Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a type of employment authorization for F-1 students following their completion of studies. This employment authorization allows F-1 students to gain experience in their field of study. Students must apply to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in order to obtain OPT. Students should plan on their application taking at least three months to process. OPT is granted for 12 months. In some cases in can be extended for an additional 24 months. F-1 students are eligible for 12 months of OPT after completion of each degree level. While you have OPT you are still an F-1 student.
What are the general elibility requirements?
If you have been a full-time student maintaining valid status in the US for at least one academic year, you are eligible to apply for OPT. Student must be in their last semester of study and within 90 days of the end date listed on their I-20 as the “Program End Date.”
I'm a graduate student. Do I have any special considerations?
Graduate students who have completed all required coursework and have only their thesis or dissertation to complete may apply for OPT before their degree completion date. For graduate students the program completion date could be the date of graduation of the last term in which you were registered, the date of your oral defense or the date you submit your final edits to your academic advisor.
Before You Apply
How do I find out more about OPT?
The OIE has multiple workshops each semester for students who are thinking about applying for OPT. Check out our calendar for upcoming workshops. If you still have questions after attending a workshop, you can schedule an individual appointment with an advisor.
What do I need to consider before selecting an OPT start date?
When you select an OPT start date, you should think about how soon you need or want to start working. Here are some questions to think about.
How is your job search going?
- Have you started looking for a job?
- Is your job search going well?
- How long does it take someone in your field to get their first job?
What are your economic needs?
- Do you need income immediately after graduation?
- Can your family support you financially for a little while?
What are your personal interests?
- Do you need or want a vacation before beginning work?
- Do you plan to move somewhere else in the US?
- Do you plan on traveling home after graduation?
When can I apply?
The earliest you can apply for OPT is 90 days before your program end date, which is usually the date of graduation in your last registered semester. However for graduate students with a thesis, this end date is more flexible and should involve a discussion with your OIE advisor. It is NEVER a bad idea to apply early. You may also apply as late as 60 days after your program completion date, however this may have negative results for your ability to work. Remember it will take approximately three months for your application to be approved regardless of the date you submit the application or the start date you choose.
What is my program completion date?
Program completion dates can vary. If you will complete your studies earlier than the date listed on your I-20, you should notify OIE so that we can update your I-20. For undergraduate students your program completion date is most likely the date of graduation or the last day of your final semester. For graduate students with a thesis/dissertation, your program completion date could be any one of the following:
- Date of graduation of the last term in which you were registered
- Date of your oral defense
- Date you submit your final edits to your academic advisor
How do I apply for an OPT I-20?
OIE must be have approval from your academic advisor that you are scheduled to graduate, or in the case of graduate students, that you have completed all required coursework. In order to begin the OPT application process and request approval from your advisor, complete the following steps:
- Log into iStart
- Click F-1 Practical Training
- Click OPT I-20 Request
- Read information, complete online form and click submit
- Your academic advisor will now receive an email notification.
The advisor will be able to log in to iStart and confirm your graduation date. Once that has happened, OIE will receive an email indicating that your advisor has confirmed your graduation date. An OIE advisor will review the information you have submitted in iStart, as well as that submitted by your academic advisor.
Provided that everything is in order, the OIE advisor will approve your OPT I-20 Request and send you an email asking you to schedule an appointment with an OIE advisor.
My OPT I-20 is ready. What do I need to prepare for my appointment with an OIE advisor?
Before your appointment, collect all of the following documents:
- Completed original Form I-765
- Payment for the appropriate amount (Either a check or money order made out to USDHS or Form G-1450 completed with your credit card information)
- Two US Passport style photos (51x 51mm)
- Copy of Passport
- Copy of F-1 Entry Visa
- Copy of Form I-94 (electronic or paper)
- Copies the first and third pages of any previous Form I-20s issued on or before 06/26/15
- Copies of the first and second of any previous Form I-20s issued after 06/26/15
- Copies of any past Employment Authorization Document Cards
What do I need to know about mailing my application?
Here are some tips for mailing your application:
- The mailing address varies depending on where you live. Check the USCIS website for the appropriate address. The application must be mailed from within the US. Regardless of the mail service you use, make sure that you get a tracking number so that you have proof that the application was received.
- The OPT application must be received at the USCIS Service Center within 30 days of the date your OPT I-20 was issued. If your OPT I-20 is more than 30 days old and you have not yet filed the application with USCIS, contact the OIE to reprint a new I-20.
- If you are using a friend or family’s address on the Form I-765, be sure that your name is on their mailbox or write the current address as: c/o [your friend’s name]. Because of security reasons, the US Postal Service will not deliver mail from USCIS to a residential address unless the name on the envelope matches the name on the mailbox. You are welcome to use the OIE address if you do not have another address to use.
- Make a copy of the application for your records before you send it.
What happens after I apply for OPT?
Three to four weeks after submitting your OPT application, you will receive a receipt notice from USCIS. The receipt notice will have a case number, which is unique to your OPT application. You can track the status of your case online using this number. Save your receipt notice.
How long does it take for USCIS to review my application?
Prepare to be patient, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) estimates 90 days for the processing of an OPT application. OIE will not make inquiries with USCIS before 75 days have passed. Once the application has been approved, you should receive an approval notice in the mail. Save this as well. In about one week after receiving the approval notice you will receive the Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Remember, even if you receive your EAD, you may not begin working until the start date listed on the EAD.
What should I do if I move while my application is being processed?
If you change your address while your application is being processed you should be sure to contact USCIS. You can update your address online or call the National Service Center at 1-800-375-5283. Do this as soon as you know you are going to move to avoid a delay in the receipt of your EAD card.
What should I do if I receive a Request for Evidence (RFE)?
In some cases you may receive a Request for Evidence (RFE) or other notification from USCIS requesting additional information. Send these to OIE for immediate review!
Can I cancel my OPT request?
It may be possible to cancel your OPT request depending upon the status of your application. Then you could re-apply in the future if you are eligible. However, after the OPT start date has occurred and you have received your EAD card, it is not possible to cancel OPT. The OPT application fee is non-refundable.
Beginning your OPT Employment
What kind of job can I accept?
Your employment must be related to your studies as they are listed on your I-20. It must also be "commensurate" with your degree level. To count as employment, you must be working at least 20 hours per week.
- Paid employment: Students may work part time (no less than 20 hours per week when on post-completion OPT) or full time.
- Multiple employers: Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to each individual student’s degree program.
- Unpaid employment: Students may be volunteers or unpaid interns, where this practice does not violate any labor laws. A student should be able to provide evidence, acquired from your internship supervisor or volunteer organization, to verify that s/he has been employed at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.
- Short-term multiple employers (performing artists): 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.
- Work for hire: 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: 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 or consulting firm: Students on post-completion OPT should be able to provide evidence showing they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.
When can I start working?
Once your OPT has been approved you will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). You cannot work until you have received the EAD and the start date on your EAD card has arrived.
What if I can't find a job right away?
You are given 90 cumulative days of unemployment time, beginning from the date you receive your EAD and it is valid.
What are my reporting requirements during OPT?
There are many things that you need to report to the OIE while you are on OPT. The OIE will send you occasional reminder emails but it is ultimately YOUR responsibility to remember to report to the OIE. You can report most changes through iStart. You need to update your information with the OIE within 10 days of a change. These are the things you need to submit to the OIE.
- Legal name
- Living or mailing address
- Employer name and address
- Termination or loss of employment if within your OPT period
- Change of status (i.e. to H-1B)
- Transfer to another F-1 program or change of educational level
Travel on OPT
Can I travel while I'm on OPT?
F-1 students are allowed to travel after applying for OPT, but the student must show specific documentation upon re-entry to the United States depending upon the status of your OPT application and job situation.
If you want to travel after you apply for OPT but before you receive your EAD card, please talk to an OIE advisor about your individual situation.
After you have received your EAD card, you are only allowed to re-enter the US to resume or continue employment. To re-enter the US after your OPT has been approved, you will need to present the following documentation at the Port of Entry:
- Your EAD card
- Proof of employment (Job offer letter, pay stubs, or letter from your employer)
- A valid F-1 visa stamp (See Travel and Re-Entry to the US for exceptions under automatic visa revalidation)
- Valid passport (meaning it will not expire within 6 months from your date of re-entry)
- I-20 with a travel signature on page 2 within the last 6 months of your re-entry
Can I apply for a new F-1 visa while my OPT is pending?
No, you can not apply for a new F-1 visa stamp abroad until your OPT has been approved.
Does time outside the US count against my unemployment limit?
Time spent outside the United States will count as unemployment against the 90-day limit. If a student travels while employed either during a period of leave authorized by an employer or as part of their employment, the time spent outside the United States will not count as unemployment.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
When do I apply for OPT?
We recommend that you apply about 3 months before the date you wish to begin working. You can submit your application to USCIS up to 90 days before the degree completion date on your I-20. If you will graduate in May, it is recommended that you apply for OPT no later than March 15. If you will graduate in December, it is recommended that you apply for OPT no later than October 1.
Processing time for OPT applications can be up to 90 days. Students are encouraged to apply for OPT in advance of the proposed employment date, or the anticipated completion of studies to avoid delays, disappointment and unnecessary stress!
Do I need a job offer before applying for OPT?
No. An offer of employment is not required as part of the OPT application process. However, once the OPT start date has occurred, the “clock” begins and you cannot accrue more than 90 days of unemployment during your 12 months of the OPT authorization.
If I participate in CPT will I lose my opportunity for OPT?
If you accumulate more than 365 days of full-time CPT, you forfeit your OPT eligibility. However, that situation is very rare. Part-time CPT does not affect your OPT eligibility.
When can I start working?
You can start working after you have received your EAD card and the start date listed on the card has arrived.
How will my employer know I am authorized to work under OPT?
Page 2 of your I-20 indicates the dates you are authorized to work if you have received your Employment Authorization Document (EAD). You will also receive an EAD card, which is the legal document showing your eligibility for employment.
How long can I stay in the US after my OPT end date?
You may stay for up to 60 days. If you have applied for a STEM extension, are starting a new degree program or are changing to another visa type, different rules apply. Please contact an OIE advisor for more information.