Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training (OPT) provides an opportunity to apply theoretical knowledge obtained in an academic program to a practical work experience. This employment opportunity must be directly related to your major field of study. It may, in certain circumstances, be full- or part-time and may take place anywhere in the U.S. You may apply to use OPT during your vacation periods, during the academic year, or when you complete your studies.

Who is eligible?

Students who are in F-1 status and have been enrolled full-time for at least one full academic year are eligible for Optional Practical Training:

  1. After completion of a course of study
  2. During the summer or over winter break
  3. The regular academic year (on part time basis, deducted from the 12 month maximum at a proportional rate)

When can you apply?

You may apply for OPT no sooner than 90 days before graduation/ completion of your program, and as late as 60 days following graduation/ program completion; however, make sure that Homeland Security receives your OPT application in the mail before the 60 days period is over. Please keep in mind that it might take USCIS up to 3 months to process your application. It is highly recommended you that you apply 90 days before your graduation.

What is the difference between OPT and CPT?

CPT permits employment before completion of required semester hours only. CPT also requires the offer of specific job. Please note that you are eligible to apply for OPT as long as you do not have full-time CPT for a total of 12 months.

Application Process

  1. Complete USCIS Form I-765
  2. Please see specific instructions for international students who are applying for post completion OPT.
  3. Complete the Request for OPT Application Form
  4. Schedule an appointment with IPO and bring the following items:
    • The completed Request for OPT Application Form
    • The completed I-765 form

When you meet with your international students adviser, he/she will issue you your new I-20 with the OPT authorization on page 2. OPT processing time is two business days. It is your responsibility to make sure that your information is up to date and correct.

Mailing your Application to USCIS

Make sure you do not mail your OPT application along with other documents more than 90 days before the completion of your program(s). Send the following information to USCIS, arranged in the order listed below:

  1. USCIS Form I-765
  2. Application Fee—CHECK the latest fee on line here: https://www.uscis.gov/i-765. Personal check or money orders must be in the exact amount and payable to United States Department of Homeland Security
  3. OPT I-20, endorsed with an original signature by IPO advisor and signed by student in item #11
  4. A photocopy of all previously issued I-20s
  5. A copy of your most recent form I-94, front and back (Please print your I-94 directly from CPB website; your class of admission is F-1.)
  6. A copy of the F-1 visa stamp page
  7. A copy of your EAD card, if you have had one before
  8. A copy of both your passport photo, information page showing expiration date and your most recent U.S. visa
  9. Two identical color photographs. Photos must be taken within 30 days of the filing of the application.
  10. Form G-1145

**Please be sure to make a photocopy of all documents before you submit to USCIS. IPO highly recommends that you send it by certified mail, return receipt. This is to provide you with evidence that your application was received by USCIS.

Form Filing Tips

Mailing Instructions

USCIS Chicago Lockbox

For U.S. Postal Service (USPS):

USCIS
PO Box 805373
Chicago, IL 60680

For FedEx, UPS, and DHL deliveries:

USCIS
Attn: I-765 C03
131 South Dearborn – 3rd Floor
Chicago, IL 60603-5517

E-Notification: If you want to receive an e-mail and/or a text message that your Form I-765 has been accepted at a USCIS Lockbox facility, complete Form G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance and clip it to the first page of your application.

Note: Once you have received your receipt notice, you may check on the status of your application online. You will use the receipt number (3 letters and 11-14 digits) as your reference number. DO NOT THROW YOUR RECEIPT AWAY!

What happens after I mail my application?

Usually USCIS will mail a receipt to you at the address listed on the Form I-765 within a month. The full processing of the OPT application may take up to 90 days; however, it can be a lot sooner. IPO has seen a lot of students received their EAD cards within 4-5 weeks.

**You may not begin your employment before you receive your EAD card and the start date on the card has been reached.

What if my address changes after I mail my application?

If you change your address before your receipt and/or EAD card are issued, you must notify USICS. You are also required to inform IPO.

Can I travel outside the U.S. if I have OPT or have applied for OPT?

In order to re-enter the U.S. after you have applied for OPT, you must have your I-20 signed by an International Programs adviser within the last six months, a valid F-1 visa, a valid passport and your EAD card. As of January 2005, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has also indicated the following:

  • Condition 1: If your OPT is approved and you are employed or have been offered employment, you should be able to re-enter the U.S. with the documents mentioned above, PLUS a letter from your employer confirming that you are or will be employed there under OPT.
  • Condition 2: If your OPT application is still pending when you wish to re-enter the U.S., you will be allowed to re-enter to look for employment. In case your OPT is approved while you are outside the U.S., IPO strongly recommends that on the day you are to leave the U.S. you go to the website https://egov.uscis.gov/cris/caseStatusSearchDisplay.do where you can enter the receipt number (3 letters and 11-14 digits) from your Notice of Action and print a statement showing the OPT application is still pending as of that date. Be sure to have this with you when you come through the Port of Entry.
  • Condition 3: If your OPT application has been approved and you leave the U.S. before finding a job, your OPT will be considered canceled and you may NOT be allowed to re-enter the U.S.

What if I cannot find a job?

As of April 2008, this will be a problem. Under new OPT rules, students on OPT cannot accrue more than 90 cumulative days of unemployment during the 12-month period of OPT. If you accumulate 90 days of unemployment, your legal F-1 status ends and you need to make arrangements to leave the U.S., start a new degree program, or change to a different status.

If I apply for OPT and then decide not to use it, can I get my OPT time back?

If the USCIS has not yet issued your EAD, you may request to withdraw your application. If the EAD card has been issued, it is NOT possible to cancel.

Reporting Information to the International Programs Office

The new USCIS regulations that took effect January 1, 2003 require you to remain in contact with IPO. Changes to any of the following must be reported within 10 days of the event:

  • Changes in name or residential/ mailing address. In order to do this, you must complete AR-11 Change of Address Form
  • Report your employer’s name, address, and supervisor’s e-mail within 10 days of any changes or new employment
  • Report changes to another immigration status
  • If you will leave your OPT employment before your OPT end date
  • Notify IPO if you change your email address and phone number throughout the term of OPT

How long can I stay in the U.S. after the end date of OPT?

You have a 60-day grace period after the end of OPT. You are not authorized to work nor can you leave and re-enter the U.S. on F-1 status during the grace period.

What if I have applied for an H-1B on April 1 but my OPT will end before October 1?

Duration of status and work authorization will be automatically extended for a student on OPT who meets the following criteria:

  • Your employer filed your H-1B application on April requesting an employment start date of October 1 of the same year
  • Your employer requests a “change of status” to H-1B and NOT “consular processing”
  • You have otherwise followed F-1 regulations

This automatic “H-1B gap coverage” applies to all students on OPT. This means that even if your OPT ends before October 1, you will be able to remain in the U.S. and continue working for the same employer who filed the H-1B for you until your H-1B becomes effective on October 1.