OPT is a benefit authorized by USCIS that extends the F-1 student status to allow you to work in the U.S. in order to gain practical training in your major field of study.
Students who have been in lawful, full-time student status for at least one full academic year are eligible for a total of 12 months of OPT. Any period of OPT used is subtracted from the 12-month total limit. Students authorized for 12 months of OPT become eligible to apply for another 12 months when they change to higher education level. However, simply beginning another degree program does not automatically confer this eligibility; the new degree program must be at a higher education level (i.e., Bachelors to Masters; Masters to PhD). Students may apply for pre-completion or post-completion OPT, full or part-time. A job offer is not required to apply for OPT. However, the work must be directly related to the student’s major area of study.
Note: Only students pursuing a degree are allowed optional practical training. Special non-degree students do not qualify for any optional practical training.
Optional Practical Training may be authorized in the following cases:
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) must receive the complete OPT application (see reverse page) at the Service Center before the final deadline (i.e. 60th day from the program end date). Failure to comply with this deadline will result in loss of the entire OPT benefit. All post-completion OPT must begin within 60 days after the program completion date.
USCIS-VSC processing times can take as long as 4 months, therefore, it is recommended that you apply as soon as possible to ensure that you receive the employment benefit on time. Students are not permitted to begin employment until they receive the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and until the start date listed on the EAD. The ISO strongly recommends that you do NOT use electronic filing, because this option can result in lengthy delays.
Make an appointment with an ISO Advisor at least two weeks before you plan to submit your application to the USCIS. Prepare the following documents and bring them to the appointment:
The ISO advisor will process a new SEVIS I-20 with OPT recommendation. After one week, you must pick up this I-20 form from the ISO and mail the following documents certified with receipt to the USCIS Dallas Lockbox:
For U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Deliveries:
PO Box 660867
Dallas, TX 75266
For Express mail and courier deliveries:
2501 S. State Hwy. 121 Business
Lewisville, TX 75067
E-Notification: If you want to receive an e-mail and/or a text message that your Form I-765 has been accepted at a USCIS Lockbox facility, complete Form G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance and clip it to the first page of your application.
Checklist of documents to be mailed to USCIS:
NOTE: The complete application must be mailed and received at the Service Center within 30 days from the date the ISO advisor issued the recommendation and the OPT I-20.
Travel while on OPT is not restricted. However, in order to reenter the US after you complete your degree and during the entire OPT period, you should be in possession of your EAD card, OPT I-20 with travel signature, a valid F-1 visa, a valid passport, and a letter from your employer verifying employment. If you are missing any one of these documents you risk being denied entry and losing your OPT. While on OPT the travel signature on the I-20 form is valid for only 6 months.
Note: The ISO recommends that once you graduate you do not travel outside of the U.S. until you have received the EAD.
After completion of degree, your F-1 status while on post-completion OPT depends on your employment. You are not permitted to accumulate more than a total of 90 days of unemployment for the entire period of 12 months of OPT. As of April 8, 2008 all students on post-completion OPT begin accumulating unemployment time if they are not employed in a job related to their major field of study (qualified employment).
What constitutes qualified employment?
Important: Accumulating more than 90 days of unemployment is a violation of your immigration status that could trigger termination of practical training. You may be required to apply for a reinstatement and lose the eligibility for OPT extension. (For more infomration, see the pages on 17-month STEM program extension or Cap-Gap rule.)