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.
You may apply for OPT as early as 90 days before your program end date and as late as the final day of your 60-day grace period following the completion of your program. We strongly recommend applying as early as possible to ensure you receive your employment authorization in time to begin your practical training employment. USCIS can take 3-5 months to process your OPT application. Check the USCIS government processing times. [You must select "I-765" for form type. For Field Office or Service Center, most of our students' applications go to the Potomac Service Center.] It is best to plan ahead and apply as early as possible because USCIS rarely expedites applications. For December graduates, you will apply by mid-September; for May graduates, by mid-February.
ISSS offers workshops to explain OPT eligibility and the application process for Optional Practical Training. These workshops are the best way to receive the most comprehensive and up-to-date information on the OPT application process and processing times. Please contact ISSS for a list of workshop dates.
To apply for OPT, please complete the OPT Application Packet (see above) and submit all the documents on the checklist to ISSS. ISSS will review the documents to ensure accuracy as any mistakes could delay USCIS processing of your OPT application. Once reviewed, ISSS will prepare a new I-20 recommending you for OPT. Once completed, you will contacted by ISSS to pick up the new I-20 form along with the application packet for mailing to USCIS. We will provide you with mailing instructions upon pick-up.
You may not begin working until you receive the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS. Employment is only permissible for the dates listed on the EAD card. You may not begin working before the EAD start date or after its end date.
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 800-375-5283. USCIS has also provided tips on how to track delivery of the EAD card.
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.
Regular paid employment in a position directly related to the student's program of study.
- For post-completion OPT, the work must be for at least 20 hours per week
- Students may work for multiple employers, as long as it is directly related to the student's program of study.
Payment by multiple short-term multiple employers. SEVP says that "Students, such as musicians and other performing artists, may work for multiple short term employers (gigs). The student should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration. The student should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration."
Work for hire. SEVP says, "This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by DHS, students should be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company."
Self-employed business owner. SEVP says, "Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. The student should be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to his or her degree program."
Employment through an agency. SEVP says, "Students on post-completion OPT must be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency."
Volunteers or unpaid interns. SEVP says, "Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this practice does not violate any labor laws. The work should be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. A student should be able to provide evidence, acquired from the student's employer, to verify that he or she worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment."
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.
Students can now report their OPT employer details through the SEVP portal.
While in F-1 status on OPT, it is still necessary to inform ISSS (firstname.lastname@example.org) of certain changes within 10 days of their occurrence:
- Change of residential or mailing address including phone number or email address
- Change of legal name
- Change of immigration status
- Permanent departure from the United States
OPT Frequently Asked Questions
When should I apply? How long does the application take?
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).
If I had CPT, can I still have OPT?
Yes, as long as you did not have CPT full-time for 12 months or more. Part-time CPT has no effect on OPT eligibility.
Which date should I select for the start date?
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).
What if my application is rejected or denied?
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.
My application is taking a long time. Can I do anything to speed up the process?
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:
- Check the status of your application on the USCIS website.
- Let USCIS know that your case is outside normal processing time by submitting a case inquiry with them.
- 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.
Can I cancel my OPT application once I have applied?
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.
Can I travel while my OPT application is pending?
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.
What if I can't find a job?
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.
What happens if I exceed the 90-day unemployment limit?
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.
Can I change employers during OPT?
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.
What type of visa am I on during OPT?
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.
Can I get an extension of my OPT?
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.
What are my options after my OPT ends?
Upon completion of OPT, students have a 60-day grace period to do one of the following:
- Apply to change to another non immigrant visa status through USCIS
- 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.
- Depart the U.S.