Optional Practical Training
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is employment authorization designed to provide you with an opportunity to gain practical experience in your field of study; complementing your academic work. While on OPT, you remain in F-1 status and need to comply with F-1 regulations. OPT is authorized by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). The USCIS issues the employment authorization document, which is the official approval document of OPT.
Optional Practical Training
In order to be eligible for OPT, F-1 students must:
- Currently be in valid F-1 status
- Have completed two semesters of full-time enrollment prior to OPT start date
A job offer is not required at the time of application.
OPT applications must be received in a specific timeframe and the application can be rather complex. You should carefully review the application guide for full details on applying for OPT. Once you are approved for OPT, you will receive an employment authorization document (EAD) from USCIS.
When to Apply
The OPT application process involves two major parts. First you must apply for an OPT recommendation on your I-20. Then you must submit an OPT application packet, including a signed copy of your OPT I-20, to USCIS.
- You can apply for OPT up to 90 days before and up to 60 days after your expected program completion date*.
- USCIS must receive your full and complete OPT application no more than 60 days after your expected program completion date*.
- In addition, USCIS must receive your application within 30 days of when the Office of International Programs recommends your I-20 for OPT.
- You must be physically present in the United States at the time USCIS receives your OPT application. More details are available in the application guide.
Generally, we recommend applying for OPT as early as possible. Waiting can cause further delays and you may not get a full 12 months of OPT. Additionally, applying early increases your chances of being able to reapply if your application is rejected or denied.
Expected completion date:
- Undergraduates: The last day of enrollment in the semester in which program requirements are completed.
- Graduates: The last day of enrollment in the semester in which program requirements are completed, or the date the thesis or dissertation is filed with the Office of Graduate Studies and Continuing Education. Contact the Office of International Programs if you have a job offer beginning before the last day of the semester. Graduate students who only have a dissertation/thesis remaining may be eligible to begin their post-completion OPT before filing.
Note: If you are applying for OPT after your expected program completion date, you must submit your OPT application to USCIS before making any exit from the United States. If you exit the United States after your program completion without applying for OPT, you will be ineligible to return in F-1 status to apply for OPT.
Step 1: Review the application guide for a complete overview of the process. This is required and very important. Failure to fully review the tutorial may result in application errors and cause OPT denials or violations of F-1 status.
Step 3: Review the application guide to fully prepare all documents and application forms for USCIS. Directly prior to mailing, review the application checklist before mailing your application to USCIS. Note: You are responsible for mailing your OPT application to USCIS. Your application must be received within 30 days of the issue date listed on page 1 of your I-20 and within 60 days of your completion date.
It can take 2.5-5 months for USCIS to process your OPT application. It is not possible to expedite the process.
The first week: After mailing your OPT application to USCIS, you should receive confirmation of delivery via text or email if you completed and included the G-1145 form in your application. This should also include your receipt number, which you can use to check your status online.
Within 30-45 days: You will receive an I-797c receipt notice at your mailing address confirming the date of receipt and your receipt number. Keep this notice safe as it is your official proof that your OPT application was submitted. You may need it for travel or other purposes. If there are any errors in the receipt notice in your name, address or application type, contact the Office of International Programs.
Around 2.5-5 months: You should receive an I-797 notice of approval letter and EAD card at your mailing address. These can come separately or at the same time. Check your EAD card to make sure all information is correct. You can start working on your EAD start date. If there are any errors on the EAD, contact the Office of International Programs.
Two weeks after receiving EAD card: You should receive your Social Security card (if you requested one).
Once you are approved for post-completion OPT and STEM OPT, F-1 status is dependent upon employment.
You may not accumulate more than 90 days of unemployment during the initial period of OPT authorized on the EAD. A legitimate volunteer position (in accordance with U.S. Department of Labor regulations) qualifies as a substitute for paid employment. Students on post-completion OPT are required to report employment, paid or unpaid, to the Office of International Programs. Please note that USCIS will automatically terminate your OPT if you accumulate more than 90 days of unemployment.
Once approved for STEM OPT, you may not accumulate more than 120 days of unemployment during the entire (up to 29 months) period of employment authorization (post-completion OPT and STEM OPT).
During the period of OPT authorization, you should be working or actively seeking employment.
The top five rules to remember while on OPT are:
- You may only work from the start date of your EAD card to the end date of your EAD card.
- All employment must be related to your major field of study.
- You must report all employment and address changes to the Office of International Programs within 10 days of any change using the employment information form and change of address form.
- You are limited to 90 days of unemployment during your OPT.
- The travel signature on page 2 of your I-20 is valid only 6 months while on OPT.
If you do not report your employment, USCIS will consider you unemployed, and once you reach 90 days of unemployment your status will be automatically terminated by USCIS.
You can have multiple employers at the same time and can change employers at any time provided each job is directly related to your field of study and commensurate with your level of education. You are required to keep careful records of all employment while on OPT and to report any change or addition.
While on OPT, you are subject to all applicable federal, state and local taxes and must file a tax report.
You can travel in and out of the U.S. while on OPT. If you travel outside the U.S. after completion of studies, you must have an approved EAD card to enter, and must re-enter in F-1 status; otherwise the OPT authorization will automatically end.
Refer to the travel webpage for details about travel while on OPT.
Time spent going to school should only be an incidental part of your stay in the United States. You must be maintaining the primary purpose of OPT. Beginning a full-time or degree-seeking program of study while on OPT is not allowed.
If you decide to return to school full-time, you will need to transfer your SEVIS record and I-20 to the new school. If returning to Salve Regina, you'll need to obtain a new I-20 to reflect your new degree.
You must inform the Office of International Programs as soon as possible of any changes in your status, so that the F-1 record can be appropriately updated.
- Change of immigration status: If approved for a change of immigration status (i.e. F-1 to H-1B), your F-1 status and OPT will end upon the start date of the new immigration status.
- Leave the U.S. permanently: If you decide to leave the U.S. for longer than five months, your post-completion OPT is no longer valid.
- Start new full-time academic program: If you are admitted into a new full-time academic program, your SEVIS record must be updated with the new program’s information or transferred to your new school. Your OPT is officially ended when the SEVIS record is updated.