Optional Practical Training (OPT)

What is OPT?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is 12-month work authorization available to F-1 international students who have been full-time students for at least two consecutive semesters and plan to seek employment in the United States in their field of study. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is responsible for granting authorization for OPT. Looking for information about the 24-month STEM OPT Extension? Click here.

Eligibility

You are required to meet all the following criteria to be eligible to apply for OPT:

  • You have attended an OPT Information Session.
  • You are currently in F-1 status.
  • You have been enrolled in a full course of study for one academic year (two semesters) or will complete one academic year by the date the OPT approval begins. Some students who have changed their visa status to F-1 and who have been continuously enrolled in a full-time degree program for at least 1 academic year at a SEVP approved school may qualify for OPT prior to 1 year in F-1 status. See an International Student Advisor for more information.
  • You have not been authorized for a total of 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT). Part-time CPT does not affect OPT.
  • You do not need a job offer first; you can apply for the 12-month OPT authorization without a job offer.
  • You have not previously completed 12 months of OPT at the same degree level.
  • You are eligible for 12 months of full-time OPT per academic level, when changing to a higher educational level. For example, you may apply for 12 months of OPT after completing a bachelor’s degree and then another 12 months after completing a master’s degree.
  • You may apply for OPT authorization during your academic program, after your program completion, or a combination of both.

Apply

The International Students and Scholars Office provides information about OPT, but we do not approve the application or have the authority to influence the process. If there is a request for information, or to correct a problem, USCIS will notify you of the request and it is your responsibility to contact your assigned International Student Advisor and respond to the request on time. During your pending OPT application and after the OPT approval by USCIS, F-1 students will remain in F-1 status under the I-20 sponsorship of CPP.

  • The “start date” is the date your work permission begins. You cannot work earlier than the start date, but you can start working later.
  • Changing the requested OPT dates after the application has been mailed to USCIS can be very difficult. Choose your dates carefully.
Click here to use Date Calculator

You can also download an excel sheet to plan your OPT dates from the Study in the States website. 

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  • US passport photo requirement
  • Lightly print your name and the I-94 number on the back of each photo in pencil. Do not use ink pen
  • Place the photos in a small clear sandwich or snack bag

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  • Check the current amount
  • Personal Check, Cashier’s Check or Money Order are acceptable. NO CASH
  • Make the fee payable to: U.S. Dept of Homeland Security

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The OPT Application Day workshop will be held online via Zoom

  • Sign up for the workshop to receive the Zoom login instructions to your CPP email
  • Registration deadline: one day before each session

Location and Time

  • Location: Online
  • Time: 3 - 4 PM

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  • Review your OPT application packet with your International Student Advisors
Bring the following documents to the OPT Application Day:
  • Form G-1145, e-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance
  • Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization
  • Copy of most recent passport picture page
  • Copy of most recent F-1 visa page and most recent U.S. entry stamp
  • Copy of I-94
  • Copy of previously issued EAD (if applicable)
  • Copy of OPT I-20 (it will be given to you during the OPT Application Day)
  • Application fee
  • Two U.S. passport photos
Location and Time
  • Location: Online
  • Time: 3 - 4 PM

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For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Deliveries
USCIS
P.O. Box 21281
Phoenix, AZ 85036

For FedEx, UPS, and DHL deliveries:
USCIS
Attn: NFB AOS
1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S
Suite 100
Phoenix, AZ 85034

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Employment

During the period of OPT authorization, you should be employed at least 20 hours per week in activities directly related to your major. It is your responsibility to evaluate how a job relates to your major area of study. International Student Advisers CANNOT review job descriptions to assess if they are related to your studies.

There are limits to what jobs count as employment and the following employment options are allowed:

  • Multiple employers: you may work in your field of study for more than one employer.
  • Short-term multiple employers (performing artists): musicians and other performing artists may work for multiple short-term employers (gigs). Keep a list of all positions, dates, and duration.
  • Work for hire: contract employment in your field of study
  • Employment in your field of study through an agency or consulting firm.
  • Volunteer service: you may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern in your field of study as long as this does not violate any labor laws.

Unemployment

You cannot exceed 90 days of unemployment between the start and end date of your post-completion OPT authorization (the dates on your EAD).

  • Each day (including weekends) that you do not have qualifying employment counts as a day of unemployment. There is no grace period after 90 days of unemployment.
  • Prior to reaching the unemployment limit, you should prepare to transfer to another school, change education level, depart the U.S., or change to a different immigration status.

Reporting Requirements

The U.S. government checks that students with OPT authorization are engaged in practical training experience (work/internships/unpaid professional experience) related to their major area of study. If you do not report your practical training/employment, the U.S. government may cancel your F-1 SEVIS record 90 days after the OPT start date printed on your EAD card. This cancels OPT authorization and requires you to leave the U.S.

Report your OPT employment updates using the SEVP OPT reporting portal. Learn about the portal on the SEVP Portal Help page.

Report the following changes using the SEVP Portal:

Email your assigned International Student Advisor and request help with the following SEVP portal issues:

  • Reset password or change your email address
  • Unlocking a locked portal account
  • Never received the link to set up your account

Email your assigned International Student Advisor to report the following changes:

  • Final departure from the U.S. (if earlier than your OPT end date)

Travel

Frequently Asked Questions

WHAT HAPPENS IF I MOVE AFTER I MAIL MY OPT APPLICATION?

The only way to change the address USCIS uses for your OPT-related mail is to submit an
official change of address to USCIS using their website tools. The U.S. Postal Service can’t forward official government mail (like OPT cards) to a new address.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET APPROVED FOR OPT?

Between 3-5 months from the date USCIS receives your application, though it can be faster depending on the time of year.

I HAVE HEARD THERE IS A 60-DAY GRACE PERIOD AFTER I GRADUATE TO DEPART THE U.S. DO I HAVE TO LEAVE IF THE GOVERNMENT HASN'T FINISHED MY OPT PROCESSING?

No. The 60-day grace period does not apply to students who are waiting for the government to process their OPT application. As long as your application arrived by the government’s deadlines, you can stay in the US and wait until it is processed.

WHAT IS MY IMMIGRATION STATUS WHILE MY OPT IS PENDING?

You are still an F-1 Student while your OPT application is pending. OPT is a benefit of F-1 status, it is not a new visa type or status.

IF I CHANGE MY MIND AND DECIDE NOT TO WORK, CAN I CANCEL MY OPT AUTHORIZATION?

The answer depends on your situation. If you were issued a new I-20 with the OPT recommendation but have not yet mailed your application to USCIS, contact your assigned International Student Advisor and notify us of your change in plans. The Advisor can cancel the OPT recommendation.
If you have already mailed your application to USCIS, a request can be submitted to USCIS to stop processing. Your application fee will not be returned and we cannot guarantee that your request will be honored. Also, contact your assigned International Student Advisor and notify us of your change in plans.
If you have received your EAD card and wish to cancel the authorization, a cancellation in this situation is highly unlikely. OPT applications are not meant to be canceled.

I DIDN'T SUBMIT MY OPT APPLICATION EARLY ENOUGH, AND I REALIZE I MIGHT NOT GET THE OPT START DATE I REQUESTED. HOW DO I KNOW WHAT DATE USCIS WILL AUTHORIZE?

Unfortunately, it is difficult to estimate. The authorization depends on when the application arrives and the workload at USCIS. If they process your application after your requested start date, they might push back the start date to their day of processing, up to 60 days after your program end date. However, there is no way to predict what date it will be.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO GET THE RECEIPT NOTICE/NOTICE OF ACTION?

Approximately two to three weeks after USCIS receives your application. You might verify with your bank whether your check has been cashed. If so, the NOA is likely on the way.

WHEN I RECEIVE MY EAD CARD, SHOULD I GIVE A COPY TO THE INTERNATIONAL CENTER?

Yes. You can upload a copy online.

WHAT HAPPENS IF MY EAD CARD HAS INCORRECT INFORMATION ON IT?

  1. Wait to receive a job offer so you can show your EAD to your employer. The correction process may require you to mail the incorrect EAD to USCIS. Ideally, you should wait to request the correction after your employer has copied your EAD for hiring purposes.
  2. To correct the EAD, submit a request through the USCIS website to correct a typographic error.

WHAT IF I LOSE MY EAD CARD?

If you lose your card, you must apply and pay for a replacement. Complete a new Form I-765 and resubmit it to USCIS with all supporting documents, including the fee. Submit the ‘Have a Question?’ form and request an updated I-20. We recommend you keep your EAD at home (not in your wallet) because of the expense and time in applying for a replacement.

I AM A GRADUATE STUDENT, AND I HAVE COMPLETED ALL REQUIRED COURSEWORK. I ONLY HAVE THESIS OR DISSERTATION REMAINING. CAN I APPLY FOR OPT AUTHORIZATION TO BEGIN BEFORE I GRADUATE?

You can apply for either pre-completion OPT or post-completion OPT. There are advantages and disadvantages to consider when deciding which option works best for you. We recommend you schedule an appointment with your assigned International Student Advisor to further discuss your options.