Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training for F-1 students

If you are an F-1 student who will be completing a program of study, you may be eligible for 12 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT allows you to gain practical training and experience related to your major field of study.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is responsible for granting authorization for OPT. You are eligible for 12 months of OPT for each higher education level you complete. For example, you are eligible for 12 months of OPT after completing a bachelor’s degree, and then another 12 months of OPT after completing a master’s degree. If your major field of study is in a science, technology, engineering, or a mathematics (STEM) field, you may be eligible for a STEM extension of OPT.

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It is a serious violation of your status to work without authorization. Never work without first receiving authorization.

How to start your application

USCIS allows you to apply for OPT by using either their paper I-765 application form or their online I-765 application form. Both are equally valid methods of applying for OPT, but you may only file one.

No matter which way you apply, make sure you have a new I-20 with an OPT recommendation from our office before you apply.

Through OPT Checklists the OIS provides you with information about when to apply for OPT, how to apply for OPT, and how to maintain your F-1 status while on OPT.

Paper I-765 application

If you choose the paper option, you will send the paper I-765 application to a USCIS lockbox by mail. We can help you review the completed paper application and supporting documents before you mail them to USCIS. You can complete your draft of the paper application and upload it for review before you mail it to USCIS.

To get started, complete the OPT Checklist (Submitting Paper Application) in the F-1 Practical Training menu in Atlas.

Online I-765 application

If you choose the online option, you will submit the I-765 application to USCIS through the USCIS website. We are limited in the assistance we can provide if you choose the online option because we cannot view the online application with you as you complete and submit it.

You will want to review carefully the information we provide and that USCIS includes in their online application process. If you want us to review your application information, you will need to follow the information provided in the OPT Checklist for doing so before you submit your online application and submit your payment to USCIS.

To get started, complete the OPT Checklist (Submitting Online Application) in the F-1 Practical Training menu in Atlas.

When should I apply for Optional Practical Training authorization?

Applications for OPT can be submitted up to 90 days before your expected program completion date. The applications for OPT need to be received by USCIS no later than 60 days after the completion of the academic program requirements.

USCIS will need three to four months to process an OPT application. USCIS lists expected processing times for applications on its website.

The application needs to be received by USCIS no later than 30 days after the OPT I-20 is printed.

You need to wait until you have received the OPT card and the start date on the card is current before beginning any paid or unpaid practical training.

Why you should apply as early as possible

As an F-1 student you are eligible for 12 months of OPT, and those 12 months must be taken within the 14 months following the completion of program requirements.

If it will take three to four months for USCIS to process a request for OPT authorization, and if the application is filed one month after completing the program of study, the OPT authorization will likely not be processed for three months from the date that USCIS receives it. This could result in the loss of approximately two months of OPT, so it is best to apply as soon as possible.

What do I need to do to maintain status while on OPT?

  • You may not begin practical training until you receive the OPT card (Employment Authorization Document or EAD card) and may only work during the dates listed on the card (unless your employer has filed an H-1B petition).
  • After the program end date on your OPT I-20, you may not work anywhere (on or off campus) until you have received your OPT card and the start date on your card is current—even if you were previously authorized to work on campus. At that time, you can resume working on campus only if the work is in your field of study.
  • You are required to work at least 21 hours per week. There is no maximum number of hours you can work.

As an F-1 student authorized for OPT, you are required to report any of the following to OIS within 10 days of the occurrence:

  • Name or address change. Report changes through Atlas.
  • Immigration status change. Submit the “No Longer on OPT” e-form in Atlas.
  • Interruption of employment or periods of unemployment. Submit the “Report OPT Unemployment” e-form in Atlas.
  • New employer (even if you are just adding a new employer). Submit the “Update OPT Employer Information” e-form in Atlas.

Note: OIS has been informed that SEVP will automatically terminate SEVIS records for students on OPT who have 90 days of unemployment or who have failed to report employment. Termination of your SEVIS record also ends your OPT authorization.

Learn more about the loss of F-1 status