Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an employment option available to students in F-1 status to gain practical experience in their major field(s) of study.
The USCIS website has detailed information about OPT including eligibility and responsibilities for students.
There are three types of OPT:
Pre-completion OPT is work authorization granted before the completion of a degree and may be authorized part-time (up to 20 hours per week) during semesters of required study, and full-time during break periods (summer or winter vacation). Students must maintain full-time enrollment during Pre-Completion OPT. Any OPT time authorized before the student's program completion will be subtracted from the total 12 months of OPT available. Part-time Pre-Completion OPT time will be subtracted at half the rate.
Pre-Completion OPT may be difficult to obtain promptly. Please speak with your ISSO Advisor if you are interested in applying for Pre-Completion OPT.
Post-Completion OPT is work authorization used after the completion of a degree and is authorized full-time for a maximum period of 12 months at each degree level. Ph.D. students may be eligible to apply for Post-Completion OPT after completion of all coursework and/or submission of the dissertation. For more detailed information on Post-Completion OPT please see the information below.
STEM OPT Extension
STEM OPT is a 24-month OPT extension available to STEM majors. For more detailed information on STEM OPT, please see the STEM OPT Extension section of our website.
Post-Completion OPT Process
Stage 1: Before Applying for OPT
Confirm Your OPT Eligibility
To be eligible for OPT you must:
- Be maintaining valid F-1 status
- Have been enrolled full-time for at least two consecutive terms
- Have earned or are enrolled to earn a degree
- Ph.D. students may be eligible to apply for OPT after completion of all coursework and/or submission of the dissertation.
Determine Your Program End Date
The earliest USCIS will accept a Post-Completion OPT application is 90 days before your program end date, that is, the day when you complete all requirements for your degree. You may need to request a change to your program end date if the end date on your Form I-20 is not your actual date of completion.
All employment, including on-campus employment, and TA or RA research positions must end by your actual program completion date unless you have approved OPT for continued employment and the job is in your major field of study. To determine your program end date, see the guidelines below.
- For Spring Semester Undergraduate and Master's Degree Students: The program end date is the graduation/commencement date.
- For Fall Semester Undergraduate and Master's Degree Students: The program end date is the last day of finals in December
- For Doctoral Students: The program end date is usually when you submit your final dissertation. There may be some flexibility in determining a program end date for Ph.D. students. Please consult with your Program/Faculty Advisor and your ISSO Advisor to determine and confirm your program completion date.
Stage 2: Determine Your OPT Timeline
- The earliest date that you can apply for OPT is 90 days before your completion date
- The latest date you can apply for OPT is 60 days after your completion date
- Your OPT start date can be any date between your completion date and 60 days after your completion date.
USCIS will accept your OPT application only 90 days before your completion date and 60 days after your completion date.
VISUAL REPRESENTATION OF POST-COMPLETION OPT TIMELINE
The ISSO recommends that students apply for OPT as early as possible, as the application can take up to 3-5 months to process once submitted to USCIS. Current average processing times for OPT applications are listed on the USCIS website.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) offers Premium Processing for certain F-1 students applying for OPT. Premium Processing provides expedited processing (30 -calendar days) of an OPT application for an additional fee of $1,500 filed with Form I-907.
- Starting now, USCIS will accept requests for a pending Form I-765, for Pre-Completion OPT, and Post-Completion OPT.
- Starting April 3, 2023, USCIS will accept requests for Premium Processing for a new Pre-Completion OPT, and Post-Completion OPT application when a Form I-907 is filed concurrently with the Form I-765. Please note that USCIS will reject any premium processing request for an initial or concurrently filed Form I-765 received before April 3.
We recommend that you give careful consideration prior to submitting a Premium Processing application to USCIS. Given current USCIS processing times. We recommend that you monitor USCIS I-765 processing times and consider the points below before deciding to pay for premium processing:
- The date your OPT application was received by USCIS
- Your requested OPT start date
- Potential travel plans
- Go to USCIS My Account
- Choose “File a Form Online”
- Choose “I-907, Request for Premium Processing Service” in the drop-down menu under “Select the form you want to file online.”
- Click “Start Form”
- Your pending OPT case should display under “Add Premium Processing to a Case."
Stage 3: OPT Application Process
For details go to OPT Application Process.
Stage 4: Maintaining F-1 Status on Post-Completion OPT
While you are on OPT you are still in F-1 status and to maintain status while you are on OPT you must:
- Abide by the Department of Homeland Security OPT regulations while participating in OPT.
- Follow the instructions sent to you from USCIS by email to set up your SEVP Portal.
- The SEVP Portal is an important tool that lets you report your employment information directly to USCIS.
- You should receive the instructions on how to set up your SEVP Portal by email on, or around, your OPT start date.
- Set up your SEVP Portal immediately. If you do not receive the instructions by email, check your spam folders and then contact the ISSO at email@example.com for assistance.
- Report all changes of address or employment information through the SEVP Portal and complete Form AR-11, Alien's Change of Address Card within 10 days of the change.
- If you do not report your employment in the SEVP Portal, your unemployment days will begin to be calculated from your OPT start date.
- Print or save a copy of your SEVP Portal Record. You have access to the SEVP Portal for up to six months after your OPT ends. SEVP encourages you to print or save a copy of your portal record for future reference, including your Event History.
- Request a reprint of your Form I-20 in the ISSO Portal after submitting an employer update to the SEVP Portal to receive an updated Form I-20 with your new employer information.
- Work at least 20 hours a week - OPT employment positions can be paid, unpaid, regular, internship, or volunteer as long as they are 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 hours of employment add up to a minimum of 20 hours per week.
- Do 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 not reported your employment in the SEVP Portal. Unemployment does not accrue while your OPT application is pending.
- Notify the ISSO regarding any updates or changes to your visa status within 10 days of the change by submitting a Change of Visa Status Request in the ISSO Portal.
- Leave the U.S., transfer to a new school, or change your visa status within 60 days after your OPT end date. You have a 60-day grace period to remain in the U.S. to prepare for departure.
OPT Forms and Related Links
Travel on OPT
Students on OPT are still in F-1 status and must continue to be aware of F-1 regulations regarding the maintenance of status.
If you plan to travel while you are on OPT, you will need a valid F-1 visa to return to the U.S. See our section on visa renewal if your visa needs to be renewed. You can refer to our list of Documents Required for Re-entry to the U.S. and you can see more detailed information on travel while on OPT below.
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 Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to travel, as long as you return to the U.S. before you have completed your degree requirements. To be readmitted in F-1 visa status, you will need a “valid academic reason”. (Attending a graduation ceremony is not considered an “academic reason”. However, finishing classes, exams, or defending your thesis are examples of “valid academic reasons.”)
If your OPT application is pending, bring your OPT Receipt Notice with you when you travel. If the OPT application is approved, bring your EAD and a job offer letter, if available.
How risky of travel outside of the U.S. after I complete my program and while my OPT application is pending?
More risk. After you have completed your program, the law [8CFR 214.2(f)(13)(ii)] references the need to show a valid EAD to re-enter the United States. However, recent interpretations from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) and the Department of State (DOS) indicate that re-entry to the U.S. with a pending OPT 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 program completion date and while your OPT application is pending unless you have a valid job offer. Once your OPT application is approved, both a job offer letter and an EAD are needed. We recommend reviewing and printing out the information online from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) regarding travel on OPT.
How risky of travel outside of the U.S. after I complete my degree and my OPT has been approved but I do not have a job offer?
More risk. Once your OPT application is approved by USCIS, you should have an official job offer letter and an EAD to present at the Port of Entry to return to the United States. During an approved OPT period, you can only return to the U.S. to resume employment.
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