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F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an employment benefit for international F-1 visa students to work in the U.S in a job related to the student’s field of study. It is intended to enhance and supplement the formal, classroom education. United States Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) adjudicates and authorizes OPT.
Program completion date guidelines:
or students who are registered full or part time, and/or students who have Graduate
Assistantship positions, the program completion date will automatically default
to graduation/commencement date or the last day of classes in the semester
of OPT application.
Graduate students who have completed all coursework except their thesis/dissertation,
are administratively registered for 1 credit hour, and anticipate completing
their degree in one academic year, may apply for post-completion OPT. These
students may use their published defense date as the program end date.
- The recommended employment start date must be after the student's program completion date and no later than the end of his/her 60 day grace period.
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 the 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 duration. If requested by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), students must be prepared to provide evidence showing a list of all gigs.
- 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 employment relationship. If requested by DHS, students must 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. In this situation, the student must work full-time. The student must be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to the student’s degree program. A student who is self-employed (including performance majors with regular “gigs”) may be paid or unpaid.
- Employment through an agency: Students on post-completion OPT must be able to provide evidence showing 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 does not violate any labor laws. The work must be at least 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. These students must be able to provide evidence from the employer that the student worked at least 20 hours per week during the period of employment.
Disclaimer: ISSS is able to provide you with general guidance. However, any advice provided to you by our office, as well as the information on our website or informational packets, do not constitute legal advice. Additionally, due to the fluid nature of governmental interpretation, the USCIS may change its interpretation of immigration polices, procedures, regulations, and eligibility requirements for benefits at any time. This office will do its best to provide you with the most current guidance, but please be mindful that each case is fact-specific and it is advised that you contact an experienced immigration attorney if you have questions regarding your situation.
STEP 1: Apply for an I-20 with Recommendation for OPT by ISSS (required)
Please note: You must allow for at least 15 business days (from the date we receive a complete and correct request) for your application to be reviewed and processed. You will be notified by email when your I-20 is ready for pick up.
Collect the following the documents in the order listed below and submit all of the documents via the application link below. Once an advisor is able to review your documents, they will email you to set up an appointment.
- Submit a completed I-765 (this is a fillable PDF document; it is best if you fill it in and then print for legibility).
- Submit copies of a ll I-20 that have ever been issued to you.
- Submit copies of your passport bio page, visa page, and most recent admission stamp.
- photocopies of biographical page(s) of the passport (with expiration date): If your passport will expire within 6 months from the time of filing your OPT application with USCIS, you should renew it at an embassy or consulate of your country before you submit your OPT application.
- photocopy of the most recent visa page (the visa can be expired and/or of a different visa category other than F-1).
5. Submit an OPT Recommendation Letter on departmental letter head from your Academic Adviser or Department Chair.
- Due to recent US Department of Homeland Security guidance, we cannot send or give I-20s to extended family members, friends, or third parties. They must sent or given directly to the primary beneficiary (F-1) or dependent (F-2). If you wish to pick up your I-20, you must bring ID.
- The documents you submit will be examined and a new I-20 will be issued with the recommendation recorded on page 2.
- You must stop working by the end date on your new OPT I-20 until you have received your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card and the starting date has arrived.
I-20 Pick up or Express Mail
ISSS offers you the option of either picking up your I-20 with OPT or having it sent via express mail directly to you (student pays expense). If you wish us to send your I-20 with OPT via express mail, please follow the directions here - Express Mail Services.
- You must obtain
(2) identical color passport photos of yourself taken within 30 days of the
filing of the OPT application to USCIS. The photos must have a white to off-white
background, be printed on thin paper with a glossy finish, and be unmounted
and unretouched. Please print your name on the back of the photos in pencil.
- I-765 Fee
- $410.00 check or money order, made out to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security”
- complete the form G-1450 to use a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover. Make sure the card has enough money to cover the fee. USCIS will reject your OPT application if the card is declined and will not attempt to process your credit card payment a second time.
Students may apply for Post Completion OPT between 90 days prior to his or
her program end date and 60 days after (during the grace period) his or her
program end date. All initial OPT applications must be accepted by USCIS
no later than 60 days after the student’s program end date (before the grace
period ends). Any applications that reach USCIS after the 60th day will not
- The student must complete all course requirements for the degree (excluding thesis or equivalent). Continued enrollment, for the school’s administrative purposes, after all requirements for the degree have been met does not exclude eligibility for optional practical training.
- Passport must be valid for at least six (6) months beyond requested OPT start date.
- The OPT application package must reach the responsible USCIS office within 30 days after the DSO enters the recommendation into SEVIS. We also suggest that you forward your OPT application to USCIS via https://study.eshipglobal.com.
- If you have made a mistake on the USCIS application (I-765) resulting in an error on your EAD, you will need to reapply with USCIS. Depending on when you filed for OPT, this may result in your inability to receive OPT benefits - you may be denied and have to depart the US.
- If you must move before you receive your card in the mail, you must immediately
Contact the USCIS office where you filed your application, using the customer
service telephone number you will find on your receipt, and provide them
with your new address
After you have been granted OPT by USCIS
IMPORTANT: Please remember that your obligation to strictly comply with the SEVIS rules does not stop with the issuance of the OPT EAD card. In order for your SEVIS record to be kept up-to-date and your visa status valid throughout the OPT period, you must pay special attention to the following requirements:
Unemployment - F-1 students on OPT
may not remain unemployed for more than a total of 90 days
out of a 12 month OPT period (or a combined total of 150 days out of a 36 month OPT
period with STEM extension). The days of unemployment will start on the
start date of your OPT card, or the day the OPT is approved (whichever
is later) if you are not employed. All OPT employment must be in a job
that is related to the student’s degree program.
- Email a scanned copy of your EAD card to email@example.com as soon as you have it. Also, be sure to submit an OPT Employment Update within the first 10 days of your employment. You must update the our office if your contact information or immigration status throughout your year of OPT.
- If you move to a new address, it is important that you complete and forward a new Change of Address Form to our office. This action must be taken within 10 days of moving to the new address.
- Once you begin working, you must submit all employment updates through an OPT Employment Update within the first 10 days. You will receive an email from the SEVP Portal; however, we strongly discourage the use of the portal. US federal regulations require you to update our office through. You can do so by using the OPT Employment Update.
- If you need to travel outside of the U.S., you must be sure to obtain a travel
signature from ISSS. A travel signature from our office is good for up to
six months. Please contact our office at least a 2 weeks in advance in case
you need the signature re-validated. If you are not in the Morgantown area
to get your I-20 signed in person and you have enough time to mail it to
us for a travel signature, you can mail use *https://study.eshipglobal.com to have your I-20 shipped to you (*please see instructions above).
- If you change visa status (e.g. F-1 to H-1B), provide ISSS with a copy of your approval notice.
- If you have completed your OPT and return to your home country, email firstname.lastname@example.org to confirm that you "have returned to your home country and want us to complete your SEVIS record."
- Additional Information Concerning Worker's Rights - Know Your Rights (Wilberforce Pamphlet) from the Department of State. An information pamphlet describing your rights while working in the United States.
Q. What is F-1 Optional Practical Training (OPT)?
A. Optional Practical Training is the opportunity to apply knowledge gained in your program of study to work in your major field. OPT is authorized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The authorization process can take up to 3 months. The maximum amount of time granted to work in F-1 OPT status is 12 months per degree level (undergraduate, masters and doctoral) with the possibility of a 24-month extension for those in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) related fields who qualify.
It is highly recommended to use Curricular Practical Training (CPT) during your course of study and save all 12 months for post-completion OPT. Students may apply for post-completion OPT up to 90 days before completion of studies and up to 60 days after the program completion date.
Students MUST file their application with USCIS within 30 days of getting the new OPT recommendation I-20 Form from ISSS.
Q. What are the program completion date guidelines?
A. For students who are registered full or part-time, and/or students who have Graduate Assistantship positions, the program completion date will automatically default to graduation/commencement date or the last day of classes in the semester of OPT application.
Graduate students who have completed all coursework except their thesis/dissertation, are registered for research for 1 credit hour, and anticipate completing their degree in one academic year, may apply for post-completion OPT. These students may use their published defense date as the program end date.
The recommended employment start date must be after the student's program completion date and no later than the end of his or her 60 day grace period.
Q. Who is eligible for OPT?
A. To be eligible to apply for OPT, you must: (1) have been in full-time student status for at least one academic year by the requested start date of your OPT, and (2) be maintaining valid F-1 status at the time of the application, (3) have not used OPT at the same degree level previously, and (4) not have engaged in more than 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) during the current degree level.
Q. If I complete one degree program, use 12 months of practical training, and then begin a second course of study, am I eligible for an additional 12 months of practical training?
A.Yes, but only at a higher degree level.
Q. Do I have to use the entire 12-month OPT period at once, or may I use it in increments?
After completion of studies it may only be used as a single block of time. It is highly recommended that student use the CPT option prior to program completion and save all 12 months for post-completion OPT.
Q. May I save any of my unused post-completion OPT eligibility and use it at a later time?
A. No. Once you apply for post-completion OPT, the OPT work eligibility for that degree ends. There is no recapture of unused OPT time.
Q. What immigration status do I have during OPT?
A. A student with OPT authorization is still an F-1 student holding an EAD (Employment Authorization Document) card for OPT.
Q. When can I start working under OPT?
A. Work only after you receive the OPT EAD card issued by the USCIS, and the effective start date listed on the employment document has been reached.
Q. How long does it take to get authorization for OPT and when should I apply?
A. Authorization for OPT is granted by USCIS and processing can take up to 3-5 months ( https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times). Therefore it is important that you apply for the authorization well in advance of the date you wish to start working. You may apply up to 90 days before completion of studies and no later than 60 days after. You must file your application with USCIS within 30 days of receiving the new OPT Form I-20 from ISSS.
Q. Do I need to have a job or job offer to apply for OPT?
Q. Form I-765:
- A. Question 3: Address
- This is where USCIS will send correspondence and the EAD card. You should provide an address that will not be changing for at least 3-4 months
- A. Question 10:
- Filled-in to represent your most recent I-94 number. If you do not have an I-94 card, you should be able to retrieve this number at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov
Q. What can I do if I’ve been waiting more than 90 days for my OPT authorization?
A. You can always check your case status online at the USCIS website Case Status Online. OPT applications typically remain in “Initial Review Status” until approved. Applications cannot be expedited.
Q. May I cancel my OPT application once I have applied?
A. Yes, you may request that the OPT application be withdrawn and the recommendation in SEVIS be cancelled, but only if you have recently mailed it to USCIS and it has not been approved. Contact your International Student Advisor in ISSS as soon as possible if you need to cancel the OPT application with your reason(s) for cancellation and what your next plans are which may include exiting the U.S. Once your OPT application has been approved by USCIS, it cannot be cancelled or withdrawn.
Q. Do I need to have a job during the Post-Completion OPT period?
A. Yes. The regulation requires students to have employment while on OPT after completion of studies. Students are only allowed a total of 90 days of unemployment in the 12 month period of OPT or 120 days total if working with the 24-month STEM extension. During the entire OPT period, students must update ISSS with employment information through an OPT Employment Update.
Q. Does the job I have while on OPT have to be paid employment, or can it be unpaid?
A. For the first 12 month period of post-completion OPT, the employment does NOT have to be paid employment. Therefore, a student who is self-employed (including performance majors with regular “gigs”), interning or volunteering in a position directly related to the academic field would be considered “employed” for the purposes of OPT employment reporting as long as this practice does not violate any labor laws and they work in the unpaid position for an average of 20 hours per week. The principal federal labor law concerned with "unpaid" positions (there are state laws too) is the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which at its core requires individuals performing work to be paid for their services. Students should keep documentation for all unpaid employment positions. For the 24-month STEM extension, employment must be traditional paid employment.
Q. Can I begin working before I receive the Employment Authorization Document (EAD)?
A. No! Working before OPT has been authorized by USCIS constitutes illegal employment that will jeopardize your legal status in the United States.
Q. What should I do once I receive the EAD card in the mail?
A. You can now start your OPT employment on the the start date indicated on your EAD card. Keep your EAD card in a safe place and send ISSS a scanned copy to keep in your student file. Be sure to report your employment information to ISSS using the link: OPT Employment Update (formerly OPT Compliance Form)
Q. Do I have to do anything with ISSS during Post-Completion OPT?
A. Yes! Immigration regulations REQUIRE that while on POST-completion OPT (after graduation), you MUST report employment and address changes to ISSS. You will need to request a travel signature every six months if you plan to travel outside the United States and return in F-1 status and must report to ISSS if you choose to end your OPT period early for any reason. It is in your best interest so as to keep your SEVIS record accurate and current at all times.
Q. What if I lose my EAD?
A. If you lose your EAD, you will need to submit a new application and new fee to USCIS before changing employers during the approved OPT period. The new EAD card will also be necessary as a reentry document after any travel abroad.
Q. What happens if I exceed the 90-day unemployment limit?
A. After 90 days of unemployment, an F-1 student in the post-completion period loses valid immigration status. Students are encouraged to depart the United States or change status prior to the 90 day expiry. Students who exceed the 90-day unemployment limit may be denied future immigration benefits.
Q. May I take classes during OPT?
A. If you had intended to graduate, but have not yet completed your thesis/dissertation, you can continue to register for 1 credit hour (administrative purposes) until you finish the thesis/dissertation requirement. In this case, you would still remain subject to the 90-day unemployment rule.
Beginning a new course of study will automatically cancel your OPT authorization. Transferring to a new institution or changing your educational level will also automatically cause the cancellation of your OPT authorization. ISSS does not recommend taking a class or classes (even part-time) that may later be used to satisfy new program degree requirements. Vocational classes may be taken during OPT.
Q. Can I change employers during OPT?
A. Yes. As long as the employment is directly related to your field of study, you can work for any and all employers you would like. You will need to update your employment via an OPT Employment Update.
Q. How do I renew my driver's license while on OPT?
A. You may need to wait until the start date on your EAD is current before you can renew your driver’s license.
Q. Can I extend my OPT after the 12 months?
A. There are two types of extensions available after completion of the initial OPT period: (1) a 24-month extension for those in certain STEM fields. A list of approved STEM programs is available at: STEM Program List (2) An “H-1B Cap Gap Extension” which extends work authorization through to the start of your cap-subject H-1B visa. If your OPT ends after your employer has applied for an H-1B but before the H-1B starts on October 1st, a cap gap extension is possible. Speak with an International Student Advisor for guidance.
Q. How long can I stay in the U.S. after my post-completion OPT end date?
A. There is a 60-day grace period following the end of the OPT period. The grace period is only applicable for those who have not exceeded the 90 days of unemployment during the OPT period or the 150 aggregate days (maximum of 90 for OPT + maximum of 60 during STEM) of unemployment during the STEM extension.