OPT is temporary employment authorization for F-1 students in degree programs to gain experience in jobs directly related to their major area of study. F-1 students are eligible for a total of 12 months of OPT per educational degree level (e.g. Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctorate). Students in non-degree programs are not eligible for any kind of off campus work authorization.
OPT Quick Facts:
Details about all of these facts can be found on the page below:
- You do not need a job offer to apply for OPT
- You may not pursue a new course of full-time study while on OPT.
- The application is approved by United States Citizenship & Immigration Service (USCIS), but OPT must first be recommended by OIA.
- Currently, the approval process for USCIS takes between 3-5 months. USCIS is allowed up to 90 days to process your application once it is received; it will take additional time for USCIS to receive your document, receipt it, and mail it back to you.
- You must be in a degree program to be eligible. Students in non-degree programs (e.g. GSAL, NDVS, IBEP, and other short-term programs) are not eligible for OPT.
- You must not have used OPT at a higher degree level. For example, if you do a Phd, then use OPT, and then do a Master's-level program (lower degree level), you will not be eligible for OPT for the Master's level.
- You must be in the U.S. to apply. You will not be eligible to apply for OPT if you are outside of the U.S. at the time of application.
- You are eligible for 12 months OPT per education level. If you do two Master's degrees, you will still only be eligible for 12 total months of OPT. If you used all of your OPT time during a previous degree program at the same education level, you will not be eligible for additional OPT time.
- Each segment and type of OPT requires separate, complete applications to USCIS.
- As long as they otherwise meet all employment criteria, you can work for multiple employers simultaneously
Pre-Completion OPT (Before program end date listed on I-20)
- Not very common
- Usually used for summer internships that do not fit into program's CPT option, start ups, and independently found jobs
- Part time while classes are in session (20 hours or fewer per week, cannot be averaged)
- Full time or part time during breaks or vacation quarters
- Master’s/Doctoral Students ONLY: Full-time or part-time after courses finished, while working on thesis
Post-Completion OPT (After graduation, or after completion of course requirements for MA/PhD students)
- Very common
- Used for jobs after completion of your program or graduation
- Granted on a full time basis only (over 20 hours a week)
- All previous periods of OPT at the same level are deducted from the 12-month total. Part-time OPT is counted at a half-rate. Example: Four months part time OPT is subtracted from the total as two months.
- Eligibility for Pre- and Post-Completion OPT is based on program end date listed on your I-20, which might be different from your actual graduation date/quarter. If your current I-20 end date does not currently reflect the actual end of your program, it must be adjusted. See our information on shortening or extending your record.
To be eligible for OPT you must:
- Be registered full-time in a degree program for at least one academic year (three quarters) in valid F-1 status
- Have not used 12 months of OPT for a previous degree at the same level (e.g. you are doing an MBA and have already used your Master's level OPT after a previous MA/MS degree)
- Have not used OPT at a higher-degree level (e.g. you previously finished a PhD and now you are pursuing an MD, MBA, LLM, MS/MA etc)
- Be present in the U.S. in valid F-1 status at the time of application.
If you are outside of the U.S. after your program end date and have not applied for OPT, you will lose OPT eligibility.
Twelve months or more of full time CPT makes you ineligible for OPT. Part time CPT has no impact on OPT eligibility.
On-campus employment does not count against the 12-month OPT eligibility.
If you have a special case or have completed a higher-level degree in the past, contact your OIA adviser for eligibility information.
While on OPT, you are required to be employed and working at least 20 hours/week in a job (or multiple jobs) directly related to your field of study/major. Your OPT 'clock' starts ticking on the start date printed on your EAD. Anytime before your EAD start date is not considered unemployment. Information about these employment requirements follow:
Employment Requirements (Post-Completion OPT)
Unemployment: During your initial post-completion OPT period, you can have up to 90 days of unemployment. The 'clock' begins on the start date listed on your EAD. USCIS keeps track of your unemployment days based on the OPT Update Forms you submit to OIA (information below). If you accrue more than 90 days of unemployment or fail to provide OPT updates, USCIS will terminate your record. Visit our employment FAQ to learn what is considered employment, how unemployment works, and what to do if you accrue 90 days of unemployment.
STEM: The STEM OPT extension allows 150 days of unemployment for the entire time spent on OPT (regular OPT (90 days) and STEM (adittional 60 days) combined).
- Reporting: You must report all employers to OIA within 10 days of any new job. If you fail to meet your reporting requirement, USCIS will automatically terminate your record.
- Multiple jobs: OPT is not employer specific. As long as they otherwise meet all employment criteria, you can work for multiple employers simultaneously
- After your OPT has been approved and you start working, you are required to report what your position is and how it is related to your degree program through the OIA OPT Update Form.
- You must be able to concisely describe how your work is related to your studies in 2-3 sentences.
- OIA advisers are unable to determine your degree relevancy or confirm that your job is directly related; determining the relevancy is up to you.
- OIA cannot provide feedback on your degree relevancy statement or edit for clarity/corrections. We will report it to USCIS exactly how you've written it. Make sure to proofread before submitting your updates.
- If it is not clear from the job description that the work is related to the student's degree, SEVP highly recommends that you obtain a signed letter from your supervisor or manager or the employer's hiring official stating how your degree is related to the work performed and keep it for your records. OIA does not need a copy of this statement.
- The Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP) recommends that you maintain evidence - for each job - of the position held, proof of the duration of that position, the job title, contact information for the your supervisor or manager, and a description of the work. This documentation should be kept for your own records and may be requested during future immigration applications (e.g. H-1B). OIA does not need a copy of this documentation.
Types of Paid Employment Allowed on OPT:
As long as each position is directly related to your studies, commensurate with your level of education, and all jobs combine for at least 20 hours/week, essentially all kinds of employment situations and employers are allowed while on OPT, including:
- Multiple employers: You may work for more than one employer, but all jobs must be directly related to your field
- Short-term multiple employers (performing artists): You’re allowed to have multiple short term jobs or gigs (e.g. music performances). Keep a list of all gigs, the employer, and duration of each.
- Work for hire: Commonly referred to as 1099 or Independent Contractor Employment; keep evidence of the duration of contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
- Self-employed/business owner: For immigration purposes, you can start a business or be self-employed while on OPT. You should be able to prove that you have the proper business licenses and that it is related to your degree program.
- Consulting/Temp Agency: Employment through an agency or consulting firm is also allowed, as long as it meets all requirements.
- Other types of employment: As long as the position/job is directly related to your studies (and, of course, is legal), the type of employer or job you have does not really matter. It can be a big or small company, start-up, internship, temporary work, full-time, post-doc, hourly, unpaid, salaried, unconventional hours, non-profit, for-profit, self-employment, NGO or any other employer situation.
- Additional questions about types of OPT employment? See our OPT Employment FAQs for more information.
- You may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern while on OPT, where this practice does not violate labor laws.
- Assuming it meets all other criteria, unpaid internships and volunteer positions can qualify as OPT employment for reporting purposes. As any other position, you must report this job through the OPT Update Form (linked below).
Questions? See our OPT Application FAQs for more information.
OPT Application Timeline
Pre-Completion OPT (before your program ends):
- You can apply up to 90 days before your requested work start date
- The end date must be on or before your I-20 end date
- You can apply for pre-completion OPT before you finish your first year of study. However, the work cannot start until after you complete 3 quarters of full-time enrollment.
Post-Completion OPT (after your program ends):
- You can apply for OPT from 90 days before your end date, until 60 days after your end date.
- USCIS must receipt (not receive) your application no later than 60 days after your I-20 end date. Allow at least 10-14 days for USCIS to assign a receipt number.
- Your OPT start date can be between the day after your end date and 60 days after your end date.
- If you are outside of the U.S. or leave the U.S. after your program end date and you have not applied for OPT, you will lose your OPT eligibility.
Need help figuring out your dates? Calculate your own Post-Completion OPT timeline by using our OPT Date calculator. The calculator is an Excel spreadsheet. You may need to click 'enable editing' to use the calculator.
Learn more about the timeline and start date for your post-completion OPT application with this video:
Required: Before you begin the application process, you must:
- Attend in-person OPT Workshop session (highly recommended).
- If you cannot attend, you can review this entire OPT webpage, including the OPT FAQs
Starting your OPT application without attending or viewing the workshop could lead to application errors and delays in processing your request, as well as have a negative impact on your application to USCIS.
Applying for OPT is a two-step process. First, you must get a recommendation from OIA (a new I-20 showing requested OPT). Second, you must send your application to USCIS. Both steps are explained in detail below:
A: Make sure your 'SEVIS US' Address is updated and correct in My.UChicago. See the SEVIS Address Update instructions for more information.
B: Submit your request to OIA at least one week before you would like your new I-20. Due to large application volume, we cannot accommodate expedited processing requests, so please plan ahead. You do not need to see an adviser before submitting your request, unless you have specific questions. If you would like to meet with an adviser, you can either schedule an appointment in advance; or come to our walk-in advising hours, Monday through Thursday, 10am-1pm and 2-4pm.
To submit your OPT Recommendation request to OIA, complete the Online Request Form for F-1 OPT Work Authorization
- You must include OPT start and end dates on this form.
- When choosing an OPT start date, make sure you consider your proposed job start date, class schedule (for pre-completion OPT), your plans for future study at the same degree level, and potential H-1B plans.
- For post-completion OPT, your OPT start date has to be between the day after your end date and 60 days after your end date.
- Attach the following two documents as a pdf (signed Verification of Completion Form and completed I-765 application):
a. Verification of Completion Form
(For Post-Completion OPT Applications Only)
- Confirmation signed by your faculty advisor/Dean of Students or Academic Adviser verifying that you will complete either all course requirements with the exception of the thesis OR all degree requirements by the expected graduation date.
- If your ending quarter is earlier than your current end date, your F-1 record will be shortened to reflect the change. Shortening your record will add additional processing time, so please plan ahead.
- Shortening your record to an earlier end date is final and cannot be reversed without a complete extension application.
- This document is required for post-completion OPT applications only.
b. Form I-765, “Application for Employment Authorization”
(Required for all OPT applications)
- This is the official application form sent to USCIS for OPT work authorization. Fill it out online and then print it (write-able PDF format). DO NOT file electronically!
- This document is required for all OPT applications
- WARNING: This form must be completed exactly as indicated below. Follow the instructions carefully. Failure to follow the instructions will cause review and processing delays.
- MAC USERS: Filling out PDF forms with a Mac OS can cause the form to appear blank went uploaded or opened by PC users. To fix this: after you’ve filled out a PDF form in 'Preview', choose 'Print' from the 'File' menu and then use the dialog box’s PDF option to 'Save as PDF.' Save it to a PDF. If this does not work, we recommend printing and uploading or saving as an image
- For any technical issues editing the form: If you have any issues editing any of the sections of the pdf, you can always handwrite your answers, as long as the handwriting is neat and legible.
- Use black ink for any handwriting
- It is fine to hand write portions of the form that do not fit in the boxes provided
- Any handwriting must be very neat and legible
- It is OK if the I-765 is a mix of typing and hand-written items
- If a section on the I-765 does not apply to you, you may leave it blank.
Please complete Parts 1, 2 and 3. Part 4 (Interpreter Information) can be skipped and left blank, and Part 5 (Preparer Information) can be skipped and left blank unless someone else (such as an attorney) is preparing the form for you.
- Part 1 (Reason for Applying): Mark the first box, “I am applying for: Initial permission to accept employment”
- Part 2: Item 1a-c: Print your entire name as it appears in your passport and on Form I-20. Family name in CAPITAL letters, first name lowercase. Ex: BONAPARTE Napoleon. Your name field should match your I-20 exactly.
Part 2, 5a-e: This is where your EAD will be sent. You must select an address that will be valid for the next 4-5 months. If your address will change, you can ask a friend, relative or employer if you can add their name and U.S. address (see below). EADs will not be sent abroad.
- When using a friend, relative or employer's address, you must write their full name in the "In Care of Name (if any)" field.
- If the address you write is outside of Illinois, you may be required to mail your application to another USCIS Service Center. Check the USCIS website for the correct mailing address based on the State.
- The U.S. Postal Service will NOT forward government mail to a new address.
- If you live in an apartment, check the 'Apt.' box and put your apartment number.
- Include the last four digits of the zip code (Ex. 60637-2916) Check the U.S. postal service website for the complete zip code. You will likely need to hand write this.
- Make sure your 'SEVIS U.S' address is correct in the my.uchicago. system.
- Part 2, Item 8 (Alien Registration Number): Most F-1 students will not receive this number until after OPT is approved so you can leave this section blank.
Part 2, Items 13-17: Optional. You have the option to apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) and card (or a replacement card), at the same time that you apply for OPT. If you decide to pursue this option, you should receive your social security card from the Social Security Administration (SSA) approximately 2 weeks after receiving your EAD card from USCIS.
- Why this may be helpful: If you do not already have a SSN and will need one (or already have a SSN but need a replacement card), this will allow you to apply for it at the same time that you apply for OPT, so you will not have to go to a SSA office in person to apply for the SSN.
- If you already have your SSN, you can leave these items blank.
- This option was added to the I-765 in early October, 2017. If you applied prior to Oct 2017, this option did not exist.
Part 2, 21a:
- Visit the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website to retrieve your I-94 number.
- If you entered the U.S. on or before April 29, 2013 and have not left since then, the I-94 number can be found on your paper I-94 Departure Record card.
- Part 2, 21c (Travel Document Number, if any): Most F-1 students will not have a separate travel document other than their passport, so this can be left blank
- Part 2, 22: Enter the date of your most recent entry into the U.S. (see admission stamp in your passport).
- Part 2, 23: Enter the port of entry you last came through (on the entry stamp in your passport). E.g. - 'Chicago - ORD', 'Atlanta - ATL'
- Part 2, 24: Enter “F-1 student.” If you have changed status since your last entry, include a copy of your Form I-797 Approval Notice as proof that you are now in F-1 status.
- Part 2, 25: Enter “F-1 Student.”
Part 2, 27: Enter code:
- Post-completion OPT: Enter code: (c)(3)(B) and hand write “F-1 Post-completion Optional Practical Training” next to the category boxes.
- Pre-completion OPT: Enter code: (c)(3)(A) and hand write “F-1 Pre-completion Optional Practical Training” next to the category boxes.
- Part 2, Items 28-31: You can skip these question and leave them blank, as they are not required for F-1 OPT.
Part 3: Choose 1a, complete 3-5, and sign and date in 7a-7b. Note that your signature must stay in between the parallel signature lines, as the image of your signature will be captured for your EAD.
- If you are submitting the online OIA application, it is fine if you leave the signature blank until you get the draft copy back. That way, you will not need to print, scan, and upload the document. It must be signed before you submit your actual application to USCIS.
- It may say 'Don't forget to sign!' in red ink. If you can't get the document to print without the warning message, it is fine. USCIS has started that including the warning will not impact your application.
- Skip Part 4 (for those who need language interpreters to complete the application), but still include this page with submission (even though you do not need to complete it).
- Skip Part 5 (for Preparers), unless you have someone else such as an attorney preparing the application on your behalf. Still include this page with submission even if you do not need to complete it.
Part 6 (Additional Information):
- List all previous SEVIS ID numbers you have had (before your current one), the degree level, and school name for that SEVIS ID number. List Page 3, Part 2, Item 26 where requested here.
- List all previously authorized OPT and CPT, dates, the academic level at which it was authorized, and whether the position was part- or full-time (ex: SEVIS ID #, Master's, CPT, 10/2/2015 - 12/10/2015, part-time). List Page 2, Part 2, Item 12 where requested here.
As a courtesy, OIA will review the draft I-765 for accuracy and make suggested changes. However, please be advised that it is your responsibility to make sure your I-765 is completely accurate. OIA will help review the I-765, but it is ultimately your job to make sure all parts of your OPT application are accurate.
Submitting Forms to OIA and Getting the New I-20
Once you bring the three documents to the front desk or complete the online Request for F-1 OPT Work Authorization form, OIA will review your documents and create a new I-20 that shows your OPT request.
- Review at OIA takes approximately one week. Due to high volume, we cannot accommodate expedite requests, so please plan ahead.
- You will receive an email confirmation when your new I-20 is ready. Email providers vary in how the sort mail; make sure to check your junk mail folder, as well.
You will receive your new I-20, proofread form I-765, and SEVIS screen shots:
- I-20: Sign your I-20 at the bottom of page 1. Save all previous I-20s for your records. You may be asked for them during future applications.
- I-765: Any errors that need corrected on your I-765 will be noted in red ink. Once you get your draft back, make sure to review the I-765 in detail along with the instructions above. If there is red on your I-765, you must print and complete a new one that includes the OIA suggestions in black ink. OIA does not need to review other drafts.
SEVIS Screen Shot: This shows any previous CPT time used at UChicago. You will receive the CPT screenshot, even if you have never used CPT in the past.
These copies will include the 'SEVIS U.S.' address from my.UChicago. If the screenshot address is different from your current address, it will not impact your OPT application. However, as you are required by law to keep your address up to date, make sure you follow the SEVIS Address Update instructions to make any necessary changes to fulfill your F-1 address update requirement.
- Make sure your 'SEVIS U.S' address is correct in the my.uchicago. system.
Once you pick up these documents, then you can move on to Step 2.
Compile and mail the following documents to USCIS. Make sure to read all instructions carefully and follow all advice listed below:
- Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization (all 7 pages, signed and dated)
Two NEW passport photos in color that meet the U.S. government passport photo standards.
- Photos must be NEW and must not have been used in any previous application. Students do receive RFEs or rejections for photos that have been used previously
- Available at the ID & Privileges Office in Regenstein, Walgreen's, and CVS
- Write your name on the back of the photos and put them in an envelope and paperclip the envelope to the top of Form I-765
Payment: A personal check or money order payable to the "U.S. Department of Homeland Security". Do not use abbreviations.
- Either check or money order is fine. More payment information available on the USCIS website
- Payment must come from a U.S. financial institution and draws on U.S. funds
- Put your payment in the envelope with your passport photos and paperclip the envelope to the front of the I-765
- Personal checks: Make sure your check has your current address. If it is no longer accurate, you can cross it out on the check and hand write the new address that is associated with your bank account. It is OK if it is different from your I-765 address or SEVIS screen shots.
- This fee is non-refundable. Once you put your application in the mail, you will not be able to get your payment back. This is true whether you withdraw your application or if it is rejected.
- See the USCIS website for the current filing fee
Copy of OPT I-20 (the newest one with the OPT recommendation on page 2):
- Sign the I-20 at the bottom of page 1
- Do not send your original I-20
- Include page 1 and 2 of your I-20. The third page with the regulatory information does not need to be included.
USCIS must receive your application within 30 days of our OPT recommendation. This date can be found next to the OIA signature on page (this is NOT your travel signature date on page 3).
- If you are approaching the 30-day deadline, visit the OIA during our walk-in hours
- You do not need to send copies of any additional UChicago I-20s (including I-20s from previous UChicago programs); just include the copy of the newest I-20 with your OPT recommendation.
- Visit CBP website to retrieve and print out a copy of your electronic Form I-94
- If you entered the U.S. on or before April 29, 2013 and have not left the U.S. since then: Photocopy of your I-94 Departure Record card, front and back.
- Screenshot from SEVIS of previously granted UChicago CPT (you will get this from OIA with your new I-20).
- Copies (front and back) of all previous EAD(s) issued to you for F-1 OPT (color photocopy recommended). You do not need to include EAD copies from other statuses (e.g. J-2, H-1B, etc). Don't have copies anymore? See our Application FAQ for guidance on how to meet this requirement.
- Copy of the identity page(s) of your passport. This includes the page that has your photograph and biographical information (color photocopy recommended). You do not need to include a copy of your F-1 visa.
- Recommended: Form G-1145, "E-Notification of Application/Acceptance," if you want to be notified electronically when your application is received.
OPT Application Packet Review: Rejections and RFEs for OPT applications are very rare, if you follow all of the advice listed above. If you would like your OPT packet reviewed before mailing it to USCIS, stop by during walk-in advising times, no appointment necessary. Walk-in advising: Monday-Thursday, from 10am-1pm and 2pm-4pm.
Once you have assembled and double checked your application packet, you must send it to USCIS, using this guidance:
- Double Check for Common RFE and rejection reasons
- Make a copy or scan and save a copy of your completed I-765 before meailing it; keep the copy with your mailing receipt in your records.
Double check your I-765 address! Make sure:
- The address on the I-765 will be valid at least 4-5 months into the future
- If you are sending to friend or family member, their name must be on the address line of the I-765 (e.g. 'C/O Emily Friend, 1432 Friend Street). If the name and address will not fit in the box, you can hand write the C/O information above or next to the address box. if your friend's name is not on the I-765, your packet will not be delivered to their address.
- If you are sending to a friend or family member's address, make sure the return address on your envelope has both of your names on it (e.g. 'Emily Friend, Attn: You, 1432 Friend Street...). This will help make sure the application is sent back to you correctly in the unlikely event the post office sends it back to you as 'undeliverable'.
Make sure to apply in time! Your OPT application must be receipted by USCIS no later than the end of the grace period, not just received by mail. It usually takes an additional 7-14 days for USCIS to provide a receipt after they receive your document by mail.
- Your application must be received by USCIS within 30 days of the OPT recommendation provided by OIA. You can check the date located next to the adviser signature on page 1 (this is NOT your travel signature date on page 3).
- If you are approaching the 30-day time limit, contact OIA before sending your application. We may need to cancel your original OPT request and add a new one before you send it.
- We recommend secure mail with delivery confirmation/tracking, such as U.S. Postal Service Certified Mail. FedEx, UPS, DHL, etc will not sent to P.O. (Post Office) boxes, so you will need to mail your application from a post office. We recommend going in person to set-up the mailing.
- If you want to use a courier service (such as FedEx, UPS, or DHL), you must use the lockbox street address instead of the PO Box address. You can find the correct Lockbox address on the USCIS website. The destination is based on the address you are using on your I-765.
- The cost of mailing your OPT application will differ from the cost of mailing a standard letter. Visit the post office in person or check the USPS website to ensure you include sufficient postage on your package. Contact USPS or go to the post office if you have any questions about their services or mailing policies.
- Check with your OIA adviser if the address on Item 3 of your I-765 is outside of Illinois. If you are not using an Illinois address, you can find the correct Lockbox address on the USCIS website.
- Applications with an Illinois address on the I-765 go to a specific USCIS Lockbox facility--see the instructions for the address.
Application Receipt and USCIS Notification
When you mail your application to USCIS, you are mailing it to a lockbox facility, which is a mail collection center and not the actual processing center. After your application is received at the lockbox facility, it will be sent on to the appropriate processing center, which is in another state.
Your application will be receipted after it gets to the processing center. Because of this, there will be gap of usually 1-3 weeks in between your USPS delivery confirmation and you receiving a receipt from USCIS.
If your delivery confirmation said that your package was delivered, you can be assured that USCIS has received your application.
Ways to Tell if Your Application was Received:
- If you filed Form G-1145, you will receive an email or text from USCIS with confirmation that your application was received and a receipt number. This typically occurs 1-3 weeks after you mail your application.
- Within a month of mailing your application you will receive a Receipt Notice (I-797) from USCIS.
- If you paid the filing fee with a personal check, check your bank account to see if the check has been cashed.
Checking On the Status of Your Application
- Your I-797 Receipt Notice includes an receipt number (upper left-hand side) that begins with three letters (e.g. SRC, LIN, EAC, etc). You can use this receipt number to check the status of your application on the USCIS Case Status Search Page.
- Your cases status will say "pending" until it is approved.
- If you receive an RFE, the case status will be updated to show that you were sent an additional notice explaining how you need to respond. The reason for the RFE will not be listed on the online system and will only be sent as a paper copy through the mail. Make sure to check your mail regularly for any notices about your case.
- If you have any issues with your receipt, application, or online portal, you can call USCIS National Customer Service hotline at 1-800-375-5283 and report the issue.
If you have application issues, please contact OIA for guidance. In some cases, OIA will be able to intervene with USCIS on your behalf. However, in most cases you will need to contact USCIS yourself about any issues by calling the USCIS National Customer Service hotline at 1-800-375-5283 and report the issue.
Contact OIA if you: Need to cancel your OPT application, Need to change your OPT dates, Don’t graduate as planned, Receive an RFE or rejection, Need to update your mailing address on your I-765
Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
Currently, USCIS may take between 3-5 months (from the receipt date) to process your OPT application. Once your application is approved, you will receive your EAD at the address listed on your I-765. You can see example EADs below:
Cards issued before May 1, 2017:
Cards issued after May 1, 2017.
- USCIS will issue an EAD when your application has been approved. The card will state the specific start date and end date for your OPT.
- You cannot legally begin working until you have the physical card and the start date has been reached!
- Your EAD will say 'Not Valid For Reentry to U.S' on it, as in the example above. It is supposed to say this. Visit our Travel FAQ for more information about what this means.
- New EADs: USCIS will issue a new style of EAD for applications approved on or after May 1, 2017, USCIS. This EADs looks slightly different from cards issued in the past. Either card issued will carry validity until the expiration date listed on the card.
OPT is a benefit of F-1 status, similar to applying for a driver's license or Social Security Number. As long as you follow all of the instructions exactly and apply within the correct timeframe, your application should be approved. We help students submit hundreds of OPT applications each year and see very few issues. However, we do see some routine application issues, which tend to fit in to one of the following:
1: Address Issues: Receiving Application After Approval
The most common issues we see with OPT applications is not with the application material but with address and mailing issues. Once your OPT has been approved, USCIS still needs to get it to you. They are going to send it to the address listed on your I-765.
- It crucial to use an accurate, reliable address that will be valid for 4-5 months into the future.
- If your home mail system tends not to be reliable, consider sending it to a trusted friend or family member.
- If you are going to move 3-4 months after you submit your application, make sure to use a different address.
- If you are sending to a friend/family member and want them to send it to you abroad, remember that this increases the risk of the card being lost in the mail or mishandled. We do not recommend this.
- OIA does not permit the use of our address for OPT application purposes
- If you are using an address outside of Illinois, make sure to have the correct mailing address for your application.
2: Requests for Evidence and Rejections
In a very small percentage of cases, we do see application issues or rejections. These are almost always caused by failure to follow the application instructions and timeline outlined in the instructions above. See below for the most common application issues we've seen:
Requests for Evidence (RFE)
If USCIS has additional questions about your application materials or eligibility, they are likely to send a Request for Evidence (RFE). Though rare, RFEs are more common than rejections. Although responding to RFEs will usually end with an approval, RFEs stop the application timeline and can significantly delay your application.
RFEs are also uncommon, but the most common issues for RFEs include:
- Your signature missing on your I-20
- Passport photos do not meet USCIS specifications or have been used on a different application
- You've filled out the I-765 incorrectly, such as using the incorrect code, signing in the wrong place, or including inaccurate or incomplete personal information
- A document (such as a CPT screenshot) is missing
- The Post- or Pre-completion OPT code is incorrect (item 16 on I-765)
- Copy of passport is blurry or unclear
- You include unsolicited information about potential employer or job duties, such as an employer name or job offer letter
- USCIS wants an official school transcript (there is not anything you can do to prevent this kind of RFE).
- USCIS wants background information on each job you've ever had, the dates, and work authorization you had for the job (there is not anything you can do to prevent this kind of RFE).
Outside of these issues, RFEs are possible. However, the items listed above tend to be the RFEs we hear about the most. If you receive an RFE, please contact OIA for guidance.
What Will the RFE Ask for? What Documents will I Need to Provide?
The RFE will contain detailed information about the additional documentation that is needed, include a response envelope, and provide a response timeline. Usually, USCIS gives a response window of 1-2 months. Until you receive the paper copy of your RFE in the mail (to the address listed on your I-765), you will not know the exact documents that are needed to respond.
Some RFEs might just ask for new passport photos or a transcript, others may want a complete history of all of the work you've had or copies of other immigration documents. Your RFE will tell you what is needed.
Often, the RFE will ask for documentation or an explanation letter only from the applicant (you, the student). If you receive such an RFE, OIA can help you review your response letter and provide feedback.
Occasionally an RFE requests information that needs to be verified by the University. If the RFE requests explanation letters or documentation from your Designated School Official (DSO), contact OIA for assistance. You can send us a copy of your RFE and we will provide guidance and response letters, as needed. Because you will not know the exact RFE reason and request until you receive the notice, OIA cannot provide preemptive letters or documentation for a response. You must wait to receive an RFE before you create a response to it.
How to Respond to an RFE
Make a copy of your entire response for your records. When you respond to the RFE, you will need to send a copy of your RFE and your supporting documentation to the address listed on the notice. If you don't respond to the RFE within the timeline provided (usually 1-2 months), your application will be denied.
RFEs and Application Timeline
If you receive an RFE, the 90-day application processing timeline is paused. Once USCIS receives a response to your RFE, the application timeline will resume. If you receive an RFE, it is important to respond to it in a timely manner. Usually, USCIS gives a response window of 1-2 months.
OPT Application Rejections
It is extremely rare for applications to be rejected. However, when they are, it is because the student is not eligible for OPT.
The most common scenarios that cause rejections include:
- Submit your application too early or too late (outside of the application window)
- OIA's OPT recommendation was more than 30 days before the date USCIS received your application. USCIS must receive your application within 30 days of the OIA recommendation (check the print/signature date listed on page 1 of your I-20).
- You are not eligible for a different reason (such as you've already used OPT at a higher degree level in the past or you've already used all available OPT time for that degree level)
To forestall an RFE or avoid a rejection, make sure to follow all instructions listed on this website exactly. Prepare ahead of time and re-read the application instructions in detail and make sure you submit your application with all required materials within the time frame allowed.
Visit our Application FAQs to learn more about common delay and rejection reasons and learn about the most common OPT issue.
While on OPT, you continue to be in F-1 status sponsored by the University of Chicago. As such, the school continues to be responsible for your immigration record and you continue to have regulatory responsibilities. As before, you must keep OIA informed of any changes and are required by law to report your employment to our office:
All F-1 students on post-completion OPT are required to report the following information within 10 days of any new job or interruption of employment through the SEVP Student Portal or the OIA OPT Update Form:
- Legal/passport name
- Physical address, e-mail, and U.S. phone number
- Employer name/address
- Dates on EAD card
- Description of how your job is related to your degree,
- Average number of hours/week
- Any interruption of employment/ending a job
- Accruing more than 90 days of unemployment
- IMPORTANT: You must meet these OPT reporting requirements in order to keep your F-1 status and OPT active. Make sure to submit your OPT update form within 10 days of any change.
- USICIS keeps track of your unemployment days based off of the OPT update forms you submit. If you fail to submit updates or if you accrue more than 90 days of unemployment, the SEVIS system will terminate your F-1 record, which will end your OPT and your legal presence in the U.S..
- If you change your status, provide evidence (e.g. approval notice, I-94 card, entry stamp, green card) of the new status to OIA so that we can clean up your F-1 SEVIS record appropriately.
- If you leave the country before your period of OPT authorization has completed, please provide documentation of your departure so OIA can update your SEVIS record appropriately.
Transferring SEVIS Record to a New School
- If you plan to start a new program either during or after completion of OPT, you can have your SEVIS record transferred. This can be done up to the end of the 60 day grace period following your OPT end date.
- If you transfer your SEVIS record while on OPT, you will lose work authorization the day that your record is transferred, regardless of the end date indicated on your EAD Card.
- Additional SEVIS Transfer information and instructions can be found on our website
Questions? See additional information on our OPT Reporting FAQ.
OPT is a continuation of your F-1 status and is not a new status. While on OPT, you continue to be sponsored by the University and remain subject to F-1 travel regulations. A few important things to keep in mind:
Travel While OPT is PENDING
- Before Program End Date: You can travel normally as an F-1 student. NOTE: Contact employer for travel information if you are applying for H-1B or another immigration status.
After Program End Date: travel abroad after your program end-date will depend on whether you have received your EAD card or not:
- If you plan to travel abroad after your program end-date, and before your OPT start-date, and your OPT has been approved and you have your EAD card: travel with your OPT I-20, valid passport, valid F-1 visa stamp, and EAD card. If you have a job offer, you may also carry it as well, although it is not necessary.
If you plan to travel abroad after your program end-date, and before your OPT start-date, and your OPT has NOT been approved yet (still pending) and you do not have your EAD card: you may still travel, but you should plan to remain outside of the U.S. until such time your OPT application has been approved and your EAD card can be sent to you abroad.
- Attempting to re-enter the U.S. without your EAD card can result in your denied entry.
- If you attempt to re-enter as a tourist (ESTA or on a B1/B2 visa) while your OPT application is pending, your application will likely be rejected due to your change of status from F-1 to tourist/visitor (B or ESTA).
- All documentation about your application, including any Request for Evidence (RFE), will be sent to your U.S. address. If you are not in the U.S. to receive it, providing the documents requested in the RFE might be problematic.
- If your OPT application is rejected (this is unlikely) and it is past your I-20 end date, you will not be able to re-enter the U.S. to submit a new petition.
- For more information, visit the Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) Travel FAQs
- Travel through Chicago airports whenever possible
- You can remain in the U.S. if your F-1 visa has expired. If you plan to travel in and out of the U.S. while on OPT, you must have a valid F-1 visa.
- If your F-1 visa will expire before you re-enter, you must apply for a new visa at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad PRIOR to your return.
Questions? See our OPT Travel FAQs for more information.
F-1 Visa Application: As OPT is a continuation of your F-1 status, OPT makes you eligible for apply for a new F-1 visa. Although visa approvals are always up to the individual officers, the fact that you are on OPT will not negatively impact a F-1 visa application by itself. As with any F-1 visa application, you must be able to demonstrate non-immigrant intent and that you plan to return to your home country after OPT ends.
EAD: Your EAD will say 'Not Valid For Reentry to U.S' on it. It is supposed to say this. Visit our Travel FAQ for more information about what this means.
F-2 Dependent Travel
In addition to their own Form I-20 – with updated travel signature, valid passport and valid F-2 visa, F-2 dependents should keep copies of the following F-1 documents for travel:
- F-1 Form I-20
- F-1 Visa
- F-1 Passport identification page(s)
- F-1 I-94 Departure record, if available
This is a post-completion OPT extension for which students holding USCIS-approved degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math degrees are eligible to apply. See our STEM page for more information on the STEM Extension.
Questions? See our STEM FAQs for more information.
The "H-1B cap-gap" refers to the period of time between the end of a student's F-1 status (end of OPT or grace period) and the beginning of the student's H-1B status. The Cap Gap only applies for students submitting a Change of Status petition (not consular processing) for cap-subject employers.
If a student has an H-1B application pending with or approved by USCIS, the cap gap extension rule automatically extends an eligible F-1 student's authorized period of stay in the U.S. during this "gap" period until the H-1B status becomes active (October 1).
This extension will extend your:
Duration of status:
If your OPT expired prior to April 1, [current year], or if you are in your 60-day grace period, this extension will allow you to remain in the U.S. provided you maintain your status. You are not permitted to work under any circumstances until your H-1B petition has been approved by USCIS and your H-1B status is in effect (October 1).
Current period of OPT:
If your approved OPT work authorization ends April 1, [current year] or later, your work authorization will be extended from the date it expired until September 30th, the day before your H-1B status becomes active. The Cap Gap extension will be notated on your I-20.
This extension is available to F-1 students whose OPT was approved or who:
- Have an OPT end date on or after April 1 [current year] and
- Have a pending or approved Change of Status H-1B petition (I-539) with USCIS. and
- The H-1B petition was filed in a timely manner with USCIS, according to the acceptance period, and
- The employer is subject to the H-1B cap (is not exempt from the cap)
H-1B Extension Timeline:
Cap Gap Application process
It is important that you work closely with your OIA adviser during this process. The Cap Gap extension will be automatically added to your record by USCIS. You will need to contact OIA to request that we print the Cap Gap Extension I-20. Your adviser will then print the new I-20 showing USCIS automatically extended your F-1 status.
USCIS typically updates Cap Gap extensions in late April or May each year. If you contact OIA too early, USCIS may not have updated your record.
It will take about one week for your Cap Gap I-20 to be printed. It is essential that you notify your adviser when your H-1B petition has been approved or denied by USICS, so they can update your record as necessary.
If your OPT will run out before you get the receipt from USCIS, such as if your OPT expires in early April, you can submit a copy of your FedEx tracking confirmation and a letter from your immigration attorney as proof that the application has been filed, and your adviser can request that USCIS extends your OPT through June 1, of the current year. Outside of the June 1 extension, OIA advisers are unable to make any changes to your Cap Gap eligibility or dates.
Denial of H-1B Petition by USCIS
If a pending H-1B petition is denied, rejected or revoked, the extension of status or work authorization will be terminated immediately. The standard 60-day grace period will apply from the date the H-1B petition was denied, rejected or revoked. You must stop working immediately upon receiving notice that your petition was denied, rejected or revoked. You will then have 60 days to leave the U.S.
Traveling while on Cap-Gap Extension
If you are on a cap-gap extension of OPT, you will not be able to travel during the cap gap extension period. Requirements for travel while on OPT include having an unexpired EAD. You will not receive a new EAD for your cap gap extension. Because your EAD will have expired, you will not be able to re-enter the U.S. if you travel abroad. If you must travel abroad, please speak with your OIA adviser for more detailed advice.
If you are on a cap-gap extension of STEM OPT, you will be able to travel during the cap-gap extension period, after the H1-B petition is approved and with the required documents listed here.
Questions? See our H-1B Cap Gap FAQs for more information.
When can I apply for OPT?
Post-Completion OPT: You can apply up to 90 days before and up to 60 days after the program end date listed on your I-20. See the OPT application section or use our OPT date calculator for more information. You will not be eligible for post-completion OPT if you leave the U.S. after your program end date and have not applied for OPT.
USCIS must receive your application within the 60-day grace period following your I-20 end date. Late applications will be rejected.
Pre-Completion OPT: You can apply up to 90 days before your requested employment start date.
Can I split up my OPT into multiple segments?
You are eligible for only one post-completion OPT segment per completed program of study. You must begin post-completion OPT within 60 days of your program end date. Any OPT you do not request or use will be forfeited. At the same level, you can split post-completion OPT into multiple sections ; for example, you can use six months of OPT after completing a master’s program in computer science, and use the remaining six months after completing an MBA. However, if you choose not to apply for OPT at the time you complete a program, you cannot go back at some point in the future and claim that OPT time. In this sense, OPT is a ‘use it or lose it’ proposition.
You can apply for multiple segments of pre-completion OPT; for example, you can use pre-completion OPT during two separate summers while you are a student for an internship or job.
The only way to extend your post-completion OPT is by using the STEM or H-1 Cap Gap Extension (if eligible).
Do I need a job offer to apply for OPT?
No. OPT is not employer specific. You do not need a job to apply for OPT. You will not include any information about your employer in your post-completion OPT application.
I used 3 months of CPT. Will that time be deducted from my 12 months of OPT?
No. If you use one year (12 months) of full time CPT, you will be ineligible for OPT. Other than that, CPT has no effect on OPT eligibility. If you used only three months of CPT, you will still have 12 months of OPT available.
How do I chose an OPT start date?
You cannot begin working until you receive the EAD and the start date on the EAD has been reached. When you request OPT, you have to indicate what you would like your EAD start date to be.
When choosing an OPT start date, make sure you consider your proposed job start date, class schedule (for pre-completion OPT), your plans for future study at the same degree level, and potential H-1B plans. Also consider that OPT can take 3 - 5 months to be approved. If you apply for OPT late (fewer than 90 days before your requested start date), then USCIS might change your requested OPT start date to a later date that anticipated. You won't know your official OPT start date until you receive your EAD.
Is the 'start date' my OPT start date or my work start date? What is the difference?
When you request OPT, you have to indicate what you would like your OPT start date to be on the OIA recommendation form. This date goes on your OPT I-20 that you mail to USCIS. The OPT start date you request must be within the 60-day Grace Period following the end of your program. In most cases, this requested start date is the OPT start date that will be the start date that is printed on your EAD. To begin working, you need the EAD in hand and the start date printed on the card must be reached.
As long as your start date is around 90 days from when you apply for OPT, the OPT start date you put on your application should be the start date printed on your EAD. If you apply for OPT late (fewer than 90 days before your requested start date), then USCIS might change your requested OPT start date to a later date. In this case, the start date printed on your EAD may be later than expected. You won't know your official OPT start date until you recieve your EAD.
Can I change my requested start date after I submit my application?
It is very difficult to change your OPT start date after your mail your application to USCIS. Once you put it in the mail, it is unlikely you will be able to change the dates with USCIS.
Contact OIA if you need to change your start dates before you mail your application. Changing the request dates with OIA before you send it to USCIS will require up to a week of processing.
I had my record shortened to apply for OPT and now I want to set it back to where it was so I can attend other courses or apply for CPT. Can I change this?
Shortening your record to an earlier end date is final and cannot be reversed without a complete extension application. See the extension link for information about extension eligibility.
What does my employer need to provide for the OPT application?
Nothing. OPT is not employer specific. Your employer does not need to provide any documentation for your OPT application.
Do I have to attend an OPT workshop before applying?
Yes. If you can't make it, watch the OPT Workshop recording and make sure to review the website thoroughly.
I submitted my OPT application to OIA more than a week ago and have not received an email. Where is my new I-20?
After you drop off your application, you can expect to hear back from OIA about the status of your application in one week (5 business days). In almost all cases, we stick to this timeline. If it has been more than a week since you submitted your OPT application, first, check your junk mail or 'Promotion' folder (if applicable). Sometimes email providers filter such messages. If you have still not heard from OIA, please reach out to OIA for assistance.
How can I tell my OPT application has been received by USCIS?
When USCIS receives your application, they will send you an I-797 receipt notice through the mail. This receipt notice will have your receipt number on it. If you filled out a G-1145 request for electronic notification, you will be notified through email or text messages that it has been received. If you paid the application fee by check, you can see if the money has been removed from your account.
Is there expedited OPT processing?
No. USCIS does not allow for expedited OPT processing. OPT takes about three months (90 days) to get approved. If your application has been pending for more than 75 days, you can contact USCIS for assistance, but they will not typically accommodate expedite requests.
My OPT application is pending and I have moved to a new place. What should I do?
If your address has changed since you applied for OPT, contact your International Student Adviser as soon as possible. Address issues are one of the biggest complications we see with OPT applications, so it is important to contact your ISA early if there are any changes in your application. Your ISA will provide instructions on how to contact USCIS to request the change.
How Do I fill out the I-765?
Follow our I-765 instructions exactly when filling out the form.
OPT is a benefit of your F-1 status. Applying for OPT is similar to applying for other benefits, such as a driver's license or a Social Security Number. As long as you are follow the directions closely, submit all of the required documents within the specified timeframe, and are otherwise eligible, your application should be approved.
What are some common rejection reasons for OPT applications?
As long as you follow of the instructions exactly and submit your application in a timely manner, it is extremely unlikley your application will be rejected. The most common reasons we see for rejections are: applying too early (more than 90 days before the end date, applying too late (too close to the end of the 60-day grace period), and the application being received more than 30 days after the OIA signature date on page 1 of the I-20. Outside of these reasons, it is extremely uncommon for applications to be rejected.
What is an RFE? Will that delay my application?
A Request for Evidence (RFE) is what USCIS will send if they require additional information to process your request. If you forget to sign something or do not include a required document, it is more likley you wil receive an RFE than a rejection. Although responding to RFEs usually results in an approval, RFE can cause long application delays. The best way to avoid receiving an RFE is to make sure you are following all of the detailed application directions exactly.
What is the most common issue you see with OPT applications?
By far the most common issues we see with OPT applications are address and mailing issues. Once your OPT has been approved, USCIS still needs to get it to you. They are going to send it to the address listed on your I-765. It is absolutely crucial to include an accurate, reliable address that will be valid for 4-5 months into the future. If your home mail system tends not to be reliable, consider sending it to a trusted friend or family member. If you are going to move 3-4 months after you submit your application, make sure to use a different address.
If you applied for OPT before, USCIS requires you to submit documentaiton from your previous application, such as a copy of your receipt notice or EAD. If you are missing copies of some or all of these docuemnts, include a formal letter to USCIS explaining that you were previously on OPT and that you have lost your documents. If known, include the start and end date of the OPT, the service center where it was approved, and receipt number. If you do not have this information, your school may still have a record of your OPT.
If you are missing copies of some or all of your previous I-20s, you can first try contacting your previous school to see if they have a copy. If this does not work, you can create a letter of explanation that details your previous program(s) and any CPT or OPT you were authorized for. This letter should include the school name, dates you attended, SEVIS ID number (if known), whether or not you used CPT or OPT and an explanation of why you do not have your previous I-20s. These letters should be relatively short and straightforward; as individual circumstances vary, there is no template available for them.
In general, make sure to keep all previous immigration documents for your records. It is common for new applications to request previous documents from previous applications--even if you are now in a different status.
I want to withdraw my OPT application. Can I get a refund for my application fee?
No. The application fee is non-refundable. Once you put your application in the mail, you will not be able to get your payment back. This is true whether or not you withdraw your application or if it is rejected.
Can I stay in the U.S. while my application is pending?
Yes. As long as the service center receipts your application (not just receives) before the last day of your Grace Period, you can stay in the U.S. until your OPT is approved.
I've applied for OPT. Can I travel internationally before my I-20 end date?
Yes. You can travel as a regular F-1 student before your I-20 end date. This is case even if you have submitted an OPT application. After your I-20 end date, you will require the EAD and additional documents to travel. See below for more information.
Can I travel while my OPT is pending/before I receive my EAD card?
Before I-20 end date: Yes. You can travel as a regular F-1 student before your I-20 end date. This is case even if you have submitted an OPT application.
After I-20 end date: After the program end date listed on your I-20, you will need your EAD to re-enter the country. If you leave the U.S. before you receive the card, you will not have it for re-entry and would need to remain abroad until the EAD card can be sent to you.
Visit the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) travel FAQ website for more information and see the questions below for more information.
Pre-completion OPT and travel before your program end date will not affect your eligibility to travel internationally.
Travel while on the STEM OPT extension or while the STEM OPT extension is pending is allowed, with the required documents listed here.
What if I must travel after my I-20 end date, while my OPT is pending?
After the program end date listed on your I-20, you are expected to have your EAD to re-enter the country. If you leave the U.S. before you receive the card, you will not have it for re-entry and will need to remain abroad until the EAD card can be sent to you. See the State Department Travel FAQ page for more information.
Can I travel during spring break while my OPT application is pending?
Yes, as long as it is before the program end date listed on your I-20. If you are travelling before your program end date, you can travel like a regular F-1 student, even if you have an OPT application pending. If you are traveling after your program end date, you will need your EAD and a letter from your employer, in addition to your regular travel documents, to re-enter the U.S. We do not recommend travelling out of the country after your program end date until your OPT has been approved and you have your EAD in hand. See our page on Required Documents for Travel for detailed information.
If you have an H-1B petition pending, contact the attorney or HR representative before traveling out of the country.
Can I travel out of the country while on OPT/after it has been approved?
Yes. OPT is a continuation of your F-1 Student status. As an F-1 Student, you are allowed to enter and exit the country as long as you have all required travel documents. After the program end date listed on the I-20, you should not travel out of the country until you receive your EAD (see below).
If you have an H-1B or other status petition pending, make sure you speak with the attorney or HR representative preparing your case before travelling out of the country.
I'm studying/doing research abroad during my final quarter of study. How does this work with the OPT application?
You must be in the U.S. when you apply for OPT, so you will either need to apply for OPT before you leave (see the application timeline above) or come back before your I-20 end date and apply for OPT after your trip. If you do not apply for OPT and your I-20 end date passes, you will not be allowed to re-enter the U.S. in F-1 status and you will lose OPT eligibility.
Also note that all communication about your application will be sent to your U.S. address and will not be sent abroad. If there are issues with your application or you receive a Request for Evidence (RFE), you must be able to respond to it to keep your application active.
Can I renew my F-1 visa while on OPT?
Yes. OPT is a continuation of your F-1 student status. As an F-1 student, you are eligible to apply for a new F-1 visa while on OPT. Although visa approvals are always up to the individual officers, the fact that you are on OPT will not negatively impact a F-1 visa application by itself. For details, visit our Visa Renewal Information page.
My EAD says ‘Not Valid for Travel’ on it. Does that mean I can’t travel?
Your EAD should say ‘Not Valid for Re-entry.” The statement means that the EAD document alone is not sufficient for re-entry. The EAD work authorization card does not replace your visa and other immigration and travel documents. You need the EAD in addition to your regular travel documents (I-20 with travel signature- signatures are only valid for 6 months while on OPT, passport valid at least 6 months into the future, valid visa, etc). You can see all of the documents you need for travel on our website.
I have my EAD. Can I re-enter the US in between my I-20 end date and OPT start date?
If you already have your EAD and have all other necessary F-1 travel documents, you can re-enter the U.S. in F-1 status before your official OPT start date. For example, if your I-20 ends on June 11 and your OPT start date is August 10, it is fine to enter the U.S. in June or July (in between the dates). You cannot begin working until your OPT start date, but you can enter the U.S. before it begins.
When can I begin working?
You can begin working once you receive your EAD and the start date on the card has been reached.
What counts as employment while on Post-Completion OPT?
‘Employment’ is any job or work opportunity that is directly related to your field of study and combines for an average of 20 hours per week. You can work for multiple employers and hours from multiple employers can be combined for the 20 hours total.
Jobs can be paid or unpaid, internships, research opportunities, Postdocs, multiple short-term gigs, contract work, full time office jobs, or really anything—as long as it is related to your field of study, does not violate labor laws, and is an average of 20 hours a week, it counts as ‘employment’.
As long as the position/job is directly related to your studies (and, of course, legal), the type of employer or job you have does not really matter. It can be a big or small company, start-up, internship, temporary work, full-time, post-doc, hourly, unpaid, salaried, unconventional hours, non-profit, for-profit, self-employment, or any other employer situation.
Remember that federal law requires you to update your OPT employment within 10 days of starting any new job. Failure to report your OPT employment will result in the automatic termination of your F-1 status, which will end your OPT.
Can I have multiple jobs while on OPT?
Yes. OPT is not employer specific. As long as they otherwise meet all employment criteria, you can work for multiple employers simultaneously. You can combine hours from multiple jobs to fulfill your 20 hour/week requirement.
Can I do an internship while on OPT?
Yes, as long as the internship is relevant to your field of study. There is no minimum amount you must be paid or limitation on the type of work that can be done for your job to ‘count’ for OPT. The job can be paid, unpaid, full time, part time, contract work, etc. As long as the job is directly related to your major/field of study and does not violate any labor laws, it can count towards your 20 hour/week requirement for OPT.
Can I do an unpaid internship or volunteer position while on OPT?
Yes, as long as the internship or volunteer work is directly related to your field of study. There is no minimum amount you must be paid or limitation on the type of work that can be done for your job to ‘count’ for OPT. The job can be paid, unpaid, full time, part time, contract work, etc. As long as the job is directly related to your major/field of study and does not violate any labor laws, it can count towards your 20 hour/week requirement for OPT.
If you are doing unpaid work, make sure to keep documentation showing details of your employment and that it is a bona fide unpaid internship, such as the posting, advertisement, contracts, hours worked, etc.
What does “directly related to your field of study” mean? Who makes that determination?
It is your responsibility to have a job that is relevant to your major or field of study. You are the sole person who can make the determination of whether or not your job is directly related, as you are responsible for your maintaining your immigration status and facing any consequences arising from status violations.
"Directly related" means that you are using the skills and knowledge you developed in your major/degree program in the job you are doing and your job is appropriate for your level of education. You are required to report how your job is related to your field of study on the OPT Update form. For details, see our information on Showing your OPT is directly related to your degree program.
Note that OIA advisers cannot make the determination or confirm that your position is related to your field of study. It is up to you to provide the relevant information.
What's the longest I can go without having a job on OPT? Can I be unemployed?
You are allowed 90 days of unemployment while on post-completion OPT. Unemployment time starts 'counting' on the OPT start date listed on your EAD (the card you get when your OPT has been approved). If you reach 90 days of unemployment, you must contact OIA so that we can cancel your remaining OPT time. You are expected to leave the U.S. if you accrue more than 90 days of unemployment.
USCIS keeps track of your unemployment days, based on the OPT Update Forms you submit. If you accrue more than 90 days of unemployment (or if you fail to update your employer information while employed), USCIS will automatically terminate your record, which will end your legal presence in the U.S. and forfeit your remaining OPT time.
What counts as unemployment? When does my unemployment time start counting?
Unemployment time starts 'counting' on the OPT start date listed on your EAD (the card you get when your OPT has been approved).
Is there a grace period after I have reached 90 days of unemployment?
No. If you have exhausted your 90 days of unemployment and are not employed at least 20 hours per week, we are expected to leave the country immediately and inform OIA so we can cancel your remaining OPT time. You are allowed 90 days of unemployment for the duration of your OPT. If you stay in the U.S. without a job after you’ve been unemployed for 90 days, you will begin to accrue days of unlawful presence. This can cause negative immigration consequences, especially for future U.S. immigration applications.
Unpaid internships or volunteer positions count as OPT employment. While you are looking for something more permanent or paid, you may want to consider finding a non-profit or other volunteer opportunity related to your field. Working will stop the unemployment clock and give you more time to search for a job. It doesn’t have to be your dream job or something you want to do forever.
If you have reached your 90 days of unemployment, you can report it through the OPT Update Form. Your record will be changed to 'complete', you will forfiet any remaining OPT time, and you must leave the U.S.
How do I report my OPT employment? What do I have to show to OIA?
All F-1 students on post-completion OPT are required to report any change in the following information within 10 days through the OPT Update Form: Name, phone number, address, employer name/address, dates on EAD card, degree relevancy, hours worked, and/or any interruption of employment. Outside of the online form above, you do not need to submit any additional information or documentation to OIA unless specifically asked by an adviser. See below for more information.
IMPORTANT: If you fail to meet your OPT reporting requirements or accrue 90 days of unemployment, your F-1 Status/OPT will be automatically terminated by USCIS. Make sure to submit your OPT update form within 10 days of any change.
I received my EAD card; what do I have to do now?
Once you receive your EAD, make a copy or scan of it and keep it for your records. You do not need to provide OIA with a copy of your EAD. Within 10 days of getting a new job, you must submit the employer information and approved dates on your EAD through the OPT Update Form. You will also use this update form to inform OIA of any changes to your employment status, employer, or address. See OPT Reporting Requirements for more information.
IMPORTANT: If you fail to meet your OPT reporting requirements, your F-1 Status/OPT will be automatically terminated by USCIS. Make sure to submit your OPT update form within 10 days of any change.
My address, phone number, or employer has changed. What do I need to do?
You are required by law to report any changes in your address, phone number, e-mail address, employer, job/degree elevancy, employer's address, within 10 days of the change through the OPT Update Form.
I have lost my EAD card, how can I get a replacement card?
If you lose or misplace your EAD, you will need to start from scratch and reapply for a new EAD. The only difference between applying for a new card and applying for a replacement is checking one box on the I-765. For the replacement card, you will have to submit an entirely new application with all supporting documentation, pay the filing fee again, and wait for your application to be processed.
Is there a grace period after my OPT ends?
Yes. There is a 60-day Grace Period after the work authorization end date listed on your EAD. During this time, you will either need to leave the country, change to a new immigration status, or transfer to a new program. You are not allowed to work during this time. Please see our information on the Grace Period for details.
If you are leaving the U.S. during your Grace Period, you do not need to inform OIA. If you are leaving the U.S. before your OPT ends and will not use your remaining OPT time, make sure to let OIA know so that we can update your record.
Can I continue to work during my grace period?
No. The last day you can be legally employed is the work authorization end date listed on your EAD. After the end date, you can no longer work on OPT. You will have 60 days to leave the country, change to a new immigration status, or transfer to a new program.
What do I do if want the leave the U.S. and I don’t want to continue my OPT?
If you want to quit working and leave the country before your OPT has ended, that is fine. Just makes sure you notify OIA via the OPT Update form so we can cancel your remaining OPT time. If you do not notify OIA, we won’t know to complete your record and you may end up accruing a lot of unemployment time (more than your 90 day limit). This would have a negative impact on your immigration status and could cause complications for future U.S. immigration applications—especially for work statuses.
I studied in a STEM field. How can I know if my company is in the E-Verify system, and if it is, how can I find the company’s E-Verify number to complete the I-765?
To apply for the STEM extension, you must have a job offer from an E-Verify employer. USCIS keeps a database of E-Verify employers on its website; you can check for your employer on this list. To find the E-Verify number, speak with the company’s HR department or your recruiter.
Should I move to H-1B as soon as possible, or are there benefits to staying on OPT?
There are a few benefits to utilizing your OPT time before starting on H-1B. First, OPT provides flexibility for both you and your employer. OPT is not employer specific; this means you can have multiple employers and change jobs. This gives you the opportunity to ‘test out’ your employer; if it turns out that the position is not for you, you can find a new job with little hassle. It also gives you a chance to show your skills and build a relationship with your employer, which could lead to sponsorship in the future.
Logistically, OPT will give you an opportunity to work in the U.S. if a different work status application is not selected for processing or approved. Having a year of OPT may allow you to participate in multiple H-1B application periods. Speak with the company that is going to sponsor your employment status for more information on application timing, eligibility, or other questions.
OPT also adds time to your work eligibility in the U.S. H-1B status is limited to a finite number of years. OPT can give you extra time to work in the U.S.
I am pursuing an H-1B application through consular processing. Anything I should know?
If your OPT is still valid and your company submitted an H-1B application with the intention of consular processing (instead of an I-539 Change of Status Petition), we recommend that you contact OIA to check your SEVIS record before traveling internationally. On rare occasions, SEVIS/USCIS mistakes consular processing applications for I-539 applications and the SEVIS system will erroneously terminate or complete records on Oct 1, which is the day H-1B I-539 applications would become active. If your record is 'terminated' or 'inactive' it can cause travel issues when you try to return to the U.S..
There is no tracking system which allows OIA to find out if you have applied for a different status or if your record has been erroneously terminated by the system. Because of this, we encourage students in this situation outlined above to proactively contact OIA before traveling to confirm their records are 'active'. Once we become aware of an issue, we work with USCIS so that they can quickly resolve the issue.