Optional Practical Training (OPT) provides F-1 students with an opportunity for hands on work experience complementary to the academic field of study.
You must have been enrolled in a full course of study for one academic year to apply.
You are eligible for a maximum of 12 months of full-time OPT per academic level. For example, you may apply for OPT after completing a Bachelor’s degree and then again after completing a Master’s degree.
An extension may be possible depending on your field of study.
While on practical training, you are still considered to be F-1 students and must report any address change to the international student office at your school.
You may apply for OPT up to 90 days before your program end date and up to 60 days after your program end date.
You should allow three months for processing by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Service Center.
You cannot begin employment until USCIS approves the OPT application and you have received your Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
Frequently Asked Questions
How many hours can I work per week on OPT? – Generally, you may work full-time (more than 20 hours per week). Students who are registered full-time may only work part-time (up to 20 hours per week).
When should I apply for OPT authorization? – You may apply for OPT up to 90 days before your program end date. It can take USCIS three months to approve your application. Remember that you cannot begin employment until you have received your Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
What is the latest date I can apply for OPT? – You can apply up to 60 days after your program completion date. Your program completion date is the last day of your final quarter.
How do I choose my start date? – If you are applying for post-completion OPT, your start date must be within 60 days after your graduation date. In other words, if you graduate June 13, your start date can be no later than August 13. If you are applying for part-time OPT or OPT during your annual vacation quarter, you may choose any start and end date. Changing the requested OPT dates after the application is mailed can be very difficult. Choose your dates carefully.
How much time am I eligible to work under OPT? – USCIS allows students to work for a maximum of 12 months at the full-time rate per academic level. Part-time OPT (while registered as a student for a full credit load) accrues at half the full-time rate. For example, for every two months you work on part-time OPT (while registered for a full course of study), you deduct one month of full-time OPT. If you have worked under Curricular Practical Training (CPT): For less than 12 months full-time, you are eligible for 12 months full-time OPT.For more than 12 months part-time, you are eligible for 12 months full-time OPT. For more than 12 months full-time, you are not eligible for any OPT.
What happens if I move after I mail my OPT application? – The U.S. Postal Service will not forward mail from USCIS if the address on the envelope does not match the name on the mailbox. Therefore, ensure that you provide the USCIS a valid mailing address where you want the EAD to be sent.
How long does it take to get approved for OPT? – Approximately 3 months.
Where can I work? – You may accept any job that is related to your field of study and commensurate with your level of education.
What happens if I cannot find a job? – Practical training is not a vacation. During your authorized OPT period you should either be working in your field of study or actively seeking employment. You may have no more than 90 days of unemployment. If you are unable to find a job that will begin within 90 days of your OPT start date, you should make plans to go home, return to school for another degree, or change to a different immigration status.
May I study while pursuing post-completion OPT? – You may take recreational courses, but if you begin a new degree program, your OPT is automatically terminated. Exchange students are not eligible to take courses while on post-completion OPT.
If I change my mind and decide not to work, can I cancel my OPT authorization? – The answer depends on your situation.If you were issued a new I-20 with the OPT recommendation but have not yet mailed your application to USCIS, you must notify your International Student Services (ISS) adviser of your change in plans. If you have already mailed your application to USCIS, a request can be submitted to USCIS to halt processing. Your application fee will not be returned and the USCIS cannot guarantee that your request will be honored. Contact your ISS adviser for assistance. If you have received your EAD card and wish to cancel authorization, contact your ISS adviser. Cancellation in this case is highly unlikely.OPT applications are not meant to be cancelled! Please plan carefully and apply for OPT only if you are sure that you want to work.
When I receive my EAD card, should I give a copy to ISS? – Yes. The ISS needs a copy of your EAD card.
Is it possible to extend my practical training beyond 12-months? -See the section titled, “STEM Program.”
Can I leave the U.S. while my OPT application is being processed? – If your post-completion OPT application is pending, you may travel and re-enter the U.S. Once your OPT has been approved and your EAD issued, you may not re-enter the U.S. unless you have evidence of employment.
Can I travel abroad and return to the U.S. after receiving my EAD card? – Yes, as long as you have the following documents with you:
I-20 signed for travel by an international student adviser within the last 6 months;
Valid passport and U.S. visa; and
Evidence of employment in your field of study (letter of employment, written job offer)
Do I need a Social Security number? – Yes, you will need a Social Security number in order to receive payment from your employer.
Will I be required to pay Social Security and other taxes? – In general, as an F-1 student you will be exempt from Social Security (FICA) taxes for your first five years in the U.S., as long as you continue to declare nonresident status for tax purposes. Unless you qualify under a tax treaty between the U.S. and your home government, your earnings as an F-1 student will be subject to applicable federal, state and local taxes, and employers are required to withhold those taxes from your paychecks. For more information on taxes, go to Internal Revenue Service.
Can I continue to work on post-completion OPT after my EAD card expires? – No. When your EAD card expires, you must either prepare to leave the U.S. within 60 days, be issued an I-20 for a new program of study, or change to a different immigration status.
Can I apply for a “temporary” EAD card – In the past, students were able to apply for a temporary EAD card if their application was pending for more than 90 days. Processes have changed. If your application is pending for more than 90 days, contact your ISS adviser for recommendations on what to do.
What if I lose my EAD card? – If you lose your card, you will need to apply for a replacement by completing Form I-765 again and resubmitting it with all supporting documents such as a police report, including the fee, to USCIS.
OPT application procedures
Submit the following to the international student department at your school:
- Completed Optional Practical Training Request Form;
- Completed I-765 Form and Instructions;
- Photocopy of all previously issued I-20’s;
- Photocopy of passport identification page;
- Photocopy of F-1 visa page;
- Two passport-style photos;
- Photocopy of the front and back of your I-94 card; and
- Photocopy of previously issued EAD (if applicable).
Photo specifications: The two photos should have a white background. They should be unmounted, printed on thin paper, glossy and not re-touched. The photos should show a passport-style, full-face image, with both ears visible. The photo should not be larger than 2X2 inches, with the distance from the top of the head to just below the chin about 1 3/8 inches. Lightly print your name and your I-94 number in pencil on the back of each photo. Photographs must have been taken within the last 30 days and not previously used.
Tips for completing Form I-765
- Item 3: Your Receipt Notice and EAD will be mailed to the address you provide. If you will move soon, note that government mail cannot be forwarded, even if you file a change of address request with the U.S. Postal Service.
- Item 10: Use the number from your I-94 card, the small, white card in your passport. It is an 11-digit number.
- Item 11: Curricular Practical Training, is not authorized through USCIS. Check “no” if you have received CPT authorization, but no other categories of employment authorization through USCIS (such as previous OPT authorization, Severe Economic Hardship employment authorization, etc.)
- Items 12, 13, 14, 15: Use the information from your I-94 card. In some cases you may have made recent short trips to Canada or Mexico, which are not reflected by your current I-94 card. This is standard and it will be fine to use the information from your I-94 card anyway. If you have changed to F-1 status within the U.S., include a copy of your Approval Notice.
- Item 16: Use one of the three following codes where applicable:
- Pre-completion OPT: (c)(3)(A);
- Post-completion OPT: (c)(3)(B); or
- 17-month extension for STEM degree recipients: (c)(3)(C).
- Certification: Sign the form in blue ink
Your school’s international student office will review your OPT application and issue a new, updated I-20 with an OPT recommendation printed on the back page.
Within 30 days of the new I-20 being issued, mail the application, which should include the following documents, to the appropriate USCIS service center:
- Photocopy of signed I-20 with highlighted OPT endorsement on page 3;
- Photocopy of all previously issued I-20’s
- Check or money order for $340 made payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security”;
- Completed I-765 Form;
- Photocopy of passport identification page;
- Photocopy of F-1 visa page;
- Two passport-style photos;
- Photocopy of the front and back of your I-94 card; and
- Photocopies of any previously issued EAD (if applicable).
Do not mail your original passport, I-94 or I-20. Be sure to sign your OPT-endorsed I-20 before photocopying it and mailing it to USCIS.
If you have a job offer that will begin soon, include a copy of the offer letter stapled to a cover letter on brightly colored paper. On the paper write:
EXPEDITE REQUEST: F-1 OPT
Job Offer Pending, See Attached
It is recommended that you send your application by certified mail, return receipt requested.
Within two weeks of having received your application, USCIS will send you a receipt notice (I-797). Carefully review the notice to make sure your name is spelled correctly. If it is not, contact your international student office immediately.
Check the status of your case at the USCIS Case Status Server.
17 month extension of OPT for students with a STEM degree
- Who is eligible for the STEM extension? F-1 students who completed a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in a science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) field may apply for a 17-month extension of OPT. Visit the Immigration and Customs Enforcement website for the STEM Designated Degree Program List . In addition, students must have a job or job offer from an E-Verify employer.
- If I have a dual major, can I qualify for the STEM extension based on one of the degree programs? Yes, if one of the degrees is on the STEM Designated Degree Program List an any job worked while on the extension is related to the student’s STEM degree.
- Can I qualify for the STEM extension based on my minor? No.
- If I previously earned a degree in a STEM field and now earned a non-STEM degree, can I apply for the extension? No. The STEM extension must be based on the same degree as the post-completion OPT.
- How can someone suggest a change to the STEM Designated Degree Program List? To suggest a change to the list of STEM designated degrees, write to firstname.lastname@example.org, with “STEM Code Change Request” in the subject line. Please include your name, phone number, organizational affiliation, the code(s) you would like to see added and the rationale for the addition. Change requests will be reviewed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement with the Department of Education and other interested government agencies.Prior to June 9, 2008, you may also make recommendations for changes to the STEM Designated Degree Program List through the public comment process by submitting a comment on the OPT rule.
- How do I file for the extension? Submit to the ISS office Form I-765. Your ISS adviser will issue a new I-20 with a recommendation for the extension. Mail to USCIS the following: Form I-765, new I-20, application fee, and a copy of STEM degree (official transcript, unofficial transcript, or copy of diploma showing level and program of study). Be sure to mail your application to the USCIS Service Center serving the area of your current residence. Visit USCIS for more instructions.
- When does my STEM extension OPT start? If you have properly filed for a STEM extension, the period of extension starts the day after the expiration of your original OPT period.
- Can I work with an expired EAD while my STEM extension is pending? Yes. Your work authorization is automatically extended for up to 180 days while the STEM extension application is pending.
- Can I change employers while the STEM extension is pending? Yes. However, if the STEM extension period has started, the employer must also be an E-Verify employer. The job change must be reported to your ISS adviser.
Cap gap automatic extension for F-1 students who are the subject of an H-1B petition
The F-1/H-1B “cap-gap” occurs when F-1 students’ status and work authorization expire before they can start their approved H-1B employment in the next fiscal year beginning on October 1. Recent rule changes now allow this gap to be bridged for students who are beneficiaries of properly filed H-1B petitions.
The following chart shows how the length of the cap gap extension is determined.
|The Petition Naming the Student:||Impact on Cap-Gap OPT||Impact on F-1 Status||Extension Request Needed||Action Required by Student|
|Is properly filed||OPT extended to June 2, 2008||F-1 status extended to August 2, 2008||Yes||You must send a request for extension to your ISS adviser with proof of proper filing.|
|Is not selected for receipting during the random selection process||No additional extension||No additional extension||N/A||None|
|Is selected for waitlisting||OPT authorization is extended to July 28 for fiscal year 2008||F-1 status is extended to Septemeber 27||Yes||You must send a request for extension to your ISS adviser with proof that petition was wait listed.|
|Is selected for receipting||OPT authorization is extended to September 30||Student’s record completes on September 30, ending F-1 status||No||You may request your ISS adviser to print a form I-20 showing the extension.|
|Is withdrawn or denied||OPT authorization ends 10 days after the date of the withdrawal or denial||Grace period ends 60 days after the date of the withdrawal or denial||No||You must terminate OPT on the proper date and either leave the U.S. upon expiration of the grace period or take other steps to maintain status.|
Schools are waiting for futher instructions about how to process I-20 extensions for cap gap students.
Some final questions
- If I am not in an authorized period of OPT when the H-1B petition is filed, can I work during the cap gap extension? – No. In order for a student to have employment authorization during the cap gap extension, the student must be in an approved period of OPT on the eligibility date.
- Do I have to file an application or pay a fee to receive the cap gap extension? – No. The extension is granted automatically at no cost.