OPT (Optional Practical Training)

   

FAQ:

Overview & Eligibility

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:

  • You do not need a job offer to apply for OPT
  • You may not pursue a new course of study while on OPT.
  • The application is approved by United States Customs & Immigration Service (USCIS), but OPT must first be recommended by OIA.
  • The approval process for USCIS takes between three and four 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
  • 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. 
  • Each segment and type of OPT requires separate, complete applications.
  • Pre-Completion OPT (Before program end date listed on I-20)
    • 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)
    • 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. 

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for OPT you must:

  1. Be registered full-time in a degree program for at least one academic year (three quarters) in valid F-1 status
  2. 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)
  3. 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)
  4. Be present in the U.S. in valid F-1 status at the time of application.

Important Notes:

  • 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 not 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.

 

Employment Requirements & Types of Employment

While on OPT, you are required to be employed and working at least 20 hours/week in a job directly related to your field of study/major. 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 and STEM 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.

Showing that OPT is directly related to a degree program

  • 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 USCUS exactly how you've written it.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Types of Paid Employment Allowed on OPT:

As long as each position is directly related to your studies and all jobs combine for at least 20 hours/week, essentially all kinds of employment situations are allowed while on OPT, including:

  • Multiple employers: You may work for more than one employer, but all jobs must be direcctly 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: 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.

Unpaid Employment:

  • 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).

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Application

OPT Application Timeline

Pre-Completion OPT (before your I-20 end date):

  • 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

Post-Completion OPT (after your I-20 end date):

  • 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 timline by using our OPT Date calculator. The calculator is an Excel spreadheet.  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:

Application Process

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 an application to USCIS.  Both steps are explained in detail below:

STEP 1: OIA Recommendation

Submit the following documents to OIA at least one week before you would like your new I-20. Due to large application volume, we cannot accomodate expedited processing requests, so please plan ahead.  You do not need to see an adviser unless you have specific questions. If you would like to meet with an adviser, you must schedule an appointment in advance; advisers are not generally available on a walk-in basis. Choose one of the following ways to submit your application:

  1. Drop off all three documents listed below in hard copy at the OIA front desk.  You can drop them off on a walk-in basis and no appointment is necessary.
    OR
  2. Upload the documents to the Online Request for F-1 OPT Work Authorization form. In this case, you do not need to come to OIA to submit your application.

Please only use one method to submit your application.  Submitting both an online and hardcopy application will delay your application.

DOCUMENTS NEEDED:

1. OIA Request Form
(Not required if submitting through the online form linked above)

  • 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.
  • This document is not required if you are submitting through the OIA online application.  The information will be collected on the electronic form.

2. Verification of Completion Form 
(For Post-Completion OPT Applications Only)

  • Confirmation signed by your faculty adviser/Dean of Students or College 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.
  • This document is required for post-completion OPT applications only.

3. 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 (writeable pdf format). DO NOT file electronically!
  • This document is required for all OPT applications

INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE FORM I-765:

  • Instructions for the Form I-765:

General Instructions:

  • Use black ink for any handwriting
  • Make sure to write very neatly
  • It is OK if the I-765 is a mix of typing and hand-written items

Line Instructions:

  • Mark the first box, “I am applying for: permission to accept employment”
  • Item 1: 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.
  • Item 3: 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, use the address of a friend or relative and add 'c/o' (see below).  EADs will not be sent abroad. 
    • NOTE: OIA does not permit the use of our address for completion of this form.
    • When using a friend or relative’s address, write “c/o” followed by the individual's first and last name in the address field.  The c/o stands for, ‘in care of.’ Ex: “c/o Wolfgang Mozart, 123 Music St...”  You will likley need to handwrite this.
    • 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.
    • The U.S. Postal Service will NOT forward government mail to a new address.
    • If you live in an apartment, put your apartment number under the 'APT' headline.
    • 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 handwrite this.
  • Item 10: 
    • Visit the USCBP 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: This can be found on your I-94 Departure Record card.
  • Item 11:  If you have submitted an application for OPT work authorization from USCIS (had an EAD card) in the past, check “yes.”  CPT & on campus employment do not count.
  • Item 12:  Enter the date of your most recent entry into the U.S. (see admission stamp in your passport).
  • Item 13: Enter the port of entry you last came through (on the entry stamp in your passport). E.g. - 'Chicago - ORD', 'Atlanta - ATL'
  • Item 15: 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.
  • Item #16: Enter code:
    • Pre-completion OPT:  Enter code: (c)(3)(A) and  hand write “F-1 Pre-completion Optional Practical Training” next to or above it.
    • Post-completion OPT: Enter code: (c)(3)(B) and  hand write “F-1 Post-completion Optional Practical Training” next to or above it
  • SIGN and date!!! 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.

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.

After You Submit the Forms to OIA

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.  Sign your I-20 at the bottom of page 1. You will also receive your original Form I-765 and screen shots from SEVIS showing any previous OPT or CPT time used at UChicago. 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.

Allow at least one week for OIA processing.  Due to high volume, we cannot accomodate expedite requests, so please plan ahead. You will receive an email confirmation when your new I-20 is ready. Then you can move on to Step 2.


STEP 2: USCIS Application Procedures

Mail the following documents to USCIS:

  1. Form I-765 with fee and photographs in an envelope stapled to it (see items #2 and #3 below). 
  2. Two new passport style photos in color that meet the U.S. government passport photo standards. Available at the ID & Privileges Office in Regenstein, Walgreen's, and CVS. Write your name with a pencil on the back of the photos and put them in a small plastic bag or envelope and staple it to the top of Form I-765. Your photos must be recent and must not have been used in any previous application,
  3.  Payment: A check for the filing fee payable to the "Department of Homeland Security." You can use a personal check or a money order; either is acceptable. Staple your completed and signed check to the front of the I-765. Make sure the check has your current address.  If it is incorrect, you can cross it out and handwrite the new address that is associated with your bank account (it is OK if it is different from your I-765 address).  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 or not you withdraw your application or if it is rejected.
  • Current Filing fee: $380
    For applications received by USCIS before Dec 23, 2016
  • **New Filing Fee Effective Dec 23, 2016**: $410
    For applications received by USCIS on or after Dec 23, 2016
  1. Copy of I-20 (the one with the OPT recommendation on it), all pages. Sign the I-20 at the bottom of page 1. Do not send your original I-20. The OIA signature must be less than 30 days old at the time the application is received by USCIS. You do not need to send copies of any additional UChicago I-20s (including I-20s from previous UChicago programs); just include the copy with your OPT recommendation. 
  2. Documentation of your I-94:
    • 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: Photocopy of your I-94 Departure Record card, front and back.
  3. Screen shots from SEVIS of previously granted UChicago OPT and CPT (you will get this from OIA with your new I-20).
  4. Copies (front and back) of all previous EAD(s) issued to you for OPT. Don't have them anymore? See our Application FAQ for guidance.
  5. Copies  of all I-20s from any previous U.S. institution before the University of Chicago.
    • This includes high school (if you attended high school in the U.S. in F-1 status).  
    • You do not need to include I-20 copies from previous programs at UChicago (e.g. you went to College at UChicago and now you are in an MA program here).
    • If you are missing copies of some or all of your I-20s from previous institutions, you can first try contacting your old school to see if they have a copy.  If this does not work, you must create a letter of explanation to take the place of the I-20s. The letter must detail 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.  See our application FAQ for additional guidance.
  6. Copy of the identity page(s) of your passport. This includes the page that has your photograph and biographical information.  Do not include a copy of your F-1 visa.
  7. Form G-1145, "E-Notification of Application/Acceptance," if you want to be notified electronically when your application is received. See http://www.uscis.gov/files/form/g-1145.pdf for form and filing instructions.

Application Packet Review: Complete OPT application packet review by your adviser can be done by appointment only.  We cannot provide walk-in appointments. Please contact OIA to request an appointment with your adviser.  Make sure to schedule your appointment ahead of time. 

STEP 3: Mail Your Application to USCIS:

Once you have assembled and double checked your application packet, you must send it to USCIS, using this guidance:

  • Make a copy or scan and save your entire application before mailing it; keep the copy with your mailing receipt in your records.
  • 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 ususally takes an additional 7-14 days for USCIS to provide a receipt after they receive your document by mail.  Additionally, your application ust be receipted by USCIS within 30 days of the signature date on the I-20 (located next to the adviser signature).
  • 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 to the post office in person to set-up the mailing.
  • The cost of mailing your OPT application will likley 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 the USCIS Lockbox facility in Phoenix, Arizona:

USCIS
PO Box 21281

Phoenix, AZ 85036

Use the U.S. Postal Service's certified mail, return receipt requested.

Before you mail your application, make scans or photocopies of your entire application plus supporting documents, and keep them with your mailing receipt.

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After You Apply

Checking Your Application Status

  • 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.
    • If you paid the filing fee with a personal check, check your bank account to see if the check has been cashed.
    • Within a month of mailing your application you will receive a Receipt Notice (I-797) from USCIS.  The Receipt Notice contains an receipt number (upper left-hand side) that you can use to check the status of your application on the USCIS Case Status Search Page: https://egov.uscis.gov/cris/Dashboard.do

Special Issues 

  • Contact OIA if you:

    • Need to cancel your OPT application

    • Don’t graduate as planned

    • Need to update your mailing address on your I-765

Employment Authorization Document (EAD) 

  • 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.

Common Rejection Reasons and Application Issues

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, 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.  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 likley 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
  • 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
  • Student includes unsolicitied information about potential employer or job duties
  • USCIS wants background information on each job you've ever had, the dates, and work authorization you had for the job (there is not much 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.

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. 

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)
  • The OIA signature on your OPT I-20 is more than 30 days past the receipt date on your receipt notice.  USCIS must receive your application within 30 days of the OIA print/signature date listed on page 1 of your I-20.

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 makre 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.

 

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While on OPT

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:

Reporting Responsibilities
  • 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 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: 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.
  • 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 automatically 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

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Travel on Post-Completion OPT

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 continue to have the same F-1 travel regulations.  However, there are some 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:  USCIS recommends that you do not travel outside the U.S. prior to receiving your EAD card and securing employment.
    • EAD cards will NOT be sent overseas, and an EAD card is required for re-entry. After your program end date, you will need proof of employment to show you are returning to the U.S. to resume employment appropriate for OPT, in addition to the EAD and other travel documents.
    • 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 US 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.        

Travel After OPT is APPROVED

  • If you have completed your studies AND received your EAD card: You may depart and re-enter the U.S. in F-1 status.
  • In addition to your regular travel documents (valid passport, valid F-1 visa, I-20 with OPT recommendation and travel signature less than 6 months old), you will also need:
    • Valid EAD Card*
    • Job offer letter* or letter of employment verification from your current employer.  There is no template for this or specific information the letter must include. 

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.

*NOTE: Without your EAD AND proof of employment/job offer you assume risk in re-entering the U.S. while on OPT.

 

F-2 Dependent Travel

  • In addition to their own Form I-20 – with updated travel signature, 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
    • EAD with proof of employment/job offer

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STEM Extension

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. 

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H-1B Cap Gap Extension

General 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.

Eligibility
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.

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FAQ

OPT Application Process

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. 

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.

How can I tell my OPT application has been received?

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.  There is no 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 accomodate 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.    

Will my application be approved?

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 receipted 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. The most common reasons we see for RFEs include:

  • Missing signature on your I-20
  • Passport photos do not meet specifications or have been used on a different application
  • A document (such as a CPT screenshot) is missing
  • Post- or Pre-completion OPT code is incorrect (item 16 on I-765)
  • Copy of passport is blurry or unclear
  • Student includes unsolicitied information about potential employer or job duties
  • USCIS wants background information on each job you've ever had, the dates, and work authorization you had for the job.

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 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.

I was authorized for OPT before, but don't have any documents from my previous application.  What can I do?

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.

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.

OPT Travel and F-1 Visa

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. 

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've applied for OPT. Can I travel internationally before my I-2n 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 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: OIA does not recommend that you travel before you receive your EAD card.  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 risk being refused entry.  If you have an urgent situation that requires you to travel before reviving the EAD, contact your International Student Adviser.

Visit the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) travel FAQ website 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 have to travel after my I-20 end date, while my OPT is pending?

The U.S. government and OIA recommends that you do not travel after your I-20 end date if you have not yet received your EAD. 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 risk being refused entry. See the State Department Travel FAQ page for more information.

If there is an emergency that requires you to be out of the U.S. after your end date while your application is pending, you will assume additional risk for re-entry.  You could be delayed at secondary inspection (more likley) or even refused entry (less likely).  If you decide to take the travel risk, do make sure to bring your receipt notice, any supporting documents, and travel through O'Hare Customs whenever possible. OIA is unable to provide supporting documentation or guarantee that your entry will be "safe."

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. 

I'm studying/doing research abroad during my final quarter of study.  How does this work with the OPT application?

This is not recommended, but technically possible.  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. 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. 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.

OPT Employment and Unemployment

What counts as employment while on 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.  Hours from multiple employers can be combined for the 20 hours total.  It can be paid or unpaid, research, multiple short-term gigs, contract work, full time office jobs, 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 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.

After OPT is Approved & Reporting Requirements

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.

Ending OPT & Grace Period

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 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.    

STEM OPT

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.   

 

OPT and H-1B

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.

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