What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?
- OPT is off-campus employment authorization that allows F-1 students to gain work experience in the major/field of study in which they are currently studying.
- You may use OPT during (pre-completion) or after (post-completion) your studies.
- The maximum amount of work you are permitted is 12 months of full-time employment for each higher educational level you pursue in the U.S.
- If you work part-time (less than 20 hours per week) before graduation (pre-completion OPT), your work time accrues at ½ rate (for instance, if you work part-time for six months, you’ve only used three months of your OPT).
- Certain majors in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields also qualify for a 24-month extension of OPT after completing their post-completion OPT. Please refer to the STEM OPT page for more information.
Pre- and Post-Completion OPT
When and how can it be used?
Pre-Completion OPT: Full-time or part-time authorization
- During the summer vacation and semester break, you may apply to do either part-time or full-time pre-completion OPT employment.
- While school is in session, you may apply to do part-time pre-completion OPT employment only.
Post-Completion OPT: Full-time authorization
- Applied for during your final semster to begin after the completion of ALL requirements for your course of study.
- Thesis/Dissertation Status: may apply for post-completion OPT if you are in thesis/dissertation status and have met all your degree requirements, except for the thesis/dissertation
How can you qualify for it?
- You must have been enrolled full-time for at least one academic year (spring and fall term).
- You must be able to describe how the type of work you are seeking directly relates to your major. You do not have to have a job offer to apply for OPT, but if you are applying for pre-completion of studies OPT, it is wise that you be as sure as possible of a job so that you don’t waste any of your 12 months of OPT time.
- You may apply for Post-Completion OPT up to 90 days before completion of your program of study, but not later than 60 days after. If you apply within the 60-day period after completion, you are likely not to receive your full 12 month OPT benefit due to USCIS processing times.
- If you have already used 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT), you are not eligible for any OPT.
- For pre-completion OPT, student must have a GPA of 3.0 or above (graduate students) or 2.0 or above (undergraduate students). Students must be in good academic standing and not on academic probation or warning in order to apply.
How do you apply?
Step 1: Make sure you are cleared for graduation by the Registrar’s Office by submitting your application for Candidacy (AC).
Step 2: Submit OPT Request Form via the ISSS Intranet SIte
ISSS processing time is 10 business days.
Step 3: Receive your new I-20
ISSS will issue you a new I-20 with the OPT recommendation. You will receive an email when your new I-20 is ready.
Step 4: Review and sign your I-20
Once you receive your new I-20, sign the I-20 and make a photocopy. You will need the photocopy for your application.
Step 5: Gather and prepare your documents
Gather the documents found on the Pre and Post Completion OPT Checklist.
Step 6: Mail your documents to USCIS
Once you have gathered all your documents, you will mail your package to USCIS. Please refer to the Pre and Post Completion OPT Checklist for additional details.
Applications must be received by USCIS within 30 days of the issuance date on the I-20 and no later than than the end of the 60 day grace period, whichever comes first. Applications received by USCIS after the 30 days will be accepted and adjudicated but will be denied by USCIS at the end of the process. This is the most common reason for denial.
Step 6: Receive USCIS Receipt Notice
USCIS will issue an I-797C Receipt Notice within 2-4 weeks after receiving your application. You can check the status of your case on USCIS.gov.
Contact [email protected] if you receive any other notice, such a Request for Evidence (RFE) or rejection notice, from USCIS.
Step 7: Receive your STEM Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
If your application is approved, USCIS will mail you an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) for OPT, which will list the start and end dates you are authorized to work
Contact [email protected] if you receive any other notice, such a Request for Evidence (RFE), from USCIS.
OPT Resources and Links
- OPT Request Form
- Pre and Post Completion OPT Checklist
- Sample I-765
- OPT Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)