What is Optional Practical Training?
Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a temporary employment authorization for international students who have recently completed their degree. The employment must be at least 20 hours per week and be directly related to the student’s major area of study. Students must apply to USCIS for this work authorization and cannot begin working until they receive their Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card.
Post-Completion OPT authorization allows students to work for up to 12 months. Students who graduated with certain STEM degrees are eligible for the 24 month STEM Extension.
What must I do to be eligible to apply for 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 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).
Student Instructions to Complete the eForm
- It is strongly recommended that you first meet with an ISSS Advisor to discuss the OPT application process and make sure you are aware of your status maintenance responsibilities during OPT.
- When you are ready to apply for OPT, you will need to complete the eForm and upload all the documents described in Page 2.
- Once you submit your eForm, your Academic Advisor will receive an email to confirm your program completion date. ISSS cannot process your request until your advisor has completed this. We will be notified when that happens.
- After ISSS has reviewed your eForm, we will create a new I-20 recommending you for OPT. We will email you when your new I-20 is ready to be picked up. You will be responsible for mailing your application to USCIS.
Please note: Depending on the time of academic year, it may take up to 7-10 business days for our office to process your request once our office receives your request.
Advisor Instructions to Complete the eForm
- In order to verify the accuracy of the program completion date the student has indicated in their OPT application, ISSS requests verification from an Academic Advisor who is familiar with the student’s progress. If you are familiar with the student’s progress and believe the student will complete program requirements on the date listed, please click on the link provided in your email and submit the eForm.
- If the student is still enrolled in coursework and may need to repeat a class, please include a comment. ISSS will have a discussion with the student recommending that they postpone the submission of their OPT application since it is difficult to withdraw once they have applied, and they cannot fully utilize the benefit if they have outstanding coursework requirements after their OPT begins.
- After you submit the eForm, ISSS will be automatically notified so that we can begin processing the student’s request.
Tips for Advisors
- For the purposes of the student’s OPT application, their program completion date may be their graduation date, thesis/dissertation defense date, or last day of classes. If the student has met all degree requirements, but their graduation date will be delayed an extra semester because they missed the deadline to apply for graduation, their completion date should be their defense date, last day of classes, or the end date of the semester in which they met all degree requirements.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What types of employment are permitted by 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 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!
Can I travel while my OPT is pending?
- ISSS does not recommend traveling outside the U.S. while your OPT is pending.
- Once your OPT is approved, make sure you have the following documents to re-enter the U.S. after traveling:
- Updated I-20 that shows your post-completion 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 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 can I maintain my status after my OPT has been approved?
- During post-completion OPT, your F-1 status is contingent upon employment. You must be employed for at least 20 hours per week in a job directly related to the major listed on your I-20.
- You must submit an OPT reporting eForm every 3 months or within 10 days of any changes to your employer or physical address.
- Each day without a job reported to ISSS counts as a day of unemployment, including weekends and holidays.
- You may not accrue a total of more than 90 days of unemployment during OPT. Note: During periods of unemployment, weekends count toward the 90-day unemployment limit. Weekends are not counted toward the 90-day unemployment limit for students who are employed throughout the week.
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.
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.