Optional Practical Training Application FAQs

General OPT Application FAQs

HOW DO I APPLY FOR OPT?

OPT applications can now be submitted online. ISSS strongly recommends students use the online application once they have prepared their application materials and received an updated I-20 from our office showing their OPT authorization as “requested” on the second page.

Before starting the online application, please review the FAQs on this page and then navigate to our Post-Completion or STEM OPT Extension pages depending on the type of OPT you need to apply for.

WHAT HAPPENS IF MY OPT IS DENIED?

Your OPT is a benefit of your F-1 status and should be approved as long as you are eligible and follow all instructions when you apply.

  • USCIS has very strict timelines. They will deny your OPT application if they receive it:
    • More than 90 days before your program end date.
    • More than 60 days after your program end date.
    • More than 30 days after the I-20 with the OPT request was created.
  • If no I-20 is included with your application, it will likely be denied.
  • If you have a criminal history, your OPT could be denied. Consult with an immigration attorney to discuss any concerns about your record.

If your OPT is denied before the end of your 60-day grace period, you may re-apply for OPT.

If your OPT is denied after the end of your 60-day grace period, you will begin accruing days of unlawful presence from the date of the denial. Once you receive the Denial Notice and are able to determine whether the reason for the denial is accurate, you can either make plans to leave the U.S. as soon as possible or meet with an immigration attorney in Student Legal Services to discuss any other options you may have, such as a Motion to Reopen.

Filing of a Motion to Reopen or Reconsider does not stop the accrual of unlawful presence, so we do not recommend this option unless there is a very strong chance it will be approved.

Please note: A rejected OPT application is not the same as a denial. If your application is rejected, your payment will not be cashed and the entire application will be returned to you. You may reapply if your grace period has not ended.

  • If your check is incomplete or includes inaccurate information or payment amount, your application will be rejected.
  • If you forget to sign your I-765, your application will be rejected.

CAN I TRAVEL WHILE MY OPT APPLICATION IS PENDING?

  • ISSS does not recommend traveling outside the U.S. while your OPT application is pending.
    • Students on their STEM OPT extension can travel while their application is pending, it is highly recommended that they return to the US before their Post-Completion OPT expires. If your Post-Completion OPT has already expired and your application is still pending, we do not recommend that you travel outside the US.

CAN I TRAVEL OUTSIDE THE US AFTER MY OPT HAS BEEN APPROVED?

  • Yes, students who have an approved OPT authorization and have received their EAD card can travel internationally. Please make sure you have the following documents to re-enter the US:
    • Updated I-20 that shows your OPT as “approved” rather than “pending” with a travel signature less than 6 months old on the second page
    • Passport valid at least 6 months into the future
    • Unexpired F-1 visa
    • EAD card
    • Recommended: Letter from your employer with the dates you will be out of the country
  • While out of the country, you can apply for a new visa if your current one is expired, but keep in mind you must still demonstrate non-immigrant intent.

HOW DO I MAINTAIN MY STATUS AFTER MY OPT HAS BEEN APPROVED?

Please review the information regarding maintaining your F-1 immigration record while on OPT on our OPT Reporting webpage.

This resource includes information about:

  • Unemployment allowances
  • OPT Reporting requirements
  • The SEVP Portal
  • Switching employers while on STEM OPT
  • Employment type requirements
  • Cap-Gap extensions for H-1B applicants
  • OPT Reporting FAQs
  • Etc.

Post-Completion OPT FAQs

WHAT MUST I DO TO BE ELIGIBLE TO APPLY FOR POST-COMPLETION OPT?

  • Maintain valid F-1 status.
  • Make normal progress towards degree requirements.
  • Have been lawfully enrolled on a full-time basis for one full academic year.
  • Have not been authorized for 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT).
  • Have not already used 12 months of full-time OPT at the same or higher degree level.

WHEN CAN I APPLY FOR POST-COMPLETION OPT?

  • Cannot apply earlier than 90 days before, or later than 60 days after, your program completion date.
  • Completion date can be your graduation date or date of defense.
  • Often takes USCIS 3 months or more to process the application.
  • All post-completion OPT must be completed within 14 months from your program completion date.
  • Cancellation of an OPT application is very complicated. Make sure you are ready to apply and your coursework will be completed.
  • Consider renewing your driver’s license before applying for OPT, if you have additional time on your I-20. You may not be permitted to renew your driver’s license while your OPT is pending (but can after it is approved).

WHAT TYPES OF EMPLOYMENT ARE PERMITTED ON POST-COMPLETION OPT?

Any employment you engage in while on OPT must be directly related to your major of study. Employment that is not directly related to the major area of study would be considered a status violation. It is your responsibility to ensure that any employment you engage in while on OPT meets this requirement and is reported to our office. Any unreported employment would also be considered violation of your F-1 status.

Most types of employment are allowed for Post-Completion OPT, including:

  • Regular paid employment.
  • Payment by multiple short-term employers.
  • Work for hire (a service based on a contractual relationship).
  • Self-employed business owner.
  • Employment through an agency.
  • Volunteers or unpaid interns (REMEMBER THIS OPTION!). Unpaid employment is considered employment on OPT, as long as the unpaid employment is directly related to the academic major listed on the student’s I-20 and employment is for at least 20 hours per week. However, please keep in mind that volunteering to do work that other individuals normally get paid to do may be a violation of labor laws. If in doubt, please consult an ISSS advisor.

WHAT SHOULD I DO WHILE MY APPLICATION FOR OPT IS PENDING?

  • You can check the status of your OPT application and current processing times through the USCIS website. You will receive a Receipt Notice/Number from USCIS within 2-3 weeks.
  • Please contact an ISSS Advisor if your application has been pending for 120 days or more!

WHAT HAPPENS TO MY OPT IF I DON’T FINISH MY DEGREE REQUIREMENTS BY MY PROGRAM END DATE?

If you have coursework left to complete for your degree, contact ISSS for assistance as soon as you know you will not complete your coursework. Depending on the timing, you will either need to withdraw your OPT application or limit your employment to 20 hours per week until you complete your coursework.

If you are a graduate student working on a thesis or dissertation during your OPT, you are permitted to work full-time, but should complete all requirements before the end date of your OPT because you are no longer eligible for any I-20 extensions.

STEM OPT Extension FAQs

KNOWING YOUR ELIGIBILITY

WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR THE 24-MONTH OPT STEM EXTENSION?

You are eligible for the 24-month OPT STEM extension if you meet all of the following criteria:

  • You are currently participating in approved post-completion OPT and have maintained your F-1 immigration status throughout your post-completion OPT period
  • You have earned a degree in a program of study that is included on the STEM list
  • Your STEM OPT employer is enrolled in USCIS’s E-Verify employment eligibility verification program
  • Your STEM OPT employer has provided you with formal training and learning objectives
  • You have not been approved for 2 previous OPT STEM extensions

WHAT IF THE CIP CODE FOR MY MAJOR DOESN’T APPEAR ON THE SEVP LIST OF QUALIFYING MAJORS, BUT THE SKILLS AND TRAINING I RECEIVED DO?

The CIP code for your major must appear on the current SEVP list of qualifying majors or the DSO will not recommend you for a STEM OPT Extension.

AM I ELIGIBLE FOR A 24-MONTH STEM EXTENSION FOR A PREVIOUSLY-EARNED DEGREE THAT IS NOT THE BASIS OF MY CURRENT POST-COMPLETION OPT AUTHORIZATION?

Yes, if your previously-earned degree was:

  • in an approved STEM major,
  • earned within the past 10 years, and
  • you have not already done an OPT STEM extension for that degree.
  • You may be eligible for a 24-month STEM extension for a previous degree even if you were not in F-1 status at the time you earned that degree. Please see an International Student Advisor for more information.

AM I ELIGIBLE FOR A 24-MONTH OPT STEM EXTENSION IF I HAVE NOT COMPLETED MY THESIS/DISSERTATION?

Yes. If you have completed all degree requirements except a thesis or dissertation, you are eligible for the OPT STEM extension. You will need to obtain a letter from the CSU Registrar confirming that you have met all coursework requirements for your degree.

PREPARING THE APPLICATION

WHEN SHOULD I APPLY FOR THE STEM EXTENSION?

USCIS must receive the STEM Extension application before the student’s Post-Completion OPT expires. Students can start submitting their applications to USCIS up to 90 days before their Post-Completion OPT expires. Similar to the Post-Completion OPT application process, the STEM Extension can take 3-5 months for processing. Students are allowed to continue working for up to 180 days after their Post-Completion OPT expires while their STEM Extension application is pending.

Please note: You may not be permitted to renew your driver’s license while your STEM Extension is pending, so consider applying as early as possible if your license will expire when your OPT expires.

It can take up to 7-10 business days for our office to review your STEM OPT application materials and issue you an updated I-20. Please plan accordingly.

CAN I TAKE MY OWN PHOTOS AND CUT THEM DOWN TO PASSPORT SIZE OR USE PHOTOS FROM WHEN I APPLIED FOR MY VISA BEFORE?

The passport photos must have been taken within the last 30 days. Taking your own photos is not recommended; Walgreens, CVS pharmacy, fedex/Kinko’s and many other retail stores in town can make passport-sized photos for you.

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF MY I-94 IS INACCURATE?

Before you mail your packet requesting the STEM OPT extension, you should contact your local Customs and Border Protection (CBP) port of entry to correct the error. At DIA, the correction must be done in person between the hours of 10 a.m. And 2 p.m. Monday-Friday.

You may also be able to update your I-94 information through an online request eForm here.

MY APPLICATION HAS TAKEN MORE THAN 90 DAYS TO PROCESS, WHAT CAN I DO?

If your application has been pending for more than 90 days, you may contact the USCIS National Customer Service Center (NCSC) at 1-800-375-5283 and ask that a “service request” be created. Please see the USCIS website for details.

MORE INFORMATION ABOUT E-VERIFY

  • How do I find E-Verify employers?
  • How can I find out my employer’s E-Verify number?
    • The USCIS website does not publish the E-Verify number of employers. You will need to ask a Human Resources representative at the company or organization for which you wish to work and indicate this number on the Form I-765.
  • Can I get paid by Company A (not E-Verify), but actually work on a contract at Company B (which is E-Verify)?
    • No, the company from which you receive your paycheck must be registered in E-Verify.

COMPLETING THE I-983

WHAT IS THE FORM I-983?

The Training Plan for STEM OPT Students, or Form I-983, outlines the mentoring, training, and evaluation plan you will follow during your practical training period. The form needs to include information about how the practical training experience is directly related to your STEM program of study.

WHO IS A DESIGNATED SCHOOL OFFICIAL (DSO)?

This is a person who can make changes to your I-20 and recommend you for an OPT STEM Extension. You can leave this portion of the I-983 blank. The immigration advisor who will be assigned your application materials for review will enter their information into this part of the I-983 for you.

WHAT ABOUT WORKING AT MULTIPLE SITES?

  • What if I work for Company A, but I am physically located at Company B?
    • This is  allowed only if you have a supervisor/mentor at your actual work site who can conduct the training outlined in Form I-983.
  • In Section 3 it asks for employer information. Should that be the corporate headquarters address or the address of the office where I work?
    • The employer’s principal place of business should be indicated.
  • In Section 5 where it requests employer site information, if the site of employment is Company B, should the name of official be my supervisor at Company B?
    • Yes
  • Who should sign page 4? Should this be someone from Company A or my supervisor at Company B? 
    • The individual who is acting as your supervisor/mentor and conducting the training outlined in your Form I-983 should sign Page 4.

AUTHORIZED EMPLOYMENT TYPES

WHAT IF MY WORK IS NOT REALLY RELATED TO MY DEGREE, BUT IS RELATED TO TRAINING I RECEIVED DURING MY DEGREE PROGRAM?

Your work must be directly related to the degree that qualifies you for the STEM OPT Extension.

MY POST-COMPLETION OPT POSITION WAS VOLUNTEER-BASED AND I WOULD LIKE TO CONTINUE. DOES MY STEM EXTENSION HAVE TO BE PAID?

During your STEM extension you must be employed in a paid position working at least 20 hours per week, not counting allowable unemployment or vacation time.