F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) is available 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 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 upon completion of degree and left the U.S., you negate your eligibility for OPT. Additionally, you will not be able to return to the U.S. under F-1 visa.
- Applying for OPT
- ISS OPT Administrative Fee
- Applying for SSN Along with Request for Employment Authorization
- Maintaining Status while on OPT
- OPT Reporting Requirements and SEVP Portal
- Travel between Graduation and OPT Approval
- Travel While on OPT
- PhD Students – Special Issues
- Key Points
- STEM OPT
Applying for OPT
- 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 your last semester end date (as long as you do not leave the U.S. during the 60-days grace period, are in status, and in the U.S. at the time of application).
- USCIS must receive your OPT application within the 60-day grace period, the latest.
- USCIS processing times are long. If you apply late, you may not receive the full 12 months of OPT and your start date will be delayed. It is strongly recommended that you file your OPT application once you are within the 90 days period before degree completion
- Timelines for Submitting Applications to ISS through ISS Connect
- Spring 2019 Graduates: February 18-July 5
- Summer I 2019 Graduates: April 15-August 30
- OPT Start Date Options (60-day Grace Period)
- Spring 2019 Graduates: May 19-July 17
- Summer I 2019 Graduates: May 29-September 11
- Complile your OPT application materials. Refer to the OPT Guidelines (PDF) and the OPT Filing Procedure (PDF).
- Complete all requirements in ISS Connect to submit your request for OPT to ISS for review and processing.
- ISS will process your new OPT I-20 4 business days following submission of your OPT Request.
- Pick up your new OPT I-20 from ISS, and mail the packet to USCIS within 30 days from the date of processing listed on your new OPT I-20. It is suggested that you use FedEx to mail your application.*Have your passport with you, as FedEx requires all customers to present a valid government/state-issued photo ID.
- 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.
- You cannot begin working until you receive the EAD card and the start date on it has passed.
While you are on OPT, you remain in F-1 non-immigrant status and ISS staff will continue to provide you with immigration and advising support. The $125 ISS OPT Administrative Fee will cover the expenses of mandatory SEVIS compliance and SEVIS record management after your graduation. Please note that this fee can only be paid online via ISS Connect under the ‘Material submission’ box on the right-hand side of the screen. We cannot accept this fee payment by phone, fax, email, check, cash or money order. The fee is non-refundable once the I-20 with the OPT recommendation has been issued. This fee is separate from the $410 application fee paid directly to USCIS.
In addition to providing you with advising while you are on OPT, we will continue to process requests, including:
- I-20s updated with employment info
- Mailing updated I-20s if you are outside the tristate area
- Travel Signatures
- Cap-gap extension I-20s (if applicable)
OPT applicants now have the option to apply for a Social Security number (SSN) at the same time they apply for employment authorization/Employment Authorization Document (EAD). The Form I-765 includes certain items which will enable an OPT applicant to apply for an SSN. Please note, if you obtained an SSN prior to applying for OPT, you do NOT need to reapply and should simply skip these items on the Form I-765.
Maintaining Status While on OPT
While you are on Post-Completion OPT, you are still in F-1 status, and therefore, it is your responsibility to maintain your status. Effective August 9, 2018, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has issued policy regarding the unlawful presence of F, J, and M nonimmigrants. Maintaining your F-1 lawful status has ALWAYS been extremely important. This new policy increases USCIS monitoring of possible violations. As an OPT holder you need to be mindful of the following:
- Apply for the Post-completion OPT as early as 90 days before the official completion day and no later than 45 days after your official completion day
- There is a 90-day unemployment clock in accrual during your authorized 12-month employment. Make sure to report your employment on-time
- Never exceed 60-day legal stay following the end date of your OPT
- If you plan to transfer to another school upon completion of your OPT, make sure to be accepted and request a SEVIS Transfer to your new school before your 60-day grace period is over
Keys to Maintaining Status While on OPT
- You cannot begin work until you receive the Employment Authorization Document (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 (PDF).
- You cannot accumulate more than 90 days of unemployment.
- The 90-day clock begins with the start date on the EAD card.
- Ensure that you have the documents you need to travel – see below for details.
- You must report any changes to your address and your legal name within 10 days.
- You must report all employment (paid or unpaid) within 10 days. Please see the next section for reporting requirements
OPT Reporting Requirements
Effective March 23, 2018, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) launched the SEVP Portal. The portal is a tool that F-1 students on OPT can use to report changes to their home address, telephone number and employer information. The portal is accessible from both your mobile device and computer. The SEVP Portal allows you to:
- View details about your OPT
- Report changes to your address, telephone and employer information
- View and update data on all your employers in one place
- Any data updates you make in the portal will be sent directly to the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS)
- Only OPT-approved students will receive a link from SEVP from Do-Not-Reply.SEVP@ice.dhs.gov for logging in. If you do not receive an email, check spam or junk folders or contact ISS to confirm correct email address in SEVIS
- The link can only be used ONCE and cannot be shared with anyone else
- You must use the link within 14 days, or it will be disabled
- After creating your login, you must log into SEVP Portal every 90 days, or your account will be locked
- Be sure to use your correct, current SEVIS ID number. After three unsuccessful login attempts, a student will be locked out of the system.
After updating your employer information in SEVP Portal, log in ISS Connect to request a new I-20.
- SEVP Portal Help
- SEVP Portal User Guide (PDF)
- SEVP Portal videos
- Reference sheet (PDF)
- Top Questions from Students about SEVP Portal
Travel Between Graduation and OPT Approval
It is not recommended to travel while OPT is pending. If a student travels home after graduation but before an OPT request has been approved by USCIS, 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 USCIS processing time for OPT approval is long (exceeding 90 days), so plan your travel arrangements and job search accordingly.
Travel on OPT is possible, but it is strongly recommended to secure a job first. You can travel if you have not exceeded the 90-day unemployment clock. Check the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) website. Get more information about traveling on OPT.
NOTE: If you did not apply for OPT, but traveled outside of the U.S. after the program end date (during the 60-day grace period), you will have negated your eligibility to apply for OPT. OPT regulations require that you remain physically in the U.S. and in F-1 status at the time of application.
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.
- You may not pursue a new degree program 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 able to use any unused OPT or apply for OPT for the same educational level in the future.
Students who earned a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) are able to apply for 24 months of additonal OPT if they have a job or job offer from an E-verify employer and meet all other required criteria. USCIS must receive your application for STEM Extension before your current OPT expires, but no earlier than 90 days before it expires. Read more about STEM OPT.