OPT: Optional Practical Training Employment
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an employment option for F-1 students who wish to gain work experience directly related to their field of study. Eligible students may be authorized for up to 12 months total OPT per degree level. OPT can be used during a student's studies (pre-completion) or immediately after graduation (post-completion).
Pre-completion OPT is work authorization for a period that will begin and end before the completion of the degree program. Students are allowed to work part-time (up to 20 hours a week) while school is in session and full-time (more than 20 hours per week) on approved school breaks and vacation periods. Students who engage in pre-completion OPT will reduce their post-completion OPT eligibility, at a rate of half time from total OPT, e.g. If you work part-time 3 months you use up 1.5 months of OPT. Post-completion OPT is work authorization for up to 12 months after the completion of a student’s degree program. MA or PhD student may engage in post-completion OPT if s/he has completed all course work but still needs to complete a thesis or dissertation, or is studying for comprehensive exams.
Post-completion OPT dates must start within 60 days of the completion of program date. The completion of program date is determined from the Certification Form for Completion of Academic Program.
(Click on the page sections below to jump areas of interest. At the end of each section is a link to bring you Back To Top)
When to Apply
How to Apply
How long does it take for authorization?
How many days do I have to find a job?
What if I don’t get a job within the allotted time?
Can I travel while on OPT?
Can I extend my OPT?
Can I have an additional OPT?
Does CPT affect my OPT?
Can I keep my AU health insurance after I graduate while on OPT?
- Must have been enrolled in a full-time degree seeking program for one academic year (Fall and Spring)
- Job offer not required for application
- One 12-month OPT per degree level
- Degree levels are:
- Associates (AA)
- Bachelors (BA/BS)
- Masters (MA/MS, LLM, MBA)
- PhD, JD, SJD
Pre-Completion OPT: Allow 2-3 months of processing time if you are applying to use OPT prior to the completion of your degree.
Post-Completion OPT: May apply up to 90 days before or within 60 days after program completion date. Expect 2-3 months of processing before you can use your OPT after completion of degree program.
OPT application must be received by USCIS within 30 days of the OPT I-20 issuance date. If not received within 30 days, OPT will be denied and appeal is not possible.
OPT begin date must be with in the 60 days following program completion date
- Attend an OPT session. At these sessions, students learn about:
- The documents and forms required for the OPT application and how to complete them
- The rights and responsibilities of students engaged in OPT
- The deadlines and processing time of OPT applications
- Travel restrictions on OPT, and
- Other issues pertaining to OPT
- Bring a completed application packet to ISSS (after you have attended an OPT session):
- Completed form I-765
- Certification Form for Completion of Academic Program, completed by you and your academic advisor. Please note that pre-completion OPT start dates must begin and end before the completion of the degree program, while post-completion OPT dates must start within 60 days of the completion of program date.
- All previous and current I-20s (including I-20s from other schools)
- Valid passport
- F-1 visa
- I-94 (small white card stapled in passport OR a print-out from U.S. Customs and Border Protection
- ISSS will review your entire OPT application and issue a new I-20 with OPT recommendation noted. This process can take 5-7 business days.
- While ISSS is reviewing your OPT packet please prepare 2 passport sized photos and a Cashier’s Check, Personal Check or Money Order for $380.00 (payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security).
- When your OPT packet is final ISSS will contact you to come pick it up. You will need to mail the packet, with new I-20, to USCIS. USCIS must receive your OPT application within 30 days of your new OPT I-20 issuance date. If not received within 30 days, OPT will be denied and appeal is not possible.
How long does it take for the authorization?
USCIS will notify you by mail within 2 to 3 weeks that they have received your application. Please save this receipt as it will include your USCIS file number. With your USCIS file number, you can monitor progress on your application at the USCIS Case Status Service website.
Students generally receive their EAD cards within 8 -12 weeks. If 80 days have passed from the receipt date and you have not received your EAD card, contact ISSS immediately.
- After you receive your EAD card please email email@example.com a scanned copy of the front and back of the card.
- All students on OPT must report any change in employment or address during OPT within 10 days. This means:
- Legally changing your name
- Leaving the US and ending OPT early
- Starting a job
- Changing employment and/or
- Ending a position
If any of these changes occur please report required information on the ISSS OPT Employer Information Form .
- If there are any changes from F-1 to another status (e.g. H1-B, G-4, etc) please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Students on post-completion OPT are allowed only 90 days total of unemployment during their OPT period. Please contact ISSS with any questions about the unemployment period and how volunteer work can count as employment.
After 90 days of unemployment the student can be considered in violation of maintaining their status unless s/he:
- Transfers to continue education at the same or another educational institution
- Departs the US, or
- Changes visa status
It is not recommended to travel during OPT until after you have found and started employment. During your OPT never try to re-enter the US on any other visa status than F-1 (e.g. B-1/B-2 (tourist), Visa Waiver, etc) as this can result in losing your OPT.
If you travel outside the US while on OPT you will need:
- EAD Card (the OPT card)
- Letter of employment on company letter head and signed. If you do not have proof of employment, you may be denied re-entry to the US
- Valid Passport
- Valid F-1 visa (if your F-1 visa has expired you will need to apply for a new F-1 visa while you are outside the US)
- OPT I-20 with travel signature (signed within the last 6 months before the day you will re-enter the US)
Only Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) majors have an option for a 17 month extension of OPT. A minor in a STEM field does not make you eligible for STEM extension. If you are not a STEM student, then a maximum 12 months of full-time OPT per degree is allowed.
Students become eligible to apply for an additional 12 months of OPT per higher level of degree study completed. Example: A student completes a Bachelors degree and gets 12 months of OPT. S/He then completes a masters degree and is eligible for another 12 months of OPT because it is a higher degree level. The same student then completes a PhD and is eligible for a third 12 months of OPT.
If you are authorized for a total of 12 or more months of full-time Curricular Practical Training during your degree, you will lose your eligibility for OPT at that degree level (Note that this does not apply to part-time CPT).
Yes, you can extend your AU Health Insurance coverage as long as you apply for the extension before you graduate and before the end of your current coverage. For more information contact Edythe Cook in the Student Health Center (202-885-3201).