What is Optional Practical Training?
Optional practical training is a benefit of the F-1 status. It allows eligible students to get real-world work (paid or unpaid) experience related to their field of study.
While a Designated School Official (DSO) recommends OPT in SEVIS, it is the student who must apply for the work permit with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). If the OPT is approved, USCIS will issue an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). The student must not begin working before the start date on the EAD.
There are three general types of OPT. Twelve months of Regular OPT is available for each higher level of study. For example a student may have 12 months for a bachelor’s degree and another 12 months for a master’s degree.
- Pre-Completion OPT (c) (3) (A) : Any portion of OPT used before the student’s Program End Date. It may be part-time or full-time.
- Post-Completion OPT (c) (3) (B) : Any portion of OPT used after the student’s Program End Date. It must be full-time. Graduate students who have completed all required course work may be eligible to apply for post-completion OPT during the research only phase.
- 24-month (STEM) OPT Extension (c) (3) (C) : For students who majored in designated Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) degrees approved by DHS. This type of OPT is a 24-month extension of OPT.
Note: The 12-month period may be divided between pre-completion and post-completion; however, separate filings and separate fee payments are required.
A student is eligible for OPT if:
- The student has been a full-time student for one academic year (two semesters).
- The student’s proposed employment relates to the student’s major area of study.
- The student has not used all of the practical training available at the current level of study (including at a previous school).
- The student has not been authorized for 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT).
Note: Full-time CPT at a previous school at the same program level counts toward the 12-month total. CPT at another program level does not count toward the 12-month total.
OPT Process at a Glance
Step 1: Student submits request using the OPT e-form in iCAT.
Step 2: DSO recommends OPT and issues new I-20 to student.
Step 3: Student mails completed OPT application to the appropriate USCIS Service Center.
Where do I mail my application? Please click here.
A complete application will include the following items:
- Completed Form I-765
- Application Fee – Personal check, cashier’s check, or money order payable to “Department of Homeland Security”
- Two Passport Photos with name and I-94 number written on the back of the photos
- Photocopy of your OPT I-20 - Sign and keep the original as your current I-20
- Photocopy of your passport bio page
- Photocopy of your F-1 visa (Canadians do not have F-1 visa stamps)
- Print out of your I-94 Arrival/Departure Number or photocopy of your I-94 card
- Photocopies of all previously issued I-20s
- Photocopies of any previously issued Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
Step 4: USCIS will send an application receipt in the mail within 2-3 weeks of receiving your application.
Step 5: If approved, USCIS will send Employment Authorization Document (EAD Card) by mail after approximately 90 days.
Step 6: Report your employment information and address to UKIC using the SEVP Portal or through the iCAT OPT reporting form. If you are locked out of your portal account, you can reset on the SEVP Portal Login Page or submit the SEVP Portal Reset e-form in iCAT.
Form I-765 Filing Deadlines Once DSO Requests OPT in SEVIS
Day 1: DSO requests OPT in SEVIS; 30-day countdown begins
Day 30: 30-day countdown ends; USCIS must receive the application
After Day 30: Applications received by USCIS after day 30 will be denied
Note: Students maintaining status and who have filed a timely application continue in F-1 status while application with USCIS is pending. If the student does not file a Form I-765, he/she should notify the DSO to cancel the OPT request in SEVIS.
Receiving the EAD: USCIS communication regarding the application will be sent to the address on the I-765. The USPS will not forward mail from the USCIS. As part of a new delivery method, applicants must present identification to sign for their documents upon delivery. They also have the option to designate an agent to sign on their behalf by completing the Postal Service’s PS Form 3801, Standing Delivery Order (PDF) or PS Form 3801-A, Agreement by a Hotel, Apartment House, or the Like (PDF). Applicants can sign up for USPS Informed Delivery to receive delivery status notifications. Applicants will also have the option to arrange for pickup at a post office at a convenient date and time by going to the USPS website and selecting “hold for pickup.”
If your mailing address changes during the application period, you should contact USCIS Customer Service to request that your application information be updated with a new address.
Choosing an OPT Start Date
- OPT applications take the USCIS anywhere from 1 to 3 months to process. It is best to plan for the approval process to take at least 3 months.
- You may submit your application to USCIS as early as 90 days before your program end date and up to 60 days after your program end date.
- Your program end date is determined by the day you complete all degree requirements.
- Depending on your program this may be the last day of your final semester, including final exams week, according to the academic calendar or the day that you submit your thesis/dissertation to The Graduate School.
Report OPT Participation
While on OPT, a student is required to report the following to their DSO:
- Change in student’s address while on OPT.
- Changes in employment or interruption of employment.
- Brief description of how employment is related to student’s major.
- Change in student’s legal name.
Note: Updates must be reported within 10 days of the start of your OPT work authorization and within 10 days of any subsequent change. Updates should be made in the SEVP Portal when possible or by completing the OPT Reporting e-form in iCAT. The form is included in the E-Forms tab. A DSO will then update the information in SEVIS. If your LinkBlue/myUK account is no longer active, use Limited Services to log into iCAT and complete the e-form.
Post-completion OPT and Employment
- Students must wait to begin employment until the EAD start date.
- On-campus employment must end with the program end date.
- While students are not required to have an employer when OPT is requested in SEVIS, students authorized for post-completion OPT are expected to be employed. A student on post-completion OPT can be unemployed for a total of 90 days.
- A student whose record lacks employer information is considered unemployed.
- SEVIS will auto-terminate students who accrue 90 consecutive days of unemployment. SEVIS will allow for student and P/DSO reporting deadlines before terminating the record. This functionality is new so students should be aware of the consequences of exceeding the unemployment limit or not reporting employment.
- Students presently on Optional Practical Training are eligible to have their SEVIS record transferred to another school in order to begin a new program. The transfer must occur prior to the end of the 60-day grace period at the completion of the OPT. The OPT ends as of the transfer release date.
H-1B Cap-Gap Extension of OPT
SEVIS will automatically extend post-completion OPT or STEM extension of OPT if:
- On or after April 1, an employer files an eligible H-1B petition to change the student’s status.
- The requested start date for the H-1B is October 1.
- The student’s [post-completion OPT or OPT STEM extension ends on or after April 1.
This is an extension of post-completion OPT for students with a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) degree.
A qualified student may apply for an extension of OPT while in a valid period of post-completion OPT and must hold a bachelor's degree or higher degree in an eligible STEM field from an SEVP-certified school that is accredited at the time the student submits their STEM OPT extension application to USCIS.
The extension will be for an additional 24 months, for a maximum of 36 months of OPT. In order to receive the STEM OPT extension, a student must pursue their practical training through an employer that is enrolled in USCIS' E-Verify employment eligibility verification program. All existing 17-month EADs will remain valid until the EAD expires as long as you meet the OPT requirements to maintain your F1 status.
When to Apply
Students must file the application for the OPT STEM extension and it must be receipted by USCIS prior to the last day of their 12-month OPT authorization. A student will be able to continue employment while the extension application is pending, until a final decision on the I-765 or for 180 days, whichever comes first. The earliest date to file the I-765 application for the STEM extension is 90 days before the post-completion OPT end date. The employment authorization period for the OPT STEM extension begins on the day after the expiration of the initial post-completion OPT employment authorization and ends 24 months later, regardless of the date the actual extension is approved.
Optional Practical Training Filing Procedures
Prior to providing the STEM extension recommendation I-20, a DSO in the UK International Center must receive a completed e-form in iCAT. The first portion of the form is to be completed by the student and the second portion will be sent to the employer official. The e-form requires the student to upload the Form I-983.
Upon receiving the STEM extension recommendation I-20, students must file for the extension within 60 days of the I-20 issuance date. The following documentation should be sent to the appropriate USCIS Service Center with jurisdiction over the address listed on the I-765, as noted on the I-765 instructions:
- Form I-765 https://www.uscis.gov/i-765 (Signed Original)
- Check the box: “Renewal of my permission to accept employment”
- #27 eligibility (c) (3) (C) Make sure to use the proper lower and upper case letters.
- #28.a-c: degree level and major, employer’s name and E-Verify Company ID Number or a valid E-Verify Client Company ID Number
- Application Fee– Personal check, cashier’s check, or money order payable to “Department of Homeland Security”(http://www.uscis.gov/i-765)
- Copy of I-20 with STEM extension recommendation
- Copy of SEVIS I-20 with the post-completion OPT recommendation
- I-94 Arrival/Departure Record (cbp.gov/i94) or photocopy of your I-94 card Copy of following passport pages: photo/bio, passport renewal information (if applicable) and F-1 visa
- Copy of previous Employment Authorization (EAD)
- Copy of student’s STEM degree (official transcript or copy of the diploma as long as it states the program of study)
- Two Passport Photos with name and I-94 number written on the back of the photos
Reporting Requirements while on OPT
Students with an approved STEM extension must report any change in name, address, or employment (which includes a new I-983) within 10 days by completing the OPT Reporting e-form in iCAT. The form is included in the Undergraduate/Graduate tab. A DSO will then update the information in SEVIS. If your LinkBlue/myUK account is no longer active, use Limited Services to log into iCAT and complete the e-form.
Employers are required to notify the DSO of the University of Kentucky within 5 days if the student terminates or otherwise leaves his or her employment prior to the end of the authorized period of OPT.
Students with an approved STEM extension must make a validation report by submitting a OPT Reporting form every 6 months starting from the date the extension begins and ending when 1) the student's F-1 status ends, 2) the student changes educational levels at the same school, 3) the student transfers to another school or 4) the OPT STEM extension ends, whichever is first. The validation is a confirmation that the student's name and address, employer name and address, and/or loss of employment is current and accurate. The report is due within 10 business days of each reporting date.
Students who are granted a 24-month STEM OPT extension are allowed 90 days during the initial period of post-completion OPT plus an additional 60 days during the extension period for a total of 150 days of allowable unemployment over the 36 months of OPT authorization.
F-1 STEM OPT students employed at the University of Kentucky who wish to file for an extension of their OPT should contact the UK Employment Compliance Coordinator, Melissa Hoover at at 257-3842 or send an email to Melissa.Hoover@uky.edu to receive university E-verification information necessary to complete form I-765 section 17 of the STEM OPT application. For more information please visit: http://www.uky.edu/hr/employment/hiring-officials/e-verify-process.
Curricular Practical Training (CPT) is paid or unpaid training that must be an integral part of an established curriculum in the student’s course of study and is:
- required of all students in that program of study,
- required for a particular course and/or curricular track or approved elective, or
- offered by sponsoring employers through cooperative agreements with the school.
A few details about CPT:
- To be eligible for CPT, a student must have completed one full academic year.
- CPT is training that must be undertaken before an F-1 student completes all the requirements for his/her degree.
- It can be a paid or unpaid internship or any other form of cooperative education.
- It may be part-time or full-time.
- Student requesting full-time CPT must be enrolled in full-time course work (internship or practicum credit).
- Students must register for their CPT course prior to the beginning of the semester.
- CPT cases are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. You should speak with an student advisor to confirm you are eligible before accepting any internships.
Note: Students enrolled in Thesis or Dissertation credit are only eligible for part-time CPT.
The use of full-time CPT for one year or more eliminates eligibility for OPT. The use of part-time CPT does not affect eligibility for OPT. (Anything over 20 hours per week is considered full-time.)
IMPORTANT NOTE: F-1 students are required to pursue a full course of study and be making normal progress in achieving his or her educational objective as specified on the Form I-20 to maintain status. Taking on additional, unrequired coursework, employment, or research that delays progress is a violation of F-1 status. Most students will not be eligible for CPT in their final semester.
CPT Application Process
Internships are available through Experiential Education and Career Services – James W. Stuckert Career Center, 408 Rose Street.
The student and academic advisor will submit documentation to the F-1 Advisor through iCAT, including:
- Copy of the final Learning Contract/Employment offer letter
- Details regarding the relationship of the training/employment to the degree program
Upon approval by the DSO, a SEVIS I-20 will be issued granting employment authorization for the specific employer.
Graduate Students participating in a departmental course requiring an internship component:
- Completed CPT request form in iCAT are required with a confirmation from the department detailing the curricular requirement and a letter from the prospective employer.
- Full-time CPT is allowed only in summer and with enrollment in an approved course.
- Students with full Research or Teaching Assistantships are not eligible for part-time CPT because F-1 students are limited to 20 hours of employment per week when school is in session per university policy.
NOTE: Graduate students who have completed coursework are only eligible for CPT authorization if the employment is required and contributes materially and substantially to the successful completion of their dissertation or thesis as established under the direction of their dissertation or thesis advisor and committee.
Students in the research only phase of a program are not required to take any additional coursework. Coursework in this case is already considered an “integral part of the established” curriculum.
To apply for CPT, please submit your request in iCAT here.
When you begin work, you and your employer must complete a form titled "Employment Eligibility Verification" (Form I-9). For University of Kentucky employees, this is done in the Human Resources office in Scovell Hall. The I-9 must be updated each time you renew your work permission or have your I-20 extended.
F-1 students who are employed (including those on assistantships or fellowships) are subject to both Federal and State taxes, unless they are citizens of countries that have special treaties with the U.S.
By virtue of these treaties, some internationals pay taxes at a reduced rate. To receive the benefits of a Tax Treaty, students must file Form 8233 with the Payroll Office, 340 Peterson Service Building. Be sure to take your passport for verification of your status.
You may work on campus provided you are maintaining F-1 status and you do not work more than a total of 20 hours per week while school is in session. You may be employed full time during summer and other vacation periods if you are eligible and intend to register for the subsequent academic term. Enrollment in Summer Sessions I or II does not prohibit full-time on campus work.
Students with full graduate assistantships should contact the Graduate School and their departments regarding Graduate School policies related to their employment.
Jobs that Qualify as "On-Campus Employment"
On-campus employment includes work done as a teaching or research assistant as well as jobs in the school library, cafeteria, and administrative offices. These employees receive regular paychecks and will be issued a Form W-2 for tax purposes.
On-campus also includes employment with "... on-location commercial firms which provide services for students on campus, such as the school bookstore or cafeteria." Exception: On-campus employment does not include employment on the school's premises for a commercial firm that is not providing on-campus services for student; for example, at a construction site for a new school building.
On-campus employment regulations prohibit any type of self-employment. For example: private tutoring, direct sales, driving for ride share, taxi companies, or food deliver services.
For questions regarding what qualifies as on-campus employment please contact ISSS.
Work Off Campus that Qualifies as On-Campus Employment
Immigration regulations allow you to work at an off-campus location provided:
- The location is educationally affiliated with UK,
- The educational affiliation is associated with UK's established curriculum or is related to a graduate level research project which UK has contracted to perform and,
- The work is an integral or important part of your program of study. For example, if your field of study is agriculture and UK has an off-campus research facility, you may work there and that employment will be defined as "on-campus."
Newly-arrived Students in the U.S.
Students who have entered the US in Initial SEVIS status (as noted in Section 3 of the I-20) to begin a new program, can begin on-campus employment no more than 30 days prior to the first day of classes.
Newly-arrived Transfer Students
Students may engage in on campus employment at UK after their SEVIS record has been released to UK and an I-20 issued.
Students must have completed two semesters in school before they may apply for permission to work off-campus due to severe economic hardship. If permission is granted, employment is limited to 20 hours per week when school is in session and full time during holidays or school vacation.
The following documents are required:
- Unofficial transcript from myUK
- Proof of changes in your financial situation caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond your control (loss of government funding due to political or economic instability, natural disaster, currency devaluation or funding reductions, etc.).
- I-765 form - Item #16, use the code: (C) (3) (iii)
- Check or money order made out to “Department of Homeland Security” for filing fee
- Copies of all I-20 forms issued to you
- Copy of I-94 Card (front and back)
- Copy of ID pages from passport and visa
- Two photographs*
- Letter (“To Whom It May Concern”) explaining your financial situation and showing the need for this employment based upon severe economic hardship caused by unforeseen circumstances beyond your control. (These must be substantiated by supporting documentation.)
*Lightly print in pencil your name and I-94 Departure number on back of photos and place in small envelope.
Guidelines for photos (passport style):
- taken within past 6 months
- plain white or off-white background – 2x2 inches in size
- unmounted, printed on glossy, un-retouched paper – color print
- head positioned directly facing the camera; eyes open, looking at camera; eyeglasses worn if normally used
- photo from slightly above top of hair to middle of chest – height of head should measure 1 to1 3/8 inches
- head should be bare unless wearing a headdress required by a religious order to which you belong