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 submits I-765 OPT application to USCIS
There are two options to file the I-765 with USCIS to apply for OPT. For instructions to mail a paper application or file online, visit www.uscis.gov/i-765.
For information about when to file, please visit: https://www.uscis.gov/opt.
Students who choose to submit a paper application should use the addresses found here: www.uscis.gov/i-765-addresses. We strongly recommend that you mail your application using a trackable method and keep record of your application’s delivery.
Beginning April 3, USCIS will accept Form I-907 requests for Premium Processing of the I-765 for OPT, when filed together with Form I-765 either by mail or online. The I-907 requires a separate fee. Because of the high cost of the I-907 fee for OPT, we recommend students only use this option when current average processing times exceed the time when a student must begin their employment.
A complete application will include the following items:
- Form I-765 (online or paper application)
- Application Fee - Include a personal check, cashier’s check, or money order payable to “US Department of Homeland Security” The Biometric fee is not required. Please confirm the fee amount here: https://www.uscis.gov/i-765
- Passport Style Photos (refer to I-765 Instructions for details)
- Copy of your OPT Recommendation I-20 - Sign and keep the original as your current I-20
- Copy of your passport bio page
- Copy of your F-1 visa stamp (Canadians do not have F-1 visa stamps)
- I-94 Arrival/Departure Number or copy of your I-94 card
- Copies of all previously issued CPT and OPT I-20s with corresponding 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.
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. If the portal is not yet available or the student is not able to access it, reports may be made using the OPT Reporting e-form in iCAT and 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.
- Students completing program requirements in summer (coursework or defense and submission) must be enrolled in their final term of study. Although summer enrollment is not normally required, students completing degree requirements during the summer term will be required to enroll.
- 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.
- Students may submit the I-765 OPT application to USCIS as early as 90 days before the program end date and up to 60 days after the program end date. The I-765 application must be receipted within 30 days of the OPT Recommendation I-20’s issuance date.
- 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.
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.
Life After OPT – H-1B and Lawful Permanent Residency
Whether you pursue post-completion OPT or apply for the STEM OPT extension you will need to eventually make a decision about your life and career in the U.S. after OPT ends. We would like to suggest two resources for you to review as you make those decisions:
- Watch attorney David Ware on this Youtube video recorded during a visit to the UK campus. If you plan to work in the U.S. long-term, it will be important to learn all you can about the H-1B and Lawful Permanent Residency (greencard) processes so you will be fully prepared to inform potential employers who are willing to sponsor you for one or both of these immigration statuses.
- Visit GoinGlobal, an employment and internship portal designed to help you search for employment opportunities in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world. It includes an H-1B database search feature to help you find employers who sponsor the H-1B. Don’t limit yourself to the U.S. job market because the world is full of opportunities to pursue the career of your dreams.