all payment options, detailed instructions, and a sample of “How to Write Your Check.” You may also pay by credit card by including Form G-1450 with your application. Make sure to include your I-94 number on your payment.
- Copies of all original form I-20s (with CPT or OPT authorization), form I-94, and copies of any previous Employment Authorization Documents.
- Make photocopies of your passport ID page and your visa.
- Have two identical color passport photographs made according to these specifications. Print your name and I-94 number on the back of each photograph with a pen or pencil.
- Copy of your unofficial transcript (only students with less than 1 year on their Form I-20 – either for Change of Status or Change of Education Level)
- Print the OPT Document Check-List to make sure you have all documents needed at your OPT Application Appointment.
- At the OPT Appointment, a DSO will provide you with a new Form I-20 with the OPT recommendation. It is YOUR responsibility to mail your application to USCIS within 30 days for processing. To determine the lockbox to which you’ll submit your application, refer to this table on the USCIS website.
After Applying for OPT
Within two weeks of applying, you should receive a receipt notice (Form I-797) which includes a filing number and status information. This number can be used to check your application status online at the USCIS website.
Approximately 90 days after USCIS receives your application, you should receive an approval message on the website. Allow for approximately 3 weeks for the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to be mailed. If your EAD will be mailed to our office, we will contact you by email when your card arrives. You may only begin working after you have received your card AND your start date has been reached. Make sure all information is correct on your EAD, make copies for your records, and keep your EAD in a safe place. Information regarding corrections and replacements can be found on our Employment Authorization Document webpage.
Caution: students who apply for post-completion OPT and then don’t actually graduate must contact ISS immediately in order to correct the I-20 and OPT application.
While you are not required to have a job offer to apply for OPT, you are only allowed 90 days of unemployment after your OPT start date. Unemployment days are calculated in SEVIS and you are required to update via the SEVP Portal within 10 days of your employment change or update. You will receive an email regarding the SEVP Portal once your OPT is approved and after your OPT start date. You are also required to update your address within 10 days of moving following the Address Update procedures.
All practical training must relate to the student’s “major.” OPT employment that is not directly related to the major area of study would be considered a status violation. F-1 students are responsible for providing a written “description of how their practical training opportunity relates to their major area of study, which the DSO must review and retain. Please review the SEVP Policy Guidance: Practical Training-Determining a Direct Relationship Between Employment and a Student’s Major Area of Study prior to submitting your brief explanation. The explanation must include the following:
- job title
- employer name
- major area of study
- whether full time or the average hours worked per week
- brief explanation of how the job is directly related to the student’s studies
Student will receive their SEVP Portal information once their OPT is approved AND on or after their start date. Please note, if your site/client location differs from the employer’s headquarters, please enter the site address (location you are physically working).