International students who graduate from a U.S. university on an F-1 visa have a special opportunity to work in the US, in their degree field, for 1 to 3 years through Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT). To be eligible for OPT, a student must be in legal F-1 status and have been a full-time student for at least one academic year. Students require an OPT I-20 from UCIE as part of their application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Students in all majors are eligible for 12 months of OPT; in addition, students in most science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields are eligible for a two-year extension for a total of 36 months. Visit our STEM OPT Extension page to find out more.
How to Apply for OPT
- Begin by completing our Pilot course, OPT Workshop - Optional Practical Training. Log into Pilot and click External Registration in the top left of your screen. Students must complete the course with a score of 100% to move forward.
- Next, visit our OPT website and download the Optional Practical Training: Application & Checklist. After reading through the packet, students must complete the final page with their academic advisor and return it to the UCIE. After receiving the Request for OPT I-20 form (page 8 of the OPT Application & Checklist, UCIE will issue an OPT I-20.
- With the OPT I-20 from UCIE, you are now ready to apply to USCIS for OPT authorization. Mail the documentation on the Checklist to USCIS. Keep in the mind the following:
- The earliest date to apply is 90 days before program end date (UCIE will not process your request before this date).
- USCIS must receive your application within 30 days after the OPT I-20 is issued.
- USCIS must receive your application no later than 60 days after completion of your program requirements.
Sending your application
We recommend using a trackable mail service such as FedEx or United Parcel Service (UPS). The address you use on the I-765 determines where you should send your application (see USCIS I-765 mailing instructions).
Students can only apply for OPT during their final semester. They can apply up to 90 days before their graduation date or up to 60 days after. These deadlines refer to when the USCIS will receive their application, so students should allow time for working with the UCIE on the application and mailing it in.
Filing later during the application window may result in the loss of eligible time on OPT. Students are eligible for 12 months of OPT, which must be taken within 14 months after you finish your program requirements.
If approved by USCIS, students will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card with specific start and end dates. Students must not work either before the start date or after the end date on their card, and must have the card in hand to begin working. Working without authorization is a violation of F1 status.
Do I need a job offer to apply for OPT?
No, but you are only permitted to be on OPT for 90 days without employment. This 90 days is cumulative, and the clock begins on the start date printed on your EAD card.
Where can OPT students work?
Anywhere in the US. Remember, the work they are doing on OPT must be directly related to their degree field and must be at least 20 hours per week. There are currently over 900 International Raiders taking part in OPT around the country.
How do I choose my start date? What should my end date be?
Your requested start date must fall between your program end date and the end of your 60 day grace period. Because OPT applications take 3 to 5 months to process, depending on when you file your actual start date may be later. It is important to understand and share with your future employer that the start date is not certain until you have your EAD card.
What happens after I submit my application?
Approximately 2-3 weeks after USCIS receives your application, they will mail a receipt notice to the UCIE. The receipt includes a tracking number to check the progress of your OPT application online. Your card should arrive to the UCIE approximately 3-5 months after USCIS receives your application.
What do I have to do to maintain status on OPT?
You are permitted only 90 days of unemployment between the start and end dates on your EAD card. In addition, you are required to report the following information while on OPT:
- When you start a new job.
- When you change addresses.
- Periods of unemployment.
- 6-month validation
You must use the SEVP Portal to report any/all of these items within 10 days from the change.
Note: The SEVP Portal does not currently include the option to reprint your I-20. After updating your employer information, please email Kimberly at email@example.com for an updated I-20.
To learn more about the SEVP Portal, visit the SEVP Portal Help Hub.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I have to get an OPT visa?
During the period of OPT, a student continues in F-1 student status. There is no need to change your visa, unless it has expired and you plan to travel internationally.
How can I get my OPT permission faster?
USCIS usually requires three to five months to issue the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) that allows you to begin working on OPT. In most cases, it is not possible to expedite an application. There are limited ways to expedite the OPT application; read the USCIS expedite criteria webpage for details.
I’m working on campus and will continue working the same job for OPT. Can’t I just continue working?
No. On-campus work authorization ends on the date of graduation/completion of degree requirements. After this date, you cannot work on-campus or off-campus until you have the EAD in your possession and your OPT start date has arrived.
I think I made a mistake on my application. What can I do?
After the OPT application is submitted to the USCIS, it is very difficult to change or cancel the application. Please read the checklist and I-765 directions very carefully. If you are unsure on any aspect of the application, please email our office for clarification before you mail your packet. If you did make a mistake on the application and it has already been mailed to USCIS, talk to an UCIE advisor for help.
Can I travel between applying for OPT and starting OPT?
It is risky to travel without having your EAD card. If you plan to travel outside the U.S. after your degree completion date, you must submit the I-765 first (even if you plan to return within 60 days) and you will need your EAD card and a job offer letter in order to re-enter.
What if I have completed all required coursework and I am now engaged only in research?
In this case, Masters and PhD students have the option to request their I-20 be ended early. They can then apply for OPT and complete required research while engaged in OPT. Think carefully about your study and career plan to determine if this strategy may be right for you. Interested graduate students must contact an ISSS advisor for guidance.
How can I get health insurance between graduation and a new job?
There are many options for getting insurance for iternational students. See our Health Insurance page for links to resources to research health insurance coverage options.
More information regarding OPT can be found at the Study in the States, Department of Homeland Security website.