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Optional Practical Training (OPT)

What is OPT?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment that is directly related to your major field of study. During OPT, a student remains in F-1 status. F-1 students request this employment authorization through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Who Can Apply?

  • You do NOT need to have a job offer in order to apply for OPT
  • You must have been a full-time student for at least one academic year in the U.S.
  • You must currently be maintaining valid F-1 status
  • You must be in good academic standing and be making normal progress toward finishing your degree
  • You must not have used more than 12 months of OPT in the past at your current degree level
  • If you are finished with your academic program, you can still apply for OPT as long as USCIS receives your application within 60 days of your program end date AND you have not left the US since completing your program

When Can You Use OPT?

You can use your OPT:

  • before you finish your academic program (this is called Pre-Completion OPT)
  • after your finish your academic program (this is called Post-Completion OPT)
  • or a combination of the two, as long as the total amount of OPT does not exceed 12 months

How long does it take to get approved?

Processing times vary, but you should anticipate at least 3 months upon receipt of the OPT application by USCIS before you receive employment authorization.

 

APPLYING FOR OPT

There are 5 main steps to completing the OPT application and reporting process.  You will need to do several things to complete many of these steps.  Plan to attend an OPT workshop for more information about the application process.  OPT applications are submitted to USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services).  You have the option to submit your application via regular mail OR file online. 

1.  Request a new I-20 with OPT Recommendation from ISSS

You are required to either attend an in-person OPT workshop offered by ISSS or view the online OPT workshop in Canvas.  Complete the OPT Request Form which must indicate your requested OPT start date and be signed by your academic advisor.  Once the request form is complete, stop by ISSS to request the OPT I-20 form.

2.  Assemble the OPT Application Materials

While you are waiting for ISSS to issue your I-20 with OPT recommendation (Step 1), you should assemble the other materials that are necessary for the application you will send to USCIS (Step 3).

Assemble the following materials:

  1. OPT application filing fee of $410.
    • MAILED APPLICATION - Can be paid by personal check, money order, or U.S. credit card.  If paying by U.S. Credit card, complete Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transactions.  Make check or money order payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
    • ONLINE APPLICATION - The system will direct you to Pay.gov, a U.S. government payment site, to pay the fee.  You will be able to pay the fee using a U.S. credit/debit card or through an ACH transfer (direct withdrawal) from your U.S. checking account (have your bank account number and bank's ABA routing number available).
  2. MAILED APPLICATION ONLY - Form G-1145 E-Notification of Application Acceptance
  3. COMPLETED FORM I-765 Application for Employment Authorization (use the sample as a guide)
    • NOTE: ONLINE APPLICATION - the same questions will be asked on the online application; use the sample as a guide
  4. Passport-style color photos (that meet U.S. passport photo standards) and taken within the last 30 days.
    • MAILED APPLICATION - 2 photos are required
    • ONLINE APPLICATION - Digital passport photo (jpg, jpeg, or png, max size 6MB)
  5. Most recent Electronic I-94 Arrival-Departure Record
  6. Biographical page of your passport.
  7. Copy of all previously issued I-20s with Curricular Practical Training (CPT).
  8. The new I-20 with OPT recommendation that ISSS will give to you (be sure to sign it).

Keep a copy (digital or paper) of all these documents for your records.

3.  Submit your OPT application to USCIS (Online or Through the Mail)

It is your responsibility to mail/submit your I-765 OPT application to USCIS.  

USCIS must receive your OPT application no later than 30 days after the "date issued" on your OPT I-20.  USCIS will deny an application if it is received after this date.

You can choose whether to submit your documents online or by mail.

ONLINE APPLICATION:  Follow the instructions on the USCIS I-765 File Online webpage

  • You will be required to create a USCIS Account.  Details on how to create an account are also available at the USCIS website.
  • Complete the online I-765 form (sample I-765 form) and keep a copy for your records.  Your eligibility category is c(3)(B) Student Post-Completion OPT.
  • Upload your supporting documents
  • Pay the $410 fee

After your payment is accepted, you will be redirected to a confirmation screen which will include your receipt number.  You should keep a copy of your receipt number for your records.  You can track the status of your OPT application through your myUSCIS online account.  USCIS will communicate with you through your myUSCIS account.  You will also receive notifications at the mobile number and/or email address you entered in your online I-765.


MAILED APPLICATION:  Submit your application to the appropriate USCIS Lockbox

  • Assemble your OPT application in the following order prior to mailing:
    • Form G-1145 
    • $410 filing fee
    • 2 passport photos
    • Completed I-765 application
    • Copy of your signed I-20 form with OPT recommendation
    • Copy of the biographical page of your passport
    • Print out of your most recent electronic I-94 admission record
    • Copies of all I-20s with CPT authorization (if applicable)
    • Copy of previous Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) (if applicable)
  • If using United States Postal Service (USPS), send the application using certified mail with return receipt.
  • If using a courier service, such as FedEx, DHL, or UPS, retain the tracking number for your records.

You will receive a text message or email within a few days after USCIS receives your application if you submitted Form G-1145 E-Notification of Application Acceptance.  Several weeks after you apply, you should receive a Receipt Notice (Form I-797) in the mail from USCIS.

4.  Wait for EAD card to be mailed to you

  • You may not begin working until you have received your EAD card from USCIS and the start date is current.  This is true even if the start date your requested has passed and you have not received your EAD card yet.
  • If you move while USCIS is processing your OPT application, you must update your mailing address with USCIS online or by calling the National Customer Service Center at 800-375-5293.  USCIS has also provided tips on how to track delivery of the EAD card.
  • The EAD card will show the dates of your employment authorization: Valid from - start; Card expires - end

5.  Fulfill your OPT reporting requirements

Once you receive your EAD card, you are required to:

  1. Submit a copy of your EAD card to ISSS
  2. Report address and employment information within 10 days of any change in your SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) Portal account.  Failure to report OPT employer details could result in the termination of your F-1 status by USCIS
  3. Work at least 20 hours per week in one or more jobs that are related to your major
  4. Not exceed 90 days of unemployment

Review the following for additional details about these requirements.

 

  

 

Requirements During OPT

You should create a SEVP Portal account when you receive the email from do-not-reply.SEVP@ice.dhs.gov even if you do not have updates at that time. The link to create your account will expire in 31 days.  As an F-1 student on post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT), you will use the SEVP Portal to report changes to your home address, telephone number, and employer information updates.

Immigration regulations require F-1 students to report OPT employment within 10 days of starting or stopping work. Failure to report OPT employer details could result in the termination of your F-1 status by USCIS.

OPT authorizes employment/practical training that is related to your major field of study and you must work an average of at least 20 hours per week. SEVP's OPT Policy Guidance [7.2.1] states that the following activities are considered allowable employment on both pre-completion and standard post-completion OPT, provided that the job is directly related to the student's program of study.

Employment on OPT can be:

  • Paid employment
  • 1 or more jobs
  • Contract employment
  • Self-employment
  • Employment through an agency or consulting firm
  • Unpaid internship
  • Volunteer work

You should keep written documentation of all your employment during OPT.

 

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OPT Frequently Asked Questions

The filing window for post completion OPT is between 90 days before and 60 days after your program end date on your Form I-20.

USCIS processing times can take from 3-5 months for you to receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD).

Yes, as long as you did not have CPT full-time for 12 months or more.  Part-time CPT has no affect on OPT eligibility.

It is important to carefully select the dates you request for your OPT because you will not be able to change these dates after you apply. If you are applying for pre-completion OPT, you should select the date that is your desired start date of employment. Keep in mind that it can take up to 3 months before you will be able to start working. If you are applying for post-completion OPT, your start date will be one to sixty days after your program completion date.

For example, if your completion date is May 20th, your OPT start date can be anywhere from May 21st at the earliest to July 18th at the latest. However, if you think it will be challenging to find a job, you should select a later start date to ensure that you don't waste your OPT time. Keep in mind that if you find a job before your selected start date, you won't be able to start working until you have your EAD card in hand and the OPT period has begun (based on your selected start date).

If your application has been pending for more than 5 months from the date of your receipt notice, we suggest you take the following actions:

  1. Check the status of your application on the USCIS website.
  2. Let USCIS know that your case is outside normal processing time by submitting a case inquiry with them.
  3. You can also call the USCIS Customer Service Center for the status of your application at 1-800-375-5283. You will have to submit your receipt number to them when you call.

Contact ISSS or come to our daily advising hours immediately, along with your rejection/denial notice, so that we may help you determine whether you can resubmit your application, or have your application reconsidered.

Yes, you may request that the OPT application be withdrawn. Email ISSS as soon as possible if you need to withdraw your OPT application. Once your OPT application has been approved by USCIS, it cannot be withdrawn.

If you want to travel while your OPT application is pending and you haven't reached your degree completion date (end date on your I-20 form), then you are able to travel the same as you always have during your time as an F-1 student. Please be sure to have all the necessary documents you need for travel along with a valid travel signature on your OPT I-20 form.

Once you wish to travel after the end date listed on your I-20 form, you need to have your OPT approved along with verification of employment (job offer letter) as well as your EAD card with you in order to re-enter the U.S. You will also need to ensure that your F-1 visa in your passport is still valid, otherwise, you will need to make a visa appointment as an F-1 student on OPT during your time outside the U.S.

Once your OPT begins--see the start date as listed on your EAD card--you have a total of 90 days unemployment during your OPT. If you cannot find a job within 90 days of the start date of your OPT, then you must make plans to depart the U.S. immediately or change to some other status in the U.S. Keep in mind that the 90 days of unemployment is for the entire OPT period. This means that if you use up 60 days looking for a job in the beginning, you only have 30 days of unemployment time for the remainder of your OPT period.

F-1 OPT students are permitted a maximum of 90 unemployment days between the start and end date on their EAD card. The SEVIS database automatically calculates unemployment days based on the information students submit in their SEVP Portal account. Students may use unemployment days in increments of any size before, between, or after OPT activities.

Students who exceed the 90-day unemployment limit begin to accrue unlawful presence, which may jeopardize access to future U.S. immigration benefits, including readmission to the United States.

Yes. As long as the employment is related to your major field of study, you can work for any and all employers you would like. Submit your new employer's details through the SEVP portal.

OPT is not a different status--during OPT you will continue to be a CC F-1 student; you are simply an F-1 student holding an EAD card for OPT. Therefore, you must keep ISSS informed of any address, email, or telephone number changes within 10 days of making the change. If you plan to travel while on OPT, you must have a valid travel signature from ISSS on your I-20 form.

There are two types of extensions available after completion of the initial OPT period: (1) a 24-month extension for those in certain STEM fields; (2) an "H-1B Cap-Gap Extension" which extends work authorization through to the start of your cap-subject H-1B visa. Contact ISSS for more information about extending your OPT.

Upon completion of OPT, students have a 60-day grace period to do one of the following:

  1. Apply to change to another non immigrant visa status through USCIS
  2. Start a new program of study, either at CC or at another institution. Students starting a program at another institution should complete a Transfer out form to request that their SEVIS record be transferred to their new school.
  3. Depart the U.S.

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Report an issue - Last updated: 11/04/2021