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Immigration

F-1 Optional Practical Training

What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

OPT is a benefit authorized by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that extends the F-1 student status to allow you to work in the U.S.A. in order to gain practical training in your major field of study.

  • An employment offer is not required to apply for OPT.
  • OPT must be directly related to the student's major field of study.

Eligibility Requirements

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 before the completion of the program is subtracted from the 12-month total limit. Students may be authorized for 12 months of OPT and become eligible for another 12 months of OPT when they change to higher education level (i.e., from Bachelors to Masters; from Masters to PhD). The 12-month total limit of OPT applies to each educational level (Bachelors, Masters, and Doctoral degree programs).

  • Only students pursuing a degree are allowed to apply for OPT.
  • Special non-degree students are not eligible to apply for OPT.

Students may apply for pre-completion or post-completion OPT

  • Pre-completion OPT, part-time or full-time, during the annual school vacations (e.g. summer vacation)
  • Pre-completion OPT, part-time only (max. 20 hours/week), while school is in session; no other on or off-campus employment is allowed
  • Pre-completion or Post-completion OPT, after completion of all course requirements but before completion of dissertation/thesis
  • Post-completion OPT, full-time, after completion of course of study

Application Deadlines

  • For Pre-completion OPT, not earlier than 90 days prior to being enrolled for one full academic year
  • For Post-completion OPT, within 90 days prior to and no later than 60 days after completion of the program

The USCIS Processing Center must receive the complete OPT application and all required documents (see below) before the final deadline, which is the 60th day from the official program end date. Failure to comply with this deadline will result in loss of the entire OPT benefit.

USCIS processing times can take as long as 3-4 months. Please apply as soon as possible to ensure that you receive Employment Authorization Document (EAD) on time. The EAD is the offical work permit issued by USCIS that allows you to be hired and work in the U.S.A. during OPT.
Important: Students are not permitted to begin employment until they receive the EAD and until the approved start date listed on the EAD.

How to Apply

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:

For post-completion OPT:

  • Check or money order for $150.00 made payable to "MIT"
  • Letter signed by an academic advisor on departmental letterhead (required)
    The letter should certify that:
    (a) the student is in good academic standing,
    (b) enrolled in a specific degree level and major field of study
    (c) the practical experience the student is seeking is directly related to his/her field of study and
    (c) the date on which the student will complete the program (this is the official graduation date or the date on which you are expected to complete all requirements including dissertation/thesis)
  • Please make a decision about the OPT start date before you come for the appointment. Post-completion OPT must begin within 60 days after the program completion date.

For pre-completion OPT:

  • Letter signed by an academic advisor on departmental letterhead
    The letter should certify that:
    (a) the student is in good academic standing;
    (b) the practical experience the student is seeking is directly related to his/her field of study;
    (c) the practical training is recommended;
    (d) the expected completion date of the degree program, and
    (e) if applicable, the student has completed all course requirements except the dissertation/thesis
  • Please make a decision about the OPT start date before you come for the appointment.

In addition, for both post-completion and pre-completion OPT:

The ISO advisor will issue a new I-20 Form with OPT recommendation on page 3 of the I-20 form. After approximately 10 business days, you must pick up this I-20 form from the ISO. Please sign it and make a copy of pages 1 and 3. You will need the copy of this I-20 form to appy for OPT.

Mailing the OPT Application to USCIS

Important: The application and the required documents must be mailed and received at the USCIS Processing Center within 30 days from the date the ISO advisor recommended the OPT and issued the new I-20 form.

Checklist of documents to be mailed to USCIS:

  • Check for $380 made payable to US Department of Homeland Security
  • 2 passport photos less than 30 days old
    (write your name and SEVIS # number in pencil on the back of each photo, http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/passports/photos/photo-composition-template.html for more information)
  • Original I-765 form application (download from www.uscis.gov)
  • Copy of I-20 form with OPT recommendation (pages 1 and 3; please remember to sign your I-20 form)
  • Copies of any previous I-20 forms (pages 1 and 3, please sign your I-20 forms)
  • Copy of F-1 Visa (even if the visa is expired)
  • Copy of I-94 card (front and back) or electronic I-94 Form as PDF
    (retrieve the I-94 number from https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/request.html)
  • Copy of identity pages in passport (passport must be valid)
  • Copy of any previous Employment Authorization Documents (EAD cards), if applicable

The ISO strongly recommends that you do NOT use electronic filing, because this option can result in lengthy delays.

Please mail documents either visa U.S. Postal Service or via Private Courier Service to the address below:

Via U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Deliveries (choose Priority mail with Return Receipt):

USCIS
P.O. Box 660867
Dallas, TX 75266

Via Private Courier Service:

USCIS
Attn: AOS
2501 S. State Hwy. 121
Business Suite 400
Lewisville, TX 75067

Periods of Unemployment While on OPT

Students may accumulate a maximum of 90 days of unemployment during 12 months of OPT. Days of unemployment begin to accumulate:

  • If employment does not start on the approved start date of OPT on the EAD
  • If you receive the EAD after the approved start date of OPT on the EAD
  • Between employment

Accumulating more than 90 days of unemployment is considered a violation of F-1 status.

What constitutes qualified employment?

  • Paid employment in a job related to major field of study, part-time or full-time that is for multiple employers, short-term multiple employers, contracting work (evidence of duration of contract, name of company and address needed), self-employed business owner (proper business license and evidence of active engagement in business needed), employment through an agency or consulting firm (evidence of work for at least 20 hours/week).
  • Unpaid employment in a job related to major field of study as volunteer, intern, that does not violate labor laws and is at least 20 hrs/week.

Travel after the Completion of Program while on Post-completion OPT

Travel while on OPT is not restricted. However, the ISO recommends that you wait until you receive the EAD and secure employment before making plans to leave the U.S.A. after graduation.

You must carry the following documents when entering the U.S.A. during post-completion OPT. If you are missing any one of these documents you risk being denied entry and losing your OPT.

  • EAD card
  • Letter from your employer verifying employment
  • OPT I-20 form with travel signature not older than 6 months (Only an ISO advisor can endorse the I-20 form with a signature.)
  • Valid F-1 visa (do not use a tourist visa or visa waiver program to enter the U.S.A. while on OPT)
  • Valid passport (at least for 6 months beyond the re-entry date)

Social Security Number

You can apply for the social security number on the start date of OPT as printed on your EAD card. Please see instructions at our Social Security Number webpage for more information. If you have already have asocial security number, you do not have to apply again.

 

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