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What is OPT?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a benefit of the F-1 student visa.  OPT is an extension of the F-1 student status that allows F-1 students to work in the United States in order to gain experience in their field(s) of study.

OPT can be done as Pre-Completion (before completion of your Brandeis program) or Post-Completion (after completion of your Brandeis program). Pre-Completion OPT can be authorized full-time or part-time. Post-Completion OPT is authorized full-time.

For students with STEM designated majors, they will have the opportunity to apply for an extension, called the STEM extension, provided that they meet all requirements.

Who is eligible to apply for OPT?

F-1 visa holders may be eligible for OPT if they have been enrolled as full-time students for at least two consecutive terms (fall/spring - summer does not count). 

How can I apply for an OPT?

ISSO OPT applications are submitted online. F-1 visa holders applying for OPT must be physically in the U.S. at the time of submitting the complete OPT application to USCIS.

After submitting the online application to the ISSO, you will be issued a new I-20 with recommendation for OPT. You will pick your new OPT I-20 up at the ISSO, at which point you will then assemble your paper OPT application to mail to United States Citizenship  & Immigration Services (USCIS). Refer to our checklist for the list of documents needed to submit.

PhD candidates should schedule an appointment with an ISSO advisor before submitting the ISSO online OPT application.

Do I have to have a job to apply for OPT?

No. Optional Practical Training is not specific to an employer, therefore you do not need a job offer in order to apply.

When can I apply for OPT?

The earliest you can apply for post-completion OPT is 90 days before your program end date (usually Commencement or the day PhD candidates deposit the thesis). The ISSO highly recommends that you apply as early as possible for post-completion OPT. You may apply for pre-completion OPT if you are not eligible for a CPT.

How long does it take to get the OPT card?

OPT application processing is currently taking 4-5 months.  OPT applications typically cannot be expedited unless you can show you are eligible for an expedite request via the USCIS Customer Service Center. 

Current average processing times for applications are listed on the www.uscis.gov website under the Vermont Service Center. 

Can I track the status of my OPT application?

You may check the status of your application on the USCIS website.  Enter the EAC# on your Receipt Notice.  If you have not received a receipt notice within 4 weeks, please contact the ISSO. If approved, USCIS will send your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card to the address you listed on your I-765.  If USCIS has a question regarding your application before approval, they can issue a “Request for Evidence”. If you receive such a request please contact the ISSO and for advice on how to proceed.

Can I cancel my OPT after I've sent it to USCIS?

Yes, as long as your OPT application has been receipted and is still pending. You cannot cancel or withdraw your application if your OPT application has already been approved or the EAD card has been issued.

To cancel, please email the ISSO with a letter of withdrawal. Please use this letter as an example. The ISSO will then contact USCIS requesting permission to cancel on your behalf. Please note that it is not guaranteed that USCIS will cancel your OPT application. 

What if my EAD Card gets lost in the mail or is never delivered?

Please contact the ISSO immediately and we will assist you in contacting USCIS.

Be sure to first track your application with your receipt number to find out if there are any updates. 

Will my OPT application 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 DC. 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.

How do I fill out the I-765 application form?

Please see Form I-765 Instructions as well as our supplemental guide.

What is my program completion date?

For Undergraduate and Master’s students who earn the degree in May: Your completion date is typically your graduation date.

For December Undergraduate and Master’s Graduates:  Although you will receive your actual diploma in February, your completion date will be the last day of finals in December. This is the date that you will have completed all course requirements for the degree.  IMPORTANT NOTE: if you plan to travel over winter break, see section on travel for guidance so that you can plan accordingly.

For Doctoral students: Your completion date is when you submit your final dissertation to the department after all revisions have been made.  You need to consult with your department to determine when they will consider you completed with all requirements for your degree.  Your advisor will certify your completion date on the Advisor’s Recommendation form.  You must be registered as a full-time student in the semester that the dissertation will be handed in for completion, including summer registration.   Please also consult the University Bulletin for a guideline of when the university requires that dissertations be deposited.  In many cases, this will be your completion date for immigration purposes.

Question to help you select your OPT start date:

a.) Are you planning to move after graduation?  If so, you may need a week or two to get settled

b.) Do you need additional time to search for a job after you graduate? According to the regulations, you should not accumulate 90 days total of unemployment during your 12 months of post-completion OPT.  The unemployment time is accrued when your EAD card is valid, not while your OPT application is pending. If you are able to find an internship or a volunteer experience in your major field of study, as long as you are working at least 20 hours a week, this counts as employment.

c.) If you choose a late start date, do you have enough finances to cover you while waiting for a later start date?  Since the regulations now state that students should not accumulate 90 days of unemployment during their OPT, you may choose a later start date to allow more time to find a job.  However, you need to consider how long you can live in the U.S. without being able to work.  Also, if you receive a job offer with an earlier start date than you have chosen for your OPT, you will have to advise your employer as to when your OPT authorization will start.

d.) Do you have travel plans outside of the U.S.?  See the OPT FAQs on travel.

What is my visa status while my OPT application is pending?

OPT is an extension of your F1 status.  You will continue to hold F-1 status while your OPT application is pending. You are legally allowed to remain in the US while your OPT application is pending as long as you are actively pursuing employment in the US. After graduation, you are NOT allowed to work on or off campus while your OPT application is pending.

What is my visa status while I'm on OPT?

During approved Post-Completion OPT, you are still an F-1 student visa holder and you are still a Brandeis University student for visa purposes as long as you are maintaining your visa status.

How do I maintain my F-1 status during OPT?

To be sure you are maintaining your F1 status under post-completion OPT, you should:

  • Not accumulate more than 90 days of unemployment during your entire 12 months of post-completion OPT.  Unemployment time is accrued when your OPT card is valid, not while your OPT application is pending.
  • Work at least 20 hours a week.  Positions under OPT can include jobs, internships or a volunteer experience in your field of study.  Positions under OPT can be paid or non-paid.  You can hold more than one position, as long as all positions are directly related to your academic program/major field of study, and add up to a minimum of 20 hours a week.
  • It is VITALLY IMPORTANT to abide by all U.S. laws and OPT regulations while participating in OPT. Failure to do so may result in your being designated as out of status and subject to removal from the United States.        
  • If you rely on recruitment agencies to obtain your job placements on OPT, you should ensure those agencies are trustworthy and reputable. Reputable recruiters will not modify a student’s resume or academic background to secure OPT placement.
  • If you encounter fraudulent activity tied to OPT, you should contact the ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) tip line at 1-866-DHS-2ICE or www.ICE.gov/tips. Victims and witnesses of criminal activity may be eligible for immigration relief.

  • You are responsible for reporting the following information using the SEVP portal (you will be given instructions to create an account once your OPT has been approved):

        - Update your U.S address within 10 days of your move

        - Update your employment information within 10 days of beginning your new job

        - Update any change in visa status by emailing the ISSO with scans of your USCIS Approval Notice indicating your new visa status OR your I-94 card and visa indicating your new visa status within 10 days of receiving the USCIS documentation or re-entering the US in the new status.

How long can I work on OPT?

F-1 visa holders may be eligible for a total of 12 months of OPT for each degree level (BA, MA, PhD), 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 will specify the start date and end date of your OPT on your ISSO Online OPT Application.

Can I work full time on OPT?

For post-completion OPT, you can work as little or as may hours as your employer(s) require, however your total hours must equal 20 hours or more per week.

For pre-completion OPT, you can work up to 20 hours during the academic semester (fall/spring) and full-time during the summer and winter breaks.

Can I work for more than one employer under OPT?
Yes. OPT authorization allows you to work for one or more employers as long as your primary duties and responsibilities for all jobs are related to your field of study.
Should I use e-file?

The ISSO DOES NOT recommend that Brandeis 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 NOT to e-file your application.

Can I use OPT before completing my degree?

Yes. For pre-completion OPT, you can work up to 20 hours during the academic semester (fall/spring) and full-time during the summer and winter breaks.

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 full-time enrollment status at all times.

Pre-completion OPT for Ph.D. students: An exception is made for Ph.D. students who would like to pursue full-time OPT while they are in post-residency status at Brandeis. If you have completed all course work, if you have permission from your faculty advisor, and if you maintain all on-going requirements of your doctoral program, you may apply for Pre-Completion Full-Time OPT in your major field of study. If you complete all 12 months of OPT during this pre-completion period, you are not eligible for post-completion OPT.
What is the five-month rule?

According to SEVP regulations, in order to maintain your F-1 visa status, you need to be enrolled as a full-time student and to maintain a physical presence in the U.S.  You cannot  be outside of the U.S. for more than five months unless you are in an authorized Study Abroad experience (taking classroom-based courses abroad) as part of your program at Brandeis. 

If you are pursuing dissertation research abroad, or pursuing a practicum abroad, and you are outside of the U.S. for more than five months, this is NOT considered Study Abroad for purposes of maintaining your F-1 visa status under the five-month rule.

If you are out of the United States for more than five consecutive months, this is considered a break in your visa status.  In order for you to return, the ISSO would need to issue you a new I-20 with a new SEVIS number, and you would once again be in initial status.  This has important implications for you if you plan to apply for OPT.  If there is a break in your visa status, you would need to be enrolled for two more semesters as a full-time student after your return to the U.S. in order to be eligible to apply for OPT.  Students who want to maintain eligibility for OPT should plan to not be outside of the U.S. for more than five consecutive months. 

How risky is travel outside of the US before my program completion date while the OPT application is either pending or approved?

Low risk.  You do not need a job offer or OPT Card (EAD) in order to travel, as long as you return to the U.S. before you have completed degree requirements.  In order to be readmitted in F-1 visa status, you need a “valid academic reason” to return.  Attending a graduation ceremony is not considered an “academic reason”.  However, finishing classes, exams, or defending your thesis are examples of a “valid academic reason”. 

If your application is pending, you should bring the application Receipt Notice from USCIS with you when you travel.  If the application is approved, we advise you to bring your EAD card and job offer letter, if available.

How risky is travel outside of the US after I complete my program and while the OPT application is pending?

High risk.   After you have completed your program, the law [8CFR 214.2(f)(13)(ii)] references the need to show a valid OPT card (EAD) in order to re-enter the United States.  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 conflicting guidance between the law and the interpretation of the law, we do not recommend travel and re-entry after your completion date and while the OPT application is pending unless you have a valid job offer.  Once the application is approved, it is clear that both a job offer and the EAD is needed.   We recommend reviewing and even printing out the information online from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) regarding travel on OPT.

How risky is travel outside of the US after I complete my degree and my OPT card has been approved but I don't have a job offer?
High risk.  Once the OPT application is approved by USCIS, you MUST have an official job offer and the OPT Card (EAD) to present at the Port of Entry 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 (DHS) states, “If your OPT has been approved and you depart before you get a job, your OPT ends and you cannot reenter.”  DHS has 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 U.S.
What documentation do I need to travel outside the U.S. while on OPT?

Since OPT is essentially an extension of your F-1 student visa, your F-1 U.S. entry visa must be valid upon every entry into the US.

After you complete your degree requirements, you will need the following to re-enter the U.S.:

a) Travel Signature on your I-20 that is less than six (6) months old.

b) Offer letter from your employer to prove that you have a job to resume when you return to the U.S. or an offer letter to show that you will begin a job upon your return to the U.S. 

c) Financial documentation: If you have a low-paying job or unpaid internship, it is highly recommended to carry financial documentation with you to show you have sufficient finances to live in the U.S.  Offer letters should contain salary information

d) F-1 visa in your passport that will be valid on the day you plan to return to the U.S. If your visa stamp will be expired, you will need to renew it at a US consulate or embassy while outside the U.S.

e) OPT Employment Authorization Document (EAD, also known as “OPT Card”)

f) Valid Passport

g) It is also highly recommended that you carry your diploma or transcripts or certification of completion from Brandeis.

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 plan to continue your research/work on-campus, you will need the OPT card (EAD) to cover the dates of employment at Brandeis and your work must be related to your major field of study.

What is the 24-Month OPT STEM Extension?

F-1 students who have received a degree in the US in a STEM field (sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics) may be eligible to obtain an extension of their existing post-completion OPT for up to 24 months, for a maximum period of post-completion OPT of 36 months.  The extension is available only to students who are employed or will be employed by an E-verify employer in good standing with the USCIS, their employer completes a training plan for them (Form I-983) and who have obtained a degree in a "STEM" field - Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Students receiving the 24-month OPT STEM extension may not accumulate an aggregate of 150 days of unemployment during any period of post-completion OPT. See STEM Extension for F-1 OPT for more info.

What is the OPT CAP-GAP Extension?

Students whose employer filed an H-1B application with USCIS in a timely manner and whose H-1B petition was selected and approved, can be granted a Cap-Gap extension that enables them to remain in the U.S. and work using their OPT until September 30th of the fiscal year for which the H-1B visa was requested.  For students whose H-1B visa petition is denied, you would only be able to work until the end date on your OPT card, at which time you would have a 60-day grace period in which to depart the U.S.  See H-1B Cap-Gap Extension for more info.