Optional Practical Training (OPT)
If you are a student on an F-1 Visa and will be completing a course of study, you may be eligible for 12 months of employment through Optional Practical Training (OPT). Unlike CPT, OPT does not require a job offer to apply. Students on an F-1 Visa are eligible to apply for 12 months of OPT for each level of higher education they complete.
If you meet the following requirements, you are eligible for OPT:
- You have been a full-time F-1 student in good standing for at least 1 full academic year.
- You are currently maintaining F-1 status.
- Your proposed work is directly related to your major area of study. If you are starting a business, the majority of the work you perform must be directly related to your major area of study.
An F-1 student may be authorized up to a total of 12 months of full-time practical training at each educational level (e.g., undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate).
If the student chooses to engage in pre-completion OPT, he or she may not work more than 20 hours per week while school is in session, but may work full-time during his or her annual vacation and other times when the school is not in session.
If a student engages in pre-completion OPT, the student’s eligible period of post-completion OPT will be reduced when he or she graduates.
Students who graduate with a qualified Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) degree, and are currently in an approved post-completion OPT period based on a designated STEM degree may apply for a 24-month STEM extension of their post-completion OPT. STEM designated degree list
Applications for OPT can be submitted up to 90 days prior to the completion of your program but must be received by USCIS no later than 60 days after the completion of your program.
It takes approximately 90 days for USCIS to process OPT applications. In general, it is recommended that you apply for OPT as close as possible to 90 days prior to the completion of your program.
Because your 12 months of OPT must be completed within 14 months of the completion of your academic program, applying early is the best way to prevent you from losing any of your 12 months of OPT eligibility.
OPT employment authorization is granted by the United States Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS). To apply for OPT you must:
Request a recommendation for OPT from the Office of International Programs with your DSO at the International Programs office to obtain this recommendation on your I-20.
- Visit https://myaccount.uscis.gov/
- Create a USCIS online account
- After creating your account check your email for a code from MyAccount@uscis.dhs.gov that you will use to log in.
- Log back in and create your password.
- Choose your verify method: email is recommended.
- Select to log into your "My USCIS"
- For account type, select "I am an applicant, petitioner, or requester"
- Select "File a Form Online"
- Select "I-765, Application for Employment Authorization"
- Select "Start Form"
- Select your eligibility category
- C3A for pre-completion OPT (OPT used during your academic program)
- C3B for post-completion OPT (OPT used after graduation)
- C3C for STEM OPT extension (used only for students on an active period of post-completion OPT and meeting all other STEM OPT extension requirements)
- Select you reason for applying as "Initial permission to accept employment"
- Note: Your draft will auto save as you work your way through the application but you must complete and submit it within 30 days of the date you received your Form I-20 with OPT recommendation.
- Complete the About you section. Some helpful reminders for this section:
- Make sure that your name matches your I-20 and passport name
- Make sure that your mailing address is an address where you will be able to receive your EAD card at a later date
- Make sure that your date of birth uses the format Month/Day/Year
- Make sure that your travel information that you enter matches your I-94 Travel history, your I-94 can be accessed here
- Complete Evidence Section. Some helpful hints for this section:
- Make sure that all documents are saved and uploaded as PDF, JPEG, PNG only
- Under 2X2 photo section, make sure to upload a passport style photo
- Under Form I-94 section make sure that you upload your most recent I-94. You can get your most recent I-94 form
- Under Employment Authorization Document or Government ID section, you should upload your passport and any previously issued EAD cards if applicable
- Under Employment Authorized CPT or OPT section, upload any Form I-20s that show previously issued CPT or OPT, and upload any previously issued EAD cards if you have been approved for OPT previously
- Under I-20 Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status section, upload your Form I-20 that has your OPT recommendation endorsed by your DSO on page two. Upload all three pages of your Form I-20
- IMPORTANT: This is not just your most recent Form I-20, this Form I-20 must have the OPT recommendation on it from your DSO at the International Programs office. You would have needed to apply to the International Programs office in order to receive this Form I-20. If you are unsure, do not proceed until talking to the International Programs office.
- For STEM OPT applicants there will be additional documents requested such as proof of your STEM College degree and Institution accreditation
- Complete Review and Submit section
- Check that all of your information is correct before submitting. You can download the draft snapshot and send it to the International Programs office to review with you before you submit your application. Once you submit your application you cannot make corrections.
- After you submit your application and agree to the applicant statement you will be redirected to pay.gov to make your payment. You must finalize the payment in order for the application to be considered complete. Until payment is received by USCIS your application will not be considered. You may pay by bank transfer (ACH) or via a debit/credit card issued by a US bank. The US billing address provided must match the details on your bank/credit card account.
- After you submit you will receive a confirmation, select "go to my cases" to see your receipt notice. Remember to check in your account periodically for Requests for Evidence (RFEs) and the final decision letter.
- Let the International Programs office know once you have completed your application.
OPT employment authorization is granted by the United States Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS). To apply for OPT you must:
Request a recommendation for OPT from the Office of International Programs. Schedule an appointment with your DSO at the International Programs office to obtain this recommendation on your I-20.
Prepare and send the following documents to United States Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS):
- A Cover Letter detailing the enclosed documents.
- A completed Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization.
- The most recent version of the form and instructions can be downloaded from the USCIS website
- Please note, the eligibility code for a F-1 student applying for post-completion OPT is (c)(3)(B).
- A photocopy of Form I-20 with OPT recommendation
- Photocopy of F-1 Visa page of passport (does not apply to Canadian citizens).
- Photocopy of biographical page of passport.
- Photocopies of all previously issued Form I-20's.
- Photocopy of Form I-94 (Admission Number) or printout of electronic I-94.
- Photocopy of previously issued Employment Authorization Document (if applicable).
- Check or money order for $410 made out to "U.S. Department of Homeland Security."
- The processing fee for Form I-765 is subject to change. Please verify the correct amount before sending.
- Completed form G-1145.
- Form G-1145 is a way to sign up to receive text message and email notifications of the status of your OPT application. It is optional but highly recommended. The form can be found on the USCIS website
- Two identical color 2x2 inches photographs with your name and I-94 number written lightly on the backs.
- Photos must meet frontal passport specifications and should be on a white background taken no earlier than 30 days prior to submitting your OPT application.
- Please note that the photos must meet the following criteria:
- In color, printed on photo quality paper
- 2 x 2 inches (51 x 51 mm) in size
- Must be taken within the last 6 months to reflect your current appearance
- Framed with full face, front view, eyes open
- Make sure photo presents full head from top of hair to bottom of chin; height of head shoulder measure 1 inch to 13/8 inch (25 mm to 35mm)
- Center head within frame
- Make sure eye level is between 11/8 inch and 13/8 inch (28 mm and 35mm) from bottom of photo
- Photographed against a plain white or off-white background
- Ensure positioning and lighting does not create distracting shadows on the face or background
- Have a natural expression
- Wear clothing you would normally wear on a daily basis (no uniforms, etc)
Mailing in your OPT application
It is your responsibility to mail your application to USCIS. It is highly recommended that you use an express courier service (FedEx, UPS) or certified mail through the United States Postal Service.
Visit the USCIS website for mailing address.
Your OPT application must be received by USCIS no later than 30 days from the date your OPT-endorsed Form I-20 was issued. Failure to do so will result in the denial of your OPT application.
Address Change If your mailing address changes while you are waiting for your OPT application to be approved, it is extremely important that you update your address with USCIS. You can update your address online
Connect with your Career Center Advisor for assistance with finding jobs help with your resume and exploring career opportunities.
Traveling before receiving your EAD card
If personal circumstances require you to travel outside of the U.S. while your application is pending, it is important that you travel with the appropriate documents.
If you have not completed your degree by the time you plan on returning to the U.S. travel with the following documents:
- Your passport (valid 6 months into the future from the date you plan to enter the U.S.)
- A valid Form I-20 with a travel signature no more than 6 months old
- A valid F-1 Visa stamp - If you have completed your degree by the time you plan to return to the U.S. travel with the following documents:
- Your passport valid 6 months into the future from the date you plan to enter the U.S.
- A Form I-797C (notice of receipt of OPT application from USCIS)
It is extremely important that you do not begin employment until you have physically received your EAD card from USCIS. Failure to do so is a violation of your F-1 status.
Once your OPT has been approved, federal regulations require you to report the following information to the Visa Specialist:
- A copy of your EAD card
- Name of your employer
- Start date of employment
- Mailing address of your employer
- Your current address
If any of this information changes, you are required to notify International Programs by completing the OPT reporting form within 10 days. Failure to do so is a violation of terms of your F-1 Visa.
F-1 visa regulations allow students to apply for OPT without having an employer. For students who remain in the United States on post-completion OPT, their legal status depends on being employed.
OPT employment may be paid or unpaid, full-time or part-time, and includes self-employment.
Students on post-completion OPT may not accrue an aggregate of more than 90 days of unemployment within the approved dates of OPT as listed on the Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
All OPT employment, including post-completion OPT employment, is required to be related to the student’s degree program. The following list describes acceptable forms of employment:
- Paid employment: Students may work part time (at least 20 hours per week when on post-completion OPT) or full time.
- Multiple employers: Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to each individual student’s degree program.
- Short-term multiple employers (performing artists): Students, such as musicians and other performing artists, may work for multiple short term employers (gigs). The student should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates, and the duration.
- Work for hire: This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by the Department of Homeland Security, students should be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
- Self-employed business owner: Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. The student should be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to his or her degree program.
- Employment through an agency or consulting firm: Students on post-completion OPT must be able to provide evidence showing that they worked an average of at least 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.
- Unpaid employment Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this practice does not violate any labor laws. The work should be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. A student should be able to provide evidence, acquired from the student’s employer, to verify that he or she worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.
How to Apply
Contact your DSO in the International Programs Office to discuss your situation before you complete the required documentation. Your DSO will determine your eligibility and assist you in completing and submitting the application to USCIS. The internship must be with a public international organization that falls within the International Organization Immunities Act, as defined in 22 U.S.C. § 288 59 Stat. 669.
Application processing times vary between two to four months. If approved, USCIS will issue an EAD for a maximum of one year. Do not begin working until you receive the EAD. You may work part-time or full-time but must maintain a full course of study in F-1 status during your employment. This employment does not affect your eligibility for Optional Practical Training (OPT). Employment authorization is automatically terminated if you fail to maintain status or transfer to another school. Required documentation includes:
- Form I-765 (write (c)(3)(ii) in item 16)
- Photocopies of any previously-issued EAD cards.
- Photocopy of visa page
- Photocopy of passport identification page
- Job offer letter and written certification from the international organization that your employment is within the scope of their sponsorship
- Photocopy of I-94 card (front and back)
- Two passport style photos
- Photocopy of Form I-20, with DSO recommendation for employment with an international organization
- $410 fee (make your check or money order payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security)
Your employer may suggest or require that you change to G-1 status, a non immigrant status reserved for employees of international organizations. If you change your status, your eligibility for benefits based on your F-1 status may be affected. You should consult the International Programs Office for more information.
The STEM OPT extension is a 24-month period of temporary training that directly relates to an F-1 student's program of study in an approved STEM field. Eligible F-1 students with STEM degrees who finish their program of study and participate in an initial period of regular post-completion OPT (often for 12 months) have the option to apply for a STEM OPT extension. Students may not apply for STEM OPT extensions during the 60-day grace period following an initial period of regular post-completion OPT.
To be eligible for the 24-month extension, you must meet the following requirements:
- You apply for the OPT STEM extension before the current Post-Completion OPT expires.
- You have earned or completed all coursework towards a degree (bachelor’s or higher) in a qualifying STEM field. The list of qualifying STEM degrees and the corresponding CIP code can be reviewed at this link. You must ensure that the CIP code listed on your form I-20 is in the approved list, do not rely on the major name listed on your I-20.
- You have previously applied for no more than one OPT STEM extension based on a lower degree level.
- Your employer is registered in the E-Verify program and has an E-Verify number.
- Employment during the STEM extension must be paid and at least 20 hours per week.
- The STEM employer must provide you with formal training and learning objectives.
To apply for a STEM extension, please email the International Programs Office for a copy of the OPT STEM Extension Application Guide.