F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) is used after the completion of your degree. You may apply for a 12-month period of OPT upon completion of each academic level obtained (e.g. 12-months of OPT at the undergraduate, master's, and doctoral levels). Any student who applied and was approved for OPT at one academic level may not apply for a second period of OPT at the same level.
Once the OPT is approved, you will receive an EAD (Employment Authorization Document) card that lists the dates of the OPT period. While on OPT, you may not pursue a new course of study, unless you are a Ph.D. student and are in the 'All But Dissertation' stage (see below for details).
OPT regulations require you to be physically in the U.S. and in F-1 status at the time of application.
If you did not apply for OPT, you will negate your eligibility for OPT if you leave the U.S. during the 60-day grace-period. Additionally, you will not be able to return to the U.S. on your F-1 status.
- OPT Application Timeline
- Maintaining Status while on OPT & OPT Reporting Requirements
- Travel between Graduation and OPT Approval
- Travel While on OPT
- PhD Students – Special Issues
- Key Points
OPT Application Timeline
- You can apply for post-completion OPT no more than 90 days before the official completion date (semester end date), or no later than 45 days after semester end date (as long as you do not leave the U.S. during the 60-days grace period, are in F-1 status, and in the U.S. at the time of application).
- You must send your OPT application to USCIS within 30 days from the date that ISS processed your OPT in SEVIS
- Completed applications may take 3-5 business days to process by the ISS.
- USCIS must receive your OPT application within the 60 days grace period. the latest
- USCIS may take 3-4 months to process your OPT application. If you apply late, you may not receive the full 12 months of OPT and your start date will be delayed.
Maintaining Status While on OPT & OPT Reporting Requirements
While you are on Post-Completion OPT, your are still in F-1 status - it is still your responsibility to maintain your status.
Keys to Maintaining Status While on OPT
- You cannot begin work until you receive the EAD card and the start date on it has passed.
- You may not work beyond the end date on your EAD card.
- You must work in a position that meets the requirements outlined for OPT.
- You cannot accumulate more than 90 days of unemployment.
- The 90 days begins with the start date on the EAD card.
- Ensure that you have the documents you need to travel – see below for details.
- Comply with the reporting requirements - report via email, within the 10 days, if any of these change: employer’s name, address and employment start date; interruption of employment; legal change of name; or, change of address
Travel Between Graduation and OPT Approval
Many students wish to travel home after graduation but before an OPT request has been approved by USCIS. If this is your plan, keep in mind that you cannot re-enter the U.S. until you have the OPT EAD card in your hand. If you leave the U.S. while your OPT is pending, please remember that the OPT approval from USCIS can take 3-4 months, so plan your travel arrangements and job search accordingly.
Travel While on OPT
Travel on OPT is possible. It is strongly recommended to secure a position first. If you have exceeded the 90-day unemployment clock, travel on your own risk. (check ICE Q&A). More information about traveling on OPT can be obtained here (link to section #5)
NOTE: If you do not apply for OPT, but travel outside of the U.S. after the end-date listed on your OPT (during the 60-day grace-period), you will have negated your eligibility to apply. OPT regulations require that you be physically in the U.S. and in F-1 status at the time of application.
Ph.D. Students – Special Issues
Graduate students who have only dissertation and no regular classes remaining may apply for OPT before finishing the dissertation. However, you should plan to complete and defend your dissertation within the 12 months of OPT. If this is the case, you should ensure your employer knows you are still working towards finishing your dissertation, and might need to travel back to campus.
- Attend an OPT Workshop.
- Refer to the OPT Timeline section below to determine when you should plan to submit your application to ISS, and then to USCIS.
- Compile your OPT application materials. Refer to the OPT Guidelines, Checklist, and a sample of an I-765 Form.
- Submit your complete OPT packet to ISS for review and processing.
- Pick-up your new I-20 with the OPT recommendation from the ISS. You will receive a mailing packet.
- Mail the packet to USCIS within 30 days from the date of processing listed on your new OPT I-20.
- You will receive a receipt notice in the mail (at the address listed on the I-765 form) 2 weeks after filing the application. You may check the status of OPT application at USCIS.gov via My Case Status.
- Wait to receive your EAD card in the mail. You cannot begin working until you receive the EAD card and the start date on it has passed.
- You may not pursue a new "course of study" while on OPT.
- Once you send your OPT application materials to USCIS, you cannot change the requested dates.
- If you transfer to another university, your OPT work authorization will end on the day your SEVIS record is transferred.
- You will have a 60 day grace period from the date your OPT expires to leave the U.S., apply for a change of status, or transfer your I-20 to another school.
- Once your OPT is approved, you cannot cancel your application and you will not be eligible to apply for OPT for the same educational level in the future.