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.

How to Sign-Up for an ISO OPT Information Session

OPT Information Sessions are offered once a week during the semesters (twice a week during parts of February and March).

To sign up for an OPT session online at; under Full Client Services, click on "Session Sign-ups", then select "Optional Practical Training (OPT) Information Session".

If OPT Information Sessions are full, please email us at iso-help @ so that we can arrange for additional sessions.

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, IAP)
  • 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 OPT, part-time or full-time, after completion of all course requirements but before completion of required 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. It is not possible to request an expedite of an OPT application from USCIS, so please plan your OPT start date accordingly and allow for at least 100 days to receive your EAD card.
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

All students who wish to apply for pre-completion or post-completion OPT must attend an ISO OPT information session.  Attendance of this session is required to submit your OPT application.

To sign up for an OPT session online at; under Full Client Services, click on "Session Sign-ups", then select "Optional Practical Training (OPT) Information Session".

OPT Information Sessions are offered once a week during the semesters (twice a week during parts of February and March).  If OPT Information Sessions are full, please email us at iso-help @ so that we can arrange for additional sessions.

After you have attended an OPT session, you may submit a request for your OPT Form I-20 online at; choose “F-1 Practical Training”, then “Optional Practical Training”.

It will take our office up to two weeks to prepare your new Form I-20 with OPT recommendation, after which you need to submit your application to the USCIS.

For the OPT I-20 request to the ISO, please prepare the following documents.

For post-completion OPT:

  • Check or money order for $150.00 made payable to "MIT" for post-completion OPT authorization periods of more than 14 weeks (Submit to ISO when you pick up the new I-20 with OPT recommendation)
  • Letter signed by an academic advisor on departmental letterhead (required, upload to
    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
    (d) 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 request the OPT I-20. 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 (Upload to
    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 request the OPT I-20.

The ISO advisor will issue a new I-20 Form with OPT recommendation on page 2 of the I-20 form. After approximately 5 to 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 2. You will need the copy of this I-20 form to apply 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 29 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:
(Please put together your application in the following order.)

  • 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, for more information)
  • Original I-765 form application (, 03/11/2016 edition, see all instructions)
  • Copy of I-20 form with OPT recommendation (pages 1 and 2; please remember to sign your I-20 form)
  • Copies of any previous I-20 forms (pages 1 and travel signature page, all MIT and previous school forms, 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
  • Copy of identity pages in passport (passport must be valid)
  • Copy of any previous Employment Authorization Documents (EAD cards), if applicable
  • (Optional) To receive a text message and/or email when USCIS accepts your Form I-765, complete Form G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance, and attach it to the front of the entire application (including check) in the package. You will also receive a physical receipt notice in the mail.

Please mail documents either visa U.S. Postal Service or via Private Courier Service to the address below. This USCIS address is valid for students with a mailing address within Massachusetts as stated on #3 of the I-765 form.  Please read the I-765 Instructions at for more information on mailing.

Tip:  Keep a copy of all documents submitted to USCIS for your records.  Also, you should keep a mailing return receipt of your package as evidence that you submitted the application in a timely manner.

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

P.O. Box 660867
Dallas, TX 75266

Via Private Courier Service (such as FedEx, DHL):

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

Reporting Requirements while on OPT

Students in F-1 status authorized for employment under OPT are responsible for maintaining their nonimmigrant status. According to Federal Regulations, F-1 students are required to report information directly to the ISO regarding their employment as well as changes to personal information and immigration status. Failure to comply with these reporting requirements may result in denial of future benefits (i.e. extension of employment under the H-1B OPT Cap-Gap rule and STEM OPT program) and termination of status and OPT authorization.

Click on F-1 Post-Completion OPT: Reporting Requirements for detailed information on how to report your information.

Periods of Unemployment While on OPT

Students may accumulate up to a maximum of 90 days of unemployment during 12 months of authorized 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 periods of employment

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

What constitutes qualified employment?

  • Paid employment in a job directly 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 per week).
  • Unpaid employment in a job directly related to major field of study as volunteer or intern that does not violate labor laws and is at least 20 hours per week.

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

Travel while on OPT is not restricted. However, based on USDHS practice, 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 entry visa stamp issued by the U.S. Consulate (if your F-1 entry visa has expired by the date of your return to the US, you must apply for a new F-1 entry visa while abroad at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate. Do NOT use a tourist visa or visa waiver program to enter the U.S. while on OPT, as that will cancel your OPT authorization).
  • 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 a Social Security Number, you do not have to apply again.

H-1B Cap-Gap Extension of Authorized OPT

We have many students on F-1 OPT whose employers will seek to extend their work authorization in the US by applying for an H-1B visa (temporary worker in a professional, specialty occupation). There is a limit (“cap”) on the number of H-1B visas available to employers subject to this cap -- 65,000, plus an additional 20,000 for individuals with an advanced degree (Master’s degree or higher) from a U.S. institution. These visas are available during the government Fiscal Year (October 1 through September 30). H-1B cap-subject petitions can only be filed as early as April 1 (for an October 1 start date) each year. In recent years, more than twice the numbers of H-1B petitions are received than there are visas available. Therefore, it is not uncommon for an F-1 student who graduates in the Spring semester with 12 months of post-completion OPT to have their OPT authorization expire in advance of October 1 – leaving a “Gap” between the OPT end date and the H-1B start date of October 1.

Under U.S. Department of Homeland Security regulations, a student with an authorized period of post-completion F-1 Optional Practical Training or F-1 STEM OPT Extension, who is the beneficiary of a timely-filed H-1B petition requesting “Change of Status” (not “Consular Notification”) filed by their employer, will automatically have their status and employment authorization automatically extended from the ending date of the OPT/STEM OPT period (as indicated on the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card) until the starting date of the approved H-1B status (October 1). [8 CFR 214.2(f)(5)(vi)]

To clarify, automatic extension of F-1 status and employment authorization is granted if (a) the employer timely-filed cap-subject H-1B petition (generally April 1, or soon after), as communicated by USCIS) and (b) where the student’s OPT authorization is valid past that filing deadline.

If a student’s OPT authorization expires before the H-1B timely-filing deadline (generally prior to April 1), but the petition is still considered timely-filed (the OPT authorization expired less than 60 days prior to the H-1B timely-filing deadline – also called the F-1 “grace period”), a student’s F-1 status is considered automatically extended, but employment authorization is not extended. In this case, a student may be allowed to remain in the US until the start date of the H-1B status, but are not allowed to continue with employment.

Authorization to remain in the US, and any authorized extension of employment authorization, will be valid if the above conditions are met, until September 30, unless the H-1B petition is denied, withdrawn, or revoked.

EXAMPLE: An MIT F-1 student graduates on June 3, 2016, and applies for and is granted OPT valid from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017. Their H-1B cap-subject employer files an H-1B petition (requesting “Change of Status”, NOT “Consular Notification/Processing”) on their behalf on April 1, 2017 for the eligible fiscal year October 1, 2017 start date. The H-1B petition is approved, with the October 1, 2017 start date. While the F-1 student’s 12-months of OPT authorization (and EAD card) ends on June 30, 2017, since the student is the beneficiary of a timely-filed and approved H-1B petition starting October 1, the student can remain in the US from June 30, 2017 through September 30 and continue working under the terms of F-1 OPT, and on October 1, 2017 the student’s status becomes H-1B.

How does the student show evidence of extended work authorization?

The student can first provide (via E-form through iMIT) a copy of the H-1B Receipt Notice (Form I-797), proof of the timely-filed H-1B petition, and then the H-1B Approval Notice (Form I-797), to the ISO. The ISO will then issue the student an updated Form I-20 (OPT Cap-Gap I-20).

May a student travel during the Cap-Gap period?

You are strongly advised NOT to travel during the Cap-Gap period since requirements for applying for entry visas from US Consulates abroad, and entry to the US, require a valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card. During an authorized Cap-Gap period, a student will not have a new EAD card (only the expired card) and a Form I-20 noting the Cap-Gap authorization. Per US Department of Homeland Security guidance, this is not sufficient documentation for purposes of re-entry to the US in F-1 status.


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