Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training Information

Note: Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a 12 month opportunity to work in the United States. It is a form of employment authorization that is a benefit of your F-1 student status, not a "working visa". While on OPT you are still an F-1 student for immigration purposes. You are highly encouraged to read the information provided by the US Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

Who is eligible for OPT?

International students must have been in legal F-1 status for at least 9 months prior to applying for OPT (no exceptions). An International Student Advisor will discuss your status with you prior to giving you a recommendation for OPT. Students that do not maintain normal academic progress or that fail a significant number of courses are not eligible.

  • Students may apply for OPT either pre-completion (before completion of studies) or post-completion (after completion of studies). Pre-completion OPT students must maintain a full course of study during OPT approval and may work up to 20 hours per week except during school vacations. Post-completion OPT students may work full time and do not need to be attending school. Students can choose to "split" the 12 months of OPT into smaller portions. However, any pre-completion OPT used will take away from the amount of time available to use post-completion. Students must reapply and pay the fee for each period of OPT requested.
  • If you apply for post-completion OPT and do not graduate on schedule, your OPT may be canceled and you may no longer be eligible. Talk to your academic advisor about graduation before you apply for OPT.
  • F-1 students are eligible to apply for OPT after each level of education completed (i.e. one year for a bachelor's degree and another year for a master's degree).

When should I apply?

  • Optional Practical Training must be requested from the BCIS prior to the completion of all course requirements for the degree or prior to the completion of the course of study. Form I-765 and all documents necessary to apply for OPT must be received at the processing center before the degree completion date. It is highly recommended that students apply 3 to 5 months before they plan to begin employment because approval can take several months to complete.
  • Students can not work until they have received approval from the BCIS and the employment start date on the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) has been reached.

Do I have to get a job?

  • Yes! It is possible to run into difficulties if you are on OPT and do not have employment or are not actively looking for employment for more than 90 days after the OPT start date. In all cases where a student is not employed, he or she should be prepared to explain the substantial steps they have taken to secure employment.

How long can I stay in the U.S. with OPT?

  • In most cases, OPT is approved for 12 months. When students are approved for post-completion OPT, they are allowed to stay in the US for up to 14 months from the day they complete their academic program. However employment is only authorized during the time shown on the Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Students eligible for the STEM program may request an extension of their regular OPT. That would allow them to work up to 29 months in the US.

Anything else I should know?

  • Read the instructions for the form I-765, available on the uscis.gov site.
  • There is a non-refundable application fee for applying (payable to the Department of Homeland Security).
  • There is a non-refundable application fee for applying (payable to the BCIS).
  • All OPT employment must be directly related to your major area of study and be consistent with your degree level.
  • The address listed on the Form I-765 is where the receipt notice and employment authorization document will be mailed and should be valid for at least 4 to 5 months from the time the application is submitted. It is very difficult to change your address after the application is sent to the processing center.
  • Once you receive your EAD card, you should bring it or provide a photocopy of it to the International Education Office. If your card is lost or stolen, IEO can help you replace it if a copy is in your file.
  • During OPT you are still considered to be in F-1 student status, therefore you are required to update your physical address and employer information with the International Education Office. If you end your OPT early to return home or you change your immigration status, please let us know.
  • Students whose applications have taken more than 90 days to process may go to a local BCIS District Office to apply for a temporary EAD.

Optional Practical Training Application Procedures

Step I: Attend an Employment Workshop offered by the Office of Global Initiatives.

Step II: Complete the required forms and then make an appointment with an International Student Advisor.

Bring the following completed documents to your appointment:

  • Current Form I-20 and all previous I-20 forms from all US schools attended.
  • Application for Optional Practical Training Approval Form (completed by you and your academic advisor).
  • Completed Form I-765.

Step III: Prepare and submit application documentation. Always check the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website for the most updated information.

You are responsible for making a final check of your documents and sending the completed application packet to the processing center. OGI will not make photocopies or mail the packet for you.

Assemble the following documents in this order:

  • Two color passport style photos (Print your I-94 # and name on the back of each photo).
  • Check or Money Order payable to the DHS. Do not send cash.
  • Completed Form I-765 (with address that is valid for at least 4 months)
  • Photocopy of I-94 card (front and back).
  • Photocopy of new I-20 (pages 1 and 3 showing the recommendation for OPT).
  • Photocopy of all previous I-20's (page 1 or 3) from all schools attended in the US.
  • Photocopy of current passport information page and most recent F-1 visa.
  • Photocopy of any previous Employment Authorization Documents (if applicable).

Make a photocopy of all the documents in the application packet before mailing them (including the check and photos). The Office of Global Initiatives does not keep copies of all of your documents so you must keep copies for your records. **Make sure all photocopies are clear, clean and legible.**

Mail your documents to a USCIS Service Center. You are encouraged to mail your application by certified mail or with signature confirmation through the US Postal Service (visit any post office). You can confirm the delivery of your application at the U.S. Postal Service website 3-5 days after you send it. If overnight or two day delivery is required, we recommend that you send the documents via FedEx.

You should receive a processing receipt from the USCIS Service Center 2-3 weeks after it is delivered. Your Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) should arrive 3-4 months after applying.

Note: Don't forget to bring a copy of your EAD to the Office of Global Initiatives and to update your address if you move at anytime during your OPT.