Introduction to OPT
Optional Practical Training (OPT) for students on F-1 visas provides up to 12 months of off-campus employment authorization. Employment must be directly related to the student’s major and can occur either prior to or after graduation (pre-completion OPT and post-completion OPT, respectively). Students with majors in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) are eligible for a 17-month extension, or a total of 29 months of OPT work authorization.
- Students are eligible for 12 months of OPT at each educational level (Associate’s, Bachelor’s, etc.).
- Students who complete a total of 12 months or more of full-time CPT are ineligible for Option Practical Training (OPT); this includes practical training after graduation.
- An application is required, and there is a $380 fee associated with the application.
- A 17-month STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) extension is possible for students who majored in STEM fields. This is available only once in a student’s lifetime.
- OPT can be (a) Part-time or full-time during the student’s annual vacation and at other times when school is not in session, if the student intends to register for the next term or session; (b) Part-time while school is in session; or (c) Full-time (over 20 hours) after completion of the course of study.
OPT Application Steps
- You must be in valid F-1 status
- You must have been enrolled for two consecutive semesters immediately prior to the proposed OPT period
- You are not required to have an offer of employment prior to applying for OPT
- Your major must be declared with the Registrar’s Office and any employment must be directly related to your major
- Meet with an International Student Adviser to discuss your actual Program End Date (which must be accurately recorded on your Form I-20) and possible OPT Start and End Dates.
- A student’s 12 months of OPT must be completed within 14 months of their Program End Date.
- Students can apply for Post-completion OPT no more than 90 days before their Program End Date and no more than 60 days after their Program End Date
- The entire OPT application (including new Form I-20 indicating OPT recommendation) must be submitted to USCIS no more than 30 days after the OPT recommendation has been submitted in SEVIS
- The expected processing time for an OPT application is 90 days.
- Students with Post-completion OPT are allowed up to 90 days of unemployment. Students volunteering for at least 20 hours per week in their major field do not accrue days of unemployment.
- Once your application has been approved and the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) has been issued, employment can begin only on or after the OPT Start Date listed on the EAD.
- Check or Money Order payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security” for filing fee ($380)
- Completed and printed I-765 form. Pay close attention to the instructions when filling out this form!). Click here for an example of a completed I-765 form. *Use IPO’s address (801 National Road West, Drawer 202, Richmond, IN 47374) on your I-765 form because the Post Office will not forward mail from the U.S. government and your address is likely to change before your card arrives.*
- EC OPT Form. Please discuss OPT Start and End Dates with an International Student Adviser if you are unsure what days to choose
- Copies of all previous I-20s for current academic level (i.e., Bachelor of Arts)
- Copy of identification and information pages of your valid passport
- Copy of I-94 (both sides of I-94 card, if you have a paper card)
- Copy of previous Employment Authorization Document (EAD), if applicable (most students do not have a previously obtained EAD).
- Two (2) passport style photos according to specifications on I-765 instruction form, part C (Write your name and date of birth lightly on the back of each photo)
- If you have a job offer that you intend to accept, include a copy of the offer letter
- The OPT application must be submitted prior to the student leaving the country after the Program End Date
- Travel while engaging with OPT is allowed, but students must travel with their Employment Authorization Document (EAD card)
- To re-enter the U.S. to resume/begin OPT employment, the students must have the EAD
- Report any address, contact, or employment changes to your International Student Adviser within 10 days
- Engage only in employment directly related to you major
- Keep travel signatures on the Form I-20 up-to-date (must be signed every 6 months)
- Do not go over the 90-day unemployment limit
- Please download this PDF for a complete explanation of the reporting responsibilities while on OPT