Optional Practical Training
Overview of OPT
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an opportunity for F-1 students to gain practical experience in their field of study. It is recommended in SEVIS by ISAP and then students apply for it through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
If granted by USCIS, the authorization is full- or part-time employment for a maximum of 12 months. OPT is not a different visa status or “change of status”; it is a benefit linked to your F-1 status, and extends your F-1 status for the time you are on OPT.
Who Is Eligible to Apply
In order to be eligible for post-completion OPT, you must:
- Be within 90 days of completing your degree requirements (i.e., within 90 days of the end of the semester during which you will graduate).
- Have been in F-1 status for at least two consecutive semesters immediately prior to finishing your degree.
- Have not previously had OPT authorized at the same degree level (e.g., if you are completing a second bachelor’s degree and had previously been authorized for OPT after your first bachelor's, you would not be eligible for OPT again until you completed a higher degree level -- either a masters or doctorate).
When to Apply
The earliest USCIS can receive your application is 90 days before the program completion date.
The latest USCIS can receive your application is the 60th day of your grace period (60 days after your program completion date).
USCIS can take up to 90 days to process OPT applications. We highly recommend you submit the application packet to the ISAP Office at least 8 weeks before your program completion date.
Step 1: Complete OPT Tutorials
Familiarize yourself with the application process and how to maintain your F-1 status on OPT by watching both parts of the OPT Tutorial:
When watching part 1, please have the following items with you:
- Form I-765. (This is the government form you will submit as part of your OPT application.)
- Passport and I-94. If your last entry into the U.S. was before April 30, 2013, your I-94 will be a white card, most likely stapled into your passport. If you arrived after April 30, 2013, you most likely have an electronic I-94, and will need to print out a copy of your I-94 record. See the instructions in step 3 for printing your electronic I-94.
- ISAP OPT Recommendation Request Form
Step 2: Complete the OPT Recommendation Request Form
The OPT Recommendation Request Form is an ISAP form that is submitted along with your OPT application materials.
You must make an appointment with your academic advisor or program manager to have them complete section 3 of this form. You will fill out the other sections.
This form needs to be completed before your OPT appointment and you need to bring it with you to your appointment, along with the other application materials.
Step 3: Gather all required documents for your OPT appointment and application
Review the Applying for OPT tutorial for answers to questions about the application documents listed below, including how to properly complete the I-765.
Note: All US government forms, including the I-765 and G-1145, are available for free on the ISAP website and at the official website of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Companies with names that may sound official or similar to USCIS exist who charge fees to assist in filling out these forms. ISAP will provide any assistance needed to fill out these forms and apply for OPT for no charge.
A complete OPT application contains the following:
- Completed OPT Recommendation Request Form (including section 3 completed by your academic advisor or program manager)
- Completed Form I-765
- Check or money order for $380 made payable to: "U.S. Department of Homeland Security"
- 2 recent US passport-sized photos
- Photocopy of passport ID page
- Photocopy of front and back of I-94 or printout of electronic I-94*
- Photocopy of F-1 visa (all students except Canadian citizens)
- Photocopies of the first and third page of all previous I-20s
- Photocopies of any previous EAD cards (if you have been previously authorized for OPT or economic hardship)
- Completed Form G-1145 (optional, but recommended)
* If your last entry into the US was before April 30, 2013, your I-94 will be a white card, most likely stapled into your passport. Please photocopy the front and back of this card and include it in your application.
If you arrived in the US after April 30, 2013, you most likely have an electronic I-94. To print your electronic I-94, go to www.cbp.gov/i94. You will need to enter some information to retrieve and print your record, so please have your passport with your F-1 visa in it when accessing this site.
After ISAP has recommended OPT for you, add to your application packet:
- Cover letter
- Photocopy of the first and third pages of your newly issued I-20 with OPT recommendation
Step 4: Schedule an appointment to review your application materials and get a new I-20 with OPT recommendation
Once you have gathered all application materials, you will need to make an appointment with an ISAP advisor to turn in your OPT Recommendation Request form, review your application materials and have OPT recommended.
To avoid any processing delays, please be sure the OPT application is complete when you come to your appointment.
Step 5: Photocopy your entire application packet for your records
After OPT has been recommended, we highly suggest photocopying your completed application packet before sending it to USCIS. Keep the photocopied application in a safe place for your records.
Step 6: Mail your completed application to USCIS within 30 days
ISAP will provide you with mailing instructions at your OPT appointment.
- USCIS must receive your application within 30 days of the OPT recommendation date (you can find this date in section 10 of your I-20 next to the ISAP staff signature).
- Once you send your application to USCIS, you will not be able to make changes to your OPT start date.
Once your application has been received, USCIS will send you several pieces of mail. If you filled out the G-1145, you will also receive electronic updates. Pay close attention to your mail and save everything sent from USCIS.
You will receive the following notifications from USCIS:
- Receipt Notice: This is your receipt from USCIS confirming receipt of your application and payment of the application fee. The notice will include a WAC number, which is the file number associated with your OPT application.
You can use this number to check the status of your application online.
Approval Notice: This confirms your OPT has been approved. This approval notice is not considered proof of work authorization. You must wait until you have your EAD card and your OPT start date has arrived to begin working.
Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card: This is your official permission to work in the United States. If you receive your EAD card before your OPT start date, you must still wait for your OPT start date to arrive before beginning work.
Please note that while your EAD card indicates “Not valid for reentry to the United States,” it is still possible to travel internationally while on OPT. It only means your EAD card is not a reentry document.
Your F-1 visa is your re-entry document, and during your OPT period, you must still have a valid F-1 visa to reenter the United States.
- (Possibly) Request for Evidence (RFE): You may receive an RFE if a mistake in your application is discovered, something is missing, or USCIS wants more information.
Important: You are required to respond to the RFE within a specified amount of time. If you receive an RFE, contact ISAP as soon as possible, so we can assist you in responding and answer any questions you may have.
For additional information about maintaining status on OPT, please review part 2 of the OPT Tutorial Maintaining Status on OPT.
There are three main components to maintaining status on OPT:
- Find and keep a job (or jobs) that meets the criteria for OPT employment.
- Don’t accrue more than 90 days of unemployment during your entire year on OPT.
- Report certain information to ISAP during the time you’re on OPT.
While you are on OPT, it is YOUR responsibility to keep track of the work you do, the number of hours per week you work, and the days of unemployment you've accrued. Keep good records of ALL your employment while on OPT. Please review these tips for documenting work on OPT.
1. Finding and keeping a job that meets OPT criteria
In order to qualify as employment for OPT:
- The position must be related to your field of study.
- You must work a minimum of 20 hours per week. If you have more than one job, the combined hours worked for all jobs should total at least 20 per week.
The type of employment can vary:
- Paid employment, including normal part- or full-time work, contract work, and employment through an agency.
- Unpaid employment so long as it complies with all applicable labor laws.
- Self-employment, students may start a business or work for themselves, but must be able to prove they have all proper business licenses.
All employment you hold while on OPT must meet these criteria.
2. Don’t accrue more than 90 days of unemployment
Immigration regulations state that “students may not accrue an aggregate of more than 90 days of unemployment” during OPT (8 C.F.R. 214.2[f])[ii][E]).
This means that once your OPT start date has arrived, each day including weekends and holidays that you do not have a job counts toward this total.
Time spent outside the United States also counts toward this total, unless you are employed and taking a temporary break/vacation from a current job.
You are responsible for counting the number of days of unemployment you have accrued while on OPT, so it is important to keep track of start and end dates of each job you have.
3. Report certain information to ISAP during the time you’re on OPT
While on OPT, you must report to ISAP within 10 days all changes to the information listed below by filling out the OPT Employment Update Form.
The form must be submitted each time your employment or address information changes.
Required changes to report:
- Legal name change (due to marriage, divorce, etc.)
- Change of address
- All employment during OPT (This includes your initial employment and any changes in employment.)
- Departure from the United States before the end of OPT if you decide not to use OPT or to end your OPT early
- Change in your immigration status, including the filing of an H1-B petition, an application for adjustment of status, or any other change in immigration status
We strongly recommend that once you have applied for OPT and your program end date has passed, you avoid traveling outside the United States unless your OPT has been approved and you have a job or a firm job offer.
For more detailed information on traveling while on OPT, please see Travel.
Important: Do not attempt to reenter the United States on a B visa or visa waiver while waiting for OPT approval, or because you have an expired F-1 visa. Doing so automatically ends your F-1 status and you forfeit your OPT. ISAP cannot correct or change this.
OPT Information for Employers
Employers have different levels of familiarity with hiring international students and OPT. The OPT Information for Employers handout is meant as an overview of OPT for employers who might not be familiar with it.
It is also a resource for students to help discuss your work authorization with potential employers.
On March 11, 2016, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security published a new STEM Final Rule, with an effective date of May 10, 2016.
What is a STEM extension?
It is an extension of post-completio OPT available to students who graduate with a qualifying science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) degree and who meet other, additional requirements. Qualifying students may apply to extend their 12-month post-completion OPT for an additional 24 months.
Who is eligible to apply?
To be eligible for the STEM extension, an F-1 student must hold a degree (bachelor's or higher) that has a STEM-eligible CIP code. This means that the CIP code for the degree must be listed in the revised DHS STEM OPT Designated Programs List.
How do I know if my program is considered STEM?
Eligibility based on your CCA Degree:
If you earned a degree in a field that that appears on the US government's official list of STEM fields, you may be eligible for the 24-month OPT extension. To check if your degree is on the list, look at the "Program of Study" field on page 1 of your I-20 to find the 6-digit code listed under "Major 1" and then look for that code in the CIP code column of the DHS STEM OPT Designated Programs List.
As of June 2016, Animation is the only STEM-eligible degree at CCA.
eligibility based on a previous degree in the us.
The new rule allows F-1 students to use a prior degree earned in the United States to qualify for the STEM extension. To be eligible based on a previously earned degree:
- You must have received your prior, qualifying STEM degree (bachelor's or higher) from an SEVP-approved US institution within 10 years of the date that you apply for the STEM extension with USCIS.
- You must have received your most recent degree (which does not need ot be STEM) in the US and currently be on post-completion OPT
- The prior degree must be on the DHS STEM OPT Designated Programs List at the time you submit your STEM extension application. Note: You may need to contact the International Office at your previous school to determine if the CIP code used for that program is STEM-eligible.
I have a STEM degree. What are the next steps?
If the CIP code for your current or prior degree is on the list of STEM-eligible degrees and you wish to apply for a STEM extension, please review the STEM OPT at a Glance handout for more information about the requirements to apply.
If, after reviewing the material, you believe you are eligible, please schedule an appointment with an ISAP advisor.
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