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Optional Practical Training

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a type of work authorization for F-1 students, defined in the federal regulations as "temporary employment for practical training directly related to the student's major area of study." It is intended to provide students with practical experience in their field of study during or, more commonly, upon completion of a degree program.

An F-1 student may be authorized to receive up to a total of 12 months of OPT either before (pre-) and/or after (post-) completion of studies. However, students who have accumulated 12 months or more of full-time curricular practical training (CPT) are ineligible to apply for OPT.

An F-1 student is eligible for 12 months of OPT for each degree level. However, a student cannot apply for OPT at a degree level lower than one for which he/she has already been approved for OPT in the past.

Types of OPT

  • Eligibility Criteria

    • You must have maintained your F-1 status for at least one academic year.
    • You must not have used more than 12 months of OPT in the past at your current degree level.
    • You do not need a job offer in order to apply for OPT, although once you are approved for OPT, you must find employment within 90 days of OPT start date.

    Application Deadlines

    • Application can be submitted as early as 90 days before and 60 days after the completion date.

    OPT requires an application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). USCIS takes at least 3 months to process an application for OPT. Please plan accordingly - we recommend that you apply as early as possible.

    Application Procedure

    Please do not mail the OPT Application to USCIS without OISS recommendation for OPT.

    • Copies of passport, I-94, and I-20s, if CPT was authorized previously.
    • A copy of I-20 with OPT Recommendation from OISS - OPT recommendation will be given only after a review of a complete OPT application.
    • A completed Form I-765
    • Two passport-style photographs, with your name, date of birth, and SEVIS ID number lightly printed on the back.
    • Photocopies of any previously-issued Employment Authorization Document (EAD) cards, if applicable.
    • A check or money order for $410 made payable to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (or USCIS) or Department of Homeland Security. If paying by check, be sure that your name and address are printed on it.
    • Form G-1145: E-notification of Application/Petition Acceptance

    After the OISS reviews the OPT application and recommends OPT, you must submit your OPT application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within 30 days of OISS OPT Recommendation (see page 2 of I-20).

    Processing Times

    Processing times vary widely depending on the time of year, but USCIS takes at least 90 to 120 days to process this type of application. Approval is not guaranteed, and you may not begin employment unless you have received written approval from the USCIS. Written approval will come in the form of an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card.

    Mailing Application

    Your application will be reviewed at the time of your appointment. After the application has been reviewed, you are responsible for mailing your application via traceable mail (U.S. Post Office Express Mail, Fedex, etc.) to:

    USCIS Phoenix Lockbox
    For US Postal Service Deliveries:

    USCIS
    P.O. Box 21281
    Phoenix, AZ 85036

    For Express mail and courier deliveries:

    USCIS
    ATTN: AOS
    1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S
    Suite 100
    Phoenix, AZ 85034

    Note: The USCIS/California Service Center may take 90 - 120 days to process your application. Within two to three weeks of submitting your application, you will receive a Notice of Action (I-797C) from USCIS/CSC. Please bring that form to OISS as soon as you receive it.

    Please be advised that you must notify OISS immediately when you receive a Request for Evidence (RFE) from USCIS/CSC, as it is time-sensitive. OISS will provide assistance in all matters pertaining to RFE.

    You may begin working only after you have received an employment authorization document (EAD) from USCIS & on the start date indicated on the EAD.

    During OPT

    During your OPT period, you are responsible for abiding by all regulations pertaining to your status. Please review the following requirements.

    Reporting Requirement

    Please report using MyStatus.

    Students must report to confirm information listed below every 6 months, even if there are no changes.
    For Student to DSO (Designated School Official) within 10 days of change:

    • Legal name
    • Residential/mailing address
    • Employer name & address
    • Start date of employment
    • Job relevance to the student's course of study
    • Termination of employment (either by choice or employer)
    • Periods of unemployment
    • Date of permanent departure from the U.S., if departing before the OPT expiration date

    Please upload your EAD using the OPT Reporting link.

    Travel Issues

    Under OPT, you may leave the U.S. for brief periods. Please ensure that you have the following documents for your re-entry:

    • OPT I-20 with a travel signature endorsed no more than 6 months (on page 3)
    • Valid F-1 visa stamp
    • Valid Passport
    • Valid EAD
    • Offer of employment or documentation of your job search

    Please do not hesitate to call OISS if you have questions.

  • Final STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) OPT (Optional Practical Training) Rule Update Summary, effective as of 5/10/2016  

    • A total of 24 months of STEM OPT, if a STEM degree obtained is found in the DHS STEM Designated Degree List
    • F-1 students who had already obtained one STEM OPT extension become eligible for a second STEM OPT extension (i.e., a total of two lifetime STEM OPT extensions) after:
      • Earning another qualifying STEM degree at a "higher degree level" and
      • Obtaining a new initial grant of standard 12-month post-completion optional practical training based on that higher degree
    • 24-month STEM OPT on a previously obtained U.S. STEM degree in the past 10 years; AND currently on post-completion OPT, may be eligible to apply for a STEM OPT extension based on that prior degree if they meet all other required criteria
    • Form I-983, “Training Plan for STEM OPT Students” required for E-verify employers to submit as part of STEM OPT application
    • Increased reporting requirements for F-1 student and employer
    • Maximum of 150 days of unemployment period (90 days during the initial 12 month of post-completion OPT plus an additional 60 days during the STEM OPT extension period)

    DHS has a great STEM OPT Hub which details the regulation -  please review the links below:

  • Cap Gap

    As of April 8, 2008, Department of Homeland Security published an interim final rule concerning F-1 Optional Practical Training. Cap Gap refers to the period of time between the time a non-immigrant’s F-1 student status under OPT would ordinarily end and his or her H-1B status begins.  The new rule allows students with Cap Gap limitation to continue employment if H-1B petition is filed on student’s behalf.  Duration of status and work authorization will be automatically extended for a student on OPT, who is the beneficiary of a timely-filed H-1B petition requesting change of status and an employment start date of October 1 of the following fiscal year. The extension of duration of status and work authorization would automatically terminate upon the rejection, denial, or revocation of the H-1B petition filed on the student's behalf.

    Eligibility Criteria

    •  All students under OPT whose OPT is valid at the time of H-1B petition filing
    •  H-1B petition is selected by USCIS

    Documents Required for Cap Gap Extension

    •  Student’s written request for Cap Gap Extension
    •  Copy of I-797, Notice of Action for H-1B petition

    Travel Issues under Cap Gap

    • If you travel overseas during the Cap Gap period, you must re-enter under H-1B status, not F-1.  Cap Gap is no longer available upon entry under H-1B.

    There are various scenarios depending on the status of your H-1B petition. Please consult OISS staff for more information.  Once your Cap Gap Extension is approved, OISS will provide a new I-20 form with Cap Gap Extension notation.

    Please do not hesitate to call the OISS if you have questions.