Optional Practical Training (OPT) FAQs
Who is eligible to apply for OPT?
In order to apply for OPT, students must have been in lawful, full-time student status for at least one full academic year. OPT can be done as Pre-Completion (before completion of studies) or Post-Completion (after completion of studies), full or part-time.
Do I have to have a job to apply for OPT?
No. Optional Practical Training is not specific to an employer. OPT authorization allows you to work for one or more employers as long as your duties are related to your field of study.
Once on OPT, can I work full time?
During your post-completion OPT, you can work as little or as may hours as your employer(s) require. If you are doing pre-completion OPT, you can work up to 20 hours during the academic semester but full-time during the summer and winter break.
How long can I work on OPT?
You are eligible for a total of 12 months of OPT for each degree level (B.A, M.A., Ph.D.), but this is NOT possible if you receive your M.A. on the way to obtaining your Ph.D. while enrolled in a Ph.D. program. You must specify the dates for your OPT when applying for authorization.
When can I apply for an OPT?
The earliest your application for OPT can be submitted is 90 days prior to your program end date. As OPT is not specific to an employer, you do not need a job offer in order to apply for OPT. It is highly recommended to apply early for OPT. The OPT process can take between two and a half and three months, so be sure to plan ahead.
How can I apply for an OPT?
Please reference the OPT Handout (pdf) and OPT Checklist (pdf) for detailed application instructions.
Students applying for F-1 Post-Completion Optional Practical training (OPT) can now drop off complete
applications at the ISSO in lieu of scheduling an OPT appointment.
PhD Candidates: PhD candidates cannot apply for OPT using the Drop Off Application process. All PhD
candidates applying for Post-Completion OPT must contact the ISSO to schedule an OPT appointment.
How long does it take to get the OPT card?
In 2011, OPT processing times for students were taking two and a half to three months. OPT applications cannot be expedited.
Current average processing times for applications are listed on the http://www.uscis.gov/web site under the Vermont Service Center. This may be helpful to you in knowing how long the VSC is taking to process I-765 applications (work authorization/OPT). Experience tells us that the earlier you file your OPT application, the shorter the processing time on the application due to the number of applications they receive – please plan accordingly!
Should I use e-file?
The ISSO DOES NOT recommend that our students use e-file to apply for OPT. There are many questions regarding the use of this new service for OPT applications. Until the Vermont Service Center provides more information about this to schools, our recommendation is to proceed as we have outlined above and NOT to e-file your application.
Can I use my OPT time before completing my degree?
OPT done before completion of studies must be part-time (no more than 20 hours per week) while school is in session, but can be full-time during vacation periods, such as summer vacation or winter break.
OPT done before you complete your studies will subtract from the total 12 months of OPT available. If pre-completion OPT is done part-time, it will only subtract from the total at half the rate. For example, if you do pre-completion OPT part-time for four months, you will have used two months of your total 12. You must maintain your full-time registration status at all times.
Will my application for OPT Authorization Request subject me to a security check?
OPT applications may be subject to security check procedures and this may delay the processing of your application. If an adjudicating officer decides that your file needs further review, it will be sent to Washington D.C. Security check procedures are considered classified information. Students who have family connections or frequently travel to places that are considered high risk to the U.S. Government may be more likely to undergo security checks. The stated processing time is approximately 30 days, but it can be longer. Security Checks cannot be expedited.
Will I be able to continue working on-campus while on OPT?
Once you have completed your degree, you are no longer eligible for on-campus employment. If you are planning to continue your research/work, you will need the Employment Authorization Document (EAD)/OPT card to cover your dates of employment at Brandeis and your work must be related to your major field of study.
What is my status while my OPT application is pending?
If you do not have a job offer at the time of graduation or at the time of your application for OPT, you are legally allowed to remain in the United States as long as you are actively pursuing employment in the U.S. Although it is highly recommended to secure a job as soon as possible, as long as you are seeking a position, your immigration status in the United States is not in jeopardy.
Am I still considered an F-1 Student while I'm on OPT?
Yes, while on Post-Completion OPT, you are still an F-1 Student Visa Holder and you are still a Brandeis University student for visa purposes.
This means that you are responsible for communicating the following information to the ISSO during the OPT time:
- You must inform the ISSO of any changes in address information within 10 days of moving.
- If you have changed your visa status, you must fax or mail ISSO the copies of your Approval Notice from CIS indicating your new visa status. This must be done within 10 days of receiving the documents from CIS. ISSO will then remove you from SEVIS
- Finally, when you have completed your OPT time, please email the ISSO within 10 days of the end date listed on your EAD card.
Can I travel outside the U.S. while on OPT?
Once the application is approved by CIS, you MUST have an official job offer and the EAD (OPT Card) to present at the Port of Entry in order to return to the United States.
Once the OPT is approved, students can only return to the U.S. to resume employment - this is determined by a job offer. The Department of Homeland Security states, "If your OPT has been approved and you depart before you get a job, your OPT ends and you cannot reenter." However, they have clarified their position to state that you do not need the job offer in order to depart, but you DO need the job offer to reenter the United States.
Traveling to and from the United States without proof of employment during your OPT Authorized period carries a high risk. After you have completed your program, the law [8CFR 214.2(f)(13)(ii)] references the need to show a valid EAD/approved OPT card in order to re-enter. However, recent interpretations from SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) and DOS (Department of State) indicate that re-entry with a pending application is possible. [DOS field cable 2004 State 008466 1/13/2004 AMDOC #200405007]. Because of the conflicting guidance between the law and the interpretation of the law, we are not recommending travel and re-entry after your completion date and while the OPT application is pending unless you have a valid job offer. One never knows when CIS will adjudicate the OPT application and it is a high risk to travel without proper documentation. Once the application is approved, it is clear that both a job offer and the EAD is needed (see below).
We recommend reviewing and even printing out the information on line from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) regarding travel on OPT (section 2.N and 2.O) http://www.ice.gov/sevis/travel/faq_f2.htm
Please note that since OPT is essentially an extension of your Student visa, your F-1 U.S. entry visa must be valid upon entry into the U.S.
Will I still be eligible for Student Health Insurance while on post-completion OPT?
You will no longer be eligible for the student health insurance plan after August of your graduation year. If your employer will not be providing you with coverage, the ISSO has resources in the office for short term health plans. A few of the more popular companies are: International SOS, HTH Worldwide, The Gateway Plans, T.W. Lord & Associates (1-800-633-2360), Compass Benefits Group, The Harbor Group, etc. We recommend that you review rates and plans carefully to ensure your full knowledge of the coverage.