Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an employment authorization benefit for F-1 students, allowing students to work in a job directly related to their major area of study for a maximum of 12 months per academic level (STEM students may be eligible for a 24-month STEM OPT Extension). Most students who apply for OPT plan to use their 12-month period of OPT immediately following graduation.
When to apply for OPT
Standard 12-month period of OPT
Generally, students will apply for OPT at the beginning of their final semester since it is most common to use OPT during the 12 months following graduation.
- Earliest date to apply for OPT: 90 days prior to the program end date (for most students, this will be the date of graduation)
- Mid-February for May graduates (please speak to your ISA/DSO for the exact date, based on your date of the completion of your program)
- Mid-September for December graduates (please speak to your ISA/DSO for the exact date, based on your date of the completion of your program)
- Latest date to apply for OPT: 60 days after the program end date
Note that, even though it is possible to apply for OPT after graduation, OPT can take 90 days or more to process so it is generally best to apply as early as possible.
IMPORTANT – you do not need a job or job offer to apply for your 12-month period of standard OPT!
How to apply for OPT
Your International Student Advisor will need to enter the OPT recommendation into your SEVIS record, so you will need to work with your International Student Advisor. To apply for OPT, you will need:
- Determine your desired OPT start date – this date can be no later than 60 days following graduation
- Newly issued I-20 showing the OPT recommendation – you will get this from your International Student Advisor
- Completed form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization – this is a Department of Homeland Security fillable PDF
- For the standard 12-month OPT period, item 16 must indicate: ( c ) ( 3 ) ( B )
- For the 24-month STEM OPT Extension, item 16 must indicate: ( c ) ( 3 ) ( C ) and item 17 must be completed
- Optional cover letter (See sample coverletter)
- Copy of passport ID page
- Photocopy of your F-1 visa
- Print out of I-94 information
- Copy of all previous I-20s
- Copy of any previous EAD (Employment Authorization Document) you may have been issued (for example, if you had a period of OPT based on a previous academic program)
- Two identical passport-style photos (print your name and SEVIS ID lightly in pencil or felt-tip pen on the back) – you can get these at the CUC Connection in the Honnold/Mudd Library
- Processing Fee – $410, check or money order made payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security
- Form G-1145 – this is optional;if you want to receive electronic notification (e-Notification) that your application has been accepted, you must clip this form to the top of your application packet
- Applicants for the 24-month STEM OPT extension must also include a copy of their degree (diploma or transcript)
Within 30 days of the issue date of your new I-20, mail OPT application packet to:
For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) deliveries:
PO Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ 85036
For Express mail and courier deliveries:
1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S
Phoenix, AZ 85034
Note on the I-765 mailing address: If the address on your I-765 is not a California address, you may need to file your application with a different address; please see the USCIS website’s Direct Filing Addresses page(http://www.uscis.gov/i-765-addresses). Be sure to click on “Foreign Students”, to locate the correct address for your application.
Complete instructions for filing form I-765 can be found on the USCIS website (http://www.uscis.gov/i-765)
Types of employment permitted on Post-Completion OPT
In all cases, the job must be related to the student’s program of study and employment must be for at least 20 hours per week:
- Regular paid employment
- Work for hire or contract work
- Volunteer or unpaid work
Note for students with a 24-month STEM OPT Extension: any employer must be registered with E-Verify (http://www.uscis.gov/e-verify).
Reporting Requirements while on Post-Completion OPT
While on OPT, students must report to their International Student Advisor within 10 days of any change to:
- Student name
- Current physical address
- Name of current employer
- Address of current employment
- Start date of current employment
- Date of any interruption or termination of employment
Students with a 24-month STEM OPT Extension have additional reporting requirements:
Reporting Requirements & Maintaining Legal Status during STEM OPT
Please report to your DSO within 10 days of each occurrence:
- any change in your home address each time that you move
- any change in the name AND/OR the address of your employer by submission of a new I-983 form
- the loss of your job at any time during your OPT authorization
- You and your employer agree to submit an I-983 form to update your employment information as soon as a material change occurs and within 10 days of each 12-month evaluation.
- You will “check in” with DSO every 6 months with your current employer’s name.
- Your OPT will end if you accrue a total of 150 days of unemployment (counted from the start of your total OPT period) or if you transfer your SEVIS record to another school.
- As always, you need a valid passport and I-20 at all times to remain in the Unites States. If travelling, you will need an F-1 visa valid 6 months into the future.
Unemployment while on Post-Completion OPT
Students on Post-Completions OPT must be employed at least 20 hours per week. Students who are employed for a total of less than 20 hours per week are considered to be “unemployed” for OPT/F1 status purposes.
Students on their initial 12-month period of standard post-completion OPT may not accrue an aggregate of more than 90 days of unemployment.
Students on their 24-month STEM OPT Extension may not accrue an aggregate of more than 150 days of unemployment during the total OPT period comprising any post-completion OPT carried out under the initial post-completion OPT authorization and the subsequent 24-month STEM OPT Extension period.
Students who are unemployed for more than 90 (or 150 for students on STEM OPT Extension) days are in violation of their immigration status.
Travel while on OPT
Students on post-completion OPT are permitted to return to the U.S. to resume employment. If you are on OPT and are outside of or plan to leave the U.S., and you do not have a job offer at the time of re-entry, it is possible you will not be permitted to re-enter the U.S. Also, if you have an I-20 with a Cap Gap notation and an expired EAD card, it is possible you will not be permitted to re-enter the U.S. The following are required in order to re-enter the U.S. to resume employment under OPT:
- A valid passport
- A valid F-1 visa (unless you are a Canadian citizen)
- Your current original I-20 with a valid travel signature (no older than 6 months). If you need a new travel signature, please contact your DSO well in advance of your anticipated travel date
- Your Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
- Evidence of a job or job offer
You may experience difficulties or even denied re-entry if you try to return to the U.S. without any of the above items. It may also be helpful to travel with your documentation of financial support and a copy of your transcript or other academic record
Completion of OPT
F-1 students can remain in the U.S. for the 60-day grace period after the OPT period ends. Employment is not permitted during the 60-day grace period. Upon departure from the U.S., re-entry during the 60-day grace period as an F-1 student is not permissible.
Students who have reached a total of 90 days unemployment do not have a 60-day grace period and must leave the U.S. immediately.
Upon completion of, or at any time during OPT, students may transfer their F-1 status to another U.S. institution. It is important to note that a transfer of F-1 status prior to the OPT end date automatically cancels any remaining OPT time. Students who want to transfer F-1 status at the end of their OPT simply need to contact their DSO (your DSO will need a copy of your notice of admission to the new program and the name and contact information for the international student advisor at the new school).
Students who have been approved for H1 status and who have a Cap Gap notation on their I-20 are permitted to remain in the U.S. beyond the 60-day grace period.
24-month STEM extension
F-1 students on standard optional practical training based on a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in a qualified STEM field can apply to USCIS for a one-time 24-month extension of post-completion OPT. The student must have a job directly related to the STEM major and the employer must be registered with E-Verify (http://www.uscis.gov/e-verify).
- Earliest date to apply for the 24-month STEM OPT: No more than 90 days before the current OPT expiration date
- Latest date to apply: the application for 24-month STEM OPT must be filed before completion of the current OPT period
- The student can continue to work for 180 days after the original USCIS Employment Authorization Document (EAD) expires if:
- Student filed a Form I-765 for the STEM OPT extension
- USCIS received the Form I-765 for the extension before the EAD for the original post-completion OPT expired
- Please click here for a list of majors that are eligible for the STEM OPT Extension (the CIP code of your major/s can be found on your Form I-20)
- Form I-983 must be completed by the student and employer, and must be submitted to the DSO (international student advisor), in order for the new I-20 to be issued
- The STEM OPT Extension may be issued for a prior STEM degree obtained by the student. USCIS highly recommends sending transcripts with the STEM OPT application if the extension is based on a prior degree.
- Please contact your DSO for more information