Optional Practical Training (OPT)

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

OPT can be done as Pre-Completion (before completion of your Brandeis degree program) or Post-Completion (after completion of your degree program). Pre-Completion OPT can be authorized full-time or part-time and any OPT time completed before program completion will subtract from the total 12 months of OPT available. Part-time pre-completion OPT time will subtract at half the rate. You must maintain full-time enrollment during pre-completion OPT. Post-Completion OPT is authorized full-time. 

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

Apply for OPT

F-1 visa holders may be eligible for OPT if they have been enrolled as a full-time student for at least two consecutive terms (fall/spring - summer does not count). OPT is not specific to an employer, therefore you do not need a job offer in order to apply. The earliest USCIS will accept a post-completion OPT application is 90 days before your program end date.

ISSO highly recommends that you apply as early as possible for post-completion OPT, as the application can take up to 5 months for processing once submitted to USCIS. Current average processing times for applications are listed on the USCIS website.

OPT Online Application

You must be physically present 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. Once you receive your new I-20, you will assemble your paper OPT application to mail to United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS). For immigration purposes you will continue to be considered an F-1 student visa holder and a Brandeis University student as long as you maintain your F-1 OPT status.

You are permitted to remain in the U.S. while your OPT application is pending. However, after your program end date you may not work on or off campus until your OPT has been approved and you have received your EAD card.

Refer to our OPT application checklist to make sure you have a complete application mailed to USCIS. You may refer to our supplemental guide in addition to USCIS's instructions on completing the USCIS form I-765 for Employment Authorization.

Title screen: Preparing Your OPT Application

Preparing your OPT Application

Title screen: Post-Completion OPT Filing & Responsibilities

Post-Completion OPT Filing & Responsibilities

Post-Completion OPT Timeline

USCIS will accept your application only within this time range (between 90 days before completion date and 60 days after). 

View a visual representation of post-completion OPT timeline

Helpful Information

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Maintaining F-1 Status During OPT
  • Not accumulate more than 90 days of unemployment during your entire 12 months of post-completion OPT. Unemployment time begins to accrue after your OPT start date as written on your EAD card if you have no reported employment (not while your application is pending).

  • Work at least 20 hours a week - OPT employment positions can be paid, unpaid, regular, internship or volunteer experiences as long as it is directly related to your major field(s) of study. You can hold more than one position as long as all positions are related to your field of study and it adds up to a minimum of 20 hours per week. For pre-completion OPT, you can work up to 20 hours per week during the academic semester (fall/spring) and full-time during break periods.

  • Abide by all U.S. laws and OPT regulations while participating in OPT.

  • Reporting any and all changes to your address or employment information through the SEVP OPT Portal within 10 days of the change. See section on reporting employment and address changes below for more information.

  • Email the ISSO regarding any updates or changes to visa status within 10 days of the change.

A Note of Caution to F-1 Students: Do not begin any off-campus employment (paid or unpaid) without first obtaining employment authorization.  Working off-campus without obtaining employment authorization is a serious violation of F-1 student status.

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Travel and OPT
Documents required for re-entry to the U.S. before departing

How risky is travel outside of the U.S. before my program completion date while my 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 U.S. after I complete my program and while my 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 the U.S. 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.

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Reporting Employment and Address Changes While on OPT

As of March 23, 2018, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) launched the SEVP Portal. The portal is a tool that F-1 students on post-completion optional practical training (OPT) can use to report changes to their home address, telephone number and employer information. You will receive an automated email from SEVP with an invitation to create an account after your OPT has been approved. For more information about the SEVP Portal, visit the Study in the States website.

Any updates to employment or address information should be made within 10 days of the change. 

If you need an updated I-20 based on new employer information, please request a print of your I-20 after submitting your update to the Portal.