Optional Practical Training (OPT) allows up to 12 months of full-time employment authorization after completion of all coursework requirements or after completion of all degree requirements. OPT employment MUST be in the field of study and initial employment may begin only after an Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) has been received from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
- OPT is available only once for each higher degree level. (For example, students can obtain OPT after their Bachelor's and then again after their Master's and/or Doctorate degree.)
- OPT cannot be granted again for students that are moving to a lower degree level
- It is not possible to combine OPT years from different degree levels
In order to be eligible for OPT, F-1 students must meet the following criteria:
- Completion of at least 1 academic year of study in the U.S.
- Completion of all coursework requirements (excluding thesis or equivalent) or who have completed all degree requirements.
- Having used less than 12 months of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or full-time Pre-completion (OPT) during the current degree level.
If you wish to start OPT after you complete your degree, the earliest that you can apply for post completion OPT is 90 days prior to your graduation date. It is strongly encouraged that you apply at least 90 days prior to your requested OPT start date since OPT processing can take up to 3 months. You must file your application with USCIS before the end of the 60-day grace period following your program completion date.
If you wish to begin OPT before you complete your degree, you may apply only after you have completed all coursework and have only thesis or dissertation hours remaining. Your I-20 will be shortened to the requested OPT start date.
NOTE: You must complete your academic degree within your OPT year, as the I-20 cannot be extended after the Program Completion date. You should NOT apply for OPT unless you are very confident that you will complete your degree within 1 year.
Employment Requirements and Eligibility
- Must be directly related to the current field of study
- Must be appropriate for the level of study or degree obtained
- Must be full-time (20 or more hours/week)
- Can be Self-employment, paid or unpaid internship, volunteering, artistic performance
- Can consist of multiple employers concurrently or over the 12-month period
- Students may not accumulate more than 90 days of unemployment during the 12-month OPT period
Reporting Requirements and Other Responsibilities
Students on OPT are REQUIRED to report ALL changes regarding:
- Personal information (legal name, address, email address, etc.)
- Employment or Unemployment status (employment start/end date, company information, position etc.)
Travel During OPT
- Valid passport
- Valid F-1 visa (Unless automatic visa revalidation applies)
- OPT I-20 signed for travel (The travel signature must not be older than 6 months)
- EAD card
- Job offer or proof of employment in the U.S.
- Travel with an expired visa is NOT recommended. Obtaining a new F-1 visa for re-entry might be difficult. Please consult with your advisor.
- Travel while the OPT application is pending is NOT recommended. If you choose to do so, you must carry all the required travel documents and your OPT receipt with you.
- Being outside of the U.S. for more than 5 consecutive months, will cause the termination of your F-1 status (and OPT).
- If you have accumulated more than 90 days of unemployment while outside the U.S., you will not be eligible to re-enter the country with your current F-1 record.
- Your eligibility for travel and return ends at the end of the OPT period (not the grace period).
A Note About Pre-completion OPT
Pre-completion OPT is available to F-1 students that are still enrolled in courses (dissertation or thesis excluded). The application process and requirements for pre-completion OPT are similar to post-completion OPT. F-1 students may apply to participate in pre-completion OPT after they have been enrolled in school for one full academic year. Students authorized to participate in pre-completion OPT must work part-time while school is in session. They may work full time when school is not in session.
Students interested in practical experience should consider this option if they are not eligible for post-completion OPT or cannot obtain CPT authorization.
Please consult with your International Student Advisor if you think that pre-completion OPT may be an option for you.
- Attend the Mandatory OPT workshop in person or online
- Submit a complete OPT application packet to the CGE (allow 1-2 weeks processing)
- Pick up your new OPT I-20, documents and instructions (You will receive an email from your advisor when the material is ready)
- Mail the OPT application to USCIS.
- Receive an OPT receipt from USCIS after 2-3 weeks from your submission.
- Receive your Employment Authorization Document (Normal USCIS processing time is 2-3 months)
The format of form I-765 changes periodically. Students applying for OPT must download the most recent I-765 from the USCIS website.
This online portal allows students to check the status of their application by using the receipt number, which can be found on OPT receipt notice sent by USCIS.
This electronic questionnaire must be used to update the CGE about changes in your personal information or employment status
I have completed a PhD program and now I want to enroll in a master’s program. Will I be able to use OPT after the completion on my Master’s degree?
No, OPT cannot be granted to students that are going to a lover degree level.
I didn’t apply for OPT after I completed my Bachelor’s degree and I enrolled directly in a Master’s program. Can I obtain 12 months of OPT for my Master’s and 12 months of OPT for my previous Bachelor’s?
No, Post-Completion OPT must be used at the end of each degree level, If Post-Completion OPT is not used it is forfeited.
I am considering completing two degrees at the same level. Can I spilt Post-Completion OPT between the two degrees?
Combining or splitting Post-Completion OPT is complicated and requires planning in advance. Please, consult with your advisor.
When can I begin my Post-Completion OPT work?
You are no longer eligible for any type of employment (including on-campus employment) after your program completion date unless you have already received your OPT card from U.S Citizenship and Naturalization Services (USCIS). DO NOT BEGIN EMPLOYMENT UNTIL THE DATE LISTED ON YOUR CARD.
I have found a job that is related to my minor. Can I accept this offer?
No. Employment must be related to your Major.
How is OPT unemployment counted?
The days of unemployment start accumulating from the OPT start date on your EAD card.
Can I study during OPT?
During OPT, the majority of your time should be spent working in your field. However, Part-time, non-degree “incidental” study is allowed.
How do I keep track my employment if I am volunteering or self-employed?
You should keep a journal with your projects and hours worked, so you can prove that you are meeting OPT employment requirements.
Can I reenter during the 60-day period after finishing my OPT?
No. The 60-day “grace” period is only to prepare to leave the country.
I was granted OPT but I decided to start a new academic program. Can I end my OPT early?
Yes, you can stop your OPT at any time to start a new academic program but you will lose the remaining unused OPT time.