F-1 international students have the opportunity to participate in Optional Practical Training after they graduate. This authorizes students to work in the U.S. for one year after graduation in a job related to their major. Students who graduated with a STEM degree are eligible to apply for an additional two years of OPT. While a Designated School Official (DSO) recommends OPT in SEVIS, it is the student who applies for the work permit with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). If the application is approved, USCIS will issue an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) for OPT. The student must not begin working before the start date on the EAD card.
Students may submit their application to USCIS 90 days before graduation and up to 60 days after. Any application that arrives before the 90 days or after the 60 days will be automatically denied by USCIS. A student has 30 days from the time that the OPT I-20 is created to submit the application to USCIS.
To be eligible to apply for OPT you must:
- Have been a full-time student for one academic year (two semesters),
- You have not been authorized for more than 364 days of full-time CPT, and
- You will meet all graduation requirements, including any internships when you apply for OPT.
Documents Needed to Apply
- Form G-1145 (recommended),
- Form I-765,
- Filing fee of $410 (money order, cashier’s check, or personal check is preferred) payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (spelled out),
- Copy of new Form I-20 (includes OPT recommendation, provided by International Services),
- Two passport-style photos,
- Copy of I-94,
- Copy of Passport,
- Copy of Visa,
- Copy of any previous EAD (Employment Authorization Document) cards, and
- SEVIS CPT Printout (provided by International Services).
- Fill out the OPT Request e-form on Sunapsis and begin gathering documents required for the application to USCIS. In the application, you will include your desired start date for OPT. This date must be after graduation but cannot be more than 60 days after graduation.
- Once submitted, an email will be sent to your academic advisor to confirm that you will be graduating the semester that you are requesting OPT.
- International Services will process your application and create a new I-20 that requests OPT authorization.
- You may request to review your OPT application with a DSO.
- The I-20 and OPT application must reach USCIS within 30 days of the creation of the I-20 or the application will be denied. You will mail the I-20 along with all other required documents to USCIS.
- A couple of weeks after you have mailed your application you should receive Form I-797 Receipt Notice stating that USCIS has received your application.
- USCIS will either approve your application, deny your application, reject your application if something was wrong with the original application (you would be allowed to resubmit your application), or request additional evidence/information.
- If the application is approved, you will be mailed your EAD. You may not begin working until the start date on the EAD.
OPT Employment Timeline
- 1-2 Weeks
Receipt: About 1-2 weeks after you submit your OPT application, you will receive a receipt notice from USCIS.
- After Submission
Request: Some students may receive a Request for Information. Please contact International Services ASAP if this happens to you.
- 3-5 Months
Decision: USCIS will make a decision and will either approve or deny your OPT request. If USCIS decides to approve your application, you will receive an approval notice from USCIS.
- After Approval
EAD Card: Shortly after you receive an approval notice, you will receive your employment authorization document (EAD Card).
- After EAD Card Date
Employment: You may not begin working until you reach the date listed on your EAD card. You must report your employment to International Services within 10 days of starting.
- All jobs must be related to your major. You are not permitted to work in jobs that relate to your minor.
- You must work more than 20 hours per week.
- You can have multiple jobs as long as the combined hours add up to more than 20 hours per week.
- If you cannot find a paid job, you may volunteer in a position related to your major for more than 20 hours per week, and it will count as days of employment.
- You may be self-employed but should have a business license for authentication.
Possible types of OPT employment situations may include:
- Employment through an agency: you may work for a staffing/employment agency at other companies where they send you.
- Self-employed business: you may start a licensed business and be self-employed.
- Short-term multiple employers: musicians and other performing artists may work for multiple short-term employers (gigs).
- Work for hire: you contract work for another company; this is commonly known as 1099 contract work.
- Regular employment: you work for an established business or organization.
You are required to report to International Services:
- Within 10 days of any change in employment or personal address,
- 6 months after your OPT has started, and
- 12 months after your OPT has begun.
When there are any changes in your employment or address including, but not limited to, a change in your job title or description or change in employer, you must fill out the OPT Employment Update on Sunapsis. You may use the SEVIS Portal to report employment if you would like. However, you are still required to report to International Services even if you reported changes directly to SEVIS.
Employment After Graduation Frequently Asked Questions
Can OPT applications be expedited by International Services or USCIS?
No, International Services is unable to expedite the process, and USCIS does not expedite OPT applications.
Can I begin working if my OPT has been approved, but I don’t have my EAD card?
No, you must have received your EAD card and wait until the start date listed before you are eligible to begin working.
Is fingerprinting or biometric scanning required for my OPT application?
No, USCIS does not require fingerprinting or biometrics for OPT applications. This also means that you do not have to pay the biometrics fee that is sometimes associated with Form I-765.
Can I travel while I am waiting for my OPT to be approved?
International Services strongly recommends that you not travel out of the U.S. after you have graduated while you are waiting for your OPT authorization. Your non-immigrant status is determined by your I-94 document. When you depart from the U.S., the I-94 information is no longer current, and it could make establishing your F-1 status difficult if USCIS had any questions about your application. If USCIS sends a request for additional information and it is not resolved in a timely fashion, your application will be denied. If you are outside the country when your OPT is approved, you cannot reenter unless you have it in hand.
If you are traveling outside the US while waiting for your OPT to be approved before you complete your degree, you should travel with the following items:
- Current passport (valid for six months from the date of re-entry),
- A signed I-20,
- A valid F-1 visa stamp, and
- I-797 Receipt Notice from USCIS.
According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), you may reenter the U.S. while your OPT is pending to search for employment. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) explains this on its website.
Can I travel during my OPT?
You are eligible to depart and re-enter the U.S. with proper documentation:
- Current passport (valid for six months from the date of re-entry),
- An I-20 with a travel signature no more than 6 months old,
- A valid F-1 visa stamp,
- EAD Card, and
- Job offer letter or letter that verifies employment.
Dates of travel outside of the United States while employed may not count as days of unemployment. If you are traveling outside of the U.S. for vacation or business while continuing to be employed, the dates outside the U.S. do not need to be tracked or reported as days of unemployment.
What is my status while on OPT?
OPT is a benefit available to students with F-1 status. It is not a work visa. You will remain in F-1 status during OPT.
What happens if I applied for OPT, but I fail a course in my last semester and can’t graduate?
If the OPT application has not been adjudicated/approved by USCIS:
- You may withdraw your application by notifying the Service Center where you filed your application.
- Your DSO should withdraw recommendation for OPT in SEVIS.
- You can reapply for OPT the following semester that you will be completing all program requirements.
If the OPT application has been adjudicated/approved by USCIS:
- You are unable to withdraw or cancel your application and reapply.
- You may work part-time while enrolled in courses to complete your program requirements and may work full-time after completing program requirements. Part-time work does not count toward days of employment.
- Even though your program end date will be extended, because you were authorized for Post-Completion OPT, you are still subject to the 90-day limitation of unemployment. Days of unemployment start counting from the start date listed on the EAD card and will count for the duration of your last semester as you are only authorized to work part-time.
How is my OPT affected if I become unemployed?
You may accrue up to 90 days of unemployment during OPT. Any period of unemployment will count toward this total. Days spent outside of the United States while unemployed still count toward the 90-day total. If you are unemployed for more than 90 days, you will be considered to be out of status.
How are the 90 days of unemployment figured?
- Count all days, including weekends and holidays,
- Count any week in which you are employed less than 20 hours, and
- Count days outside the U.S., if unemployed.
Do I have to pay taxes while working on OPT?
Yes, you must pay state and federal income taxes.
Can I take classes while on OPT?
If you begin to study at another educational level (masters/graduate program), your OPT authorization will be terminated with the notification of a new degree program in SEVIS or with a transfer of your SEVIS record to another institution. You are supposed to work full time in your major field of study while on OPT, and it should be your only focus. However, you may take a class or two, provided that you do not begin a new education level.
What if I want to go back to school full time?
If you wish to transfer to another college or university in the U.S., you must fill out the “Transfer Out Request” e-form in Sunapsis. Once your SEVIS record is transferred, your OPT will end.
What happens when my OPT ends?
You have a 60-day grace period from the end date on your EAD card to:
- Leave the U.S.,
- Transfer to another college or university, or
- Apply to change your status if eligible.
The 60-day grace period ends as soon as you leave the country, you are unable to depart and reenter the U.S. during the grace period.