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Optional Practical Training

To view this information as a pdf along with the application please visit our forms page

What is OPT?

Optional Practical training is employment directly related to your major(s). It is authorized by the Immigration Service as part of your F-1 visa status.  

Who is eligible?
You must be a full-time student, maintaining status for at least one academic-year.  A job offer is not required to apply for OPT, however you MUST report an employer to the OISS within 90 days of the approved OPT start date.

How long can I work using OPT?

  •  F-1 students are eligible for a total of 12 months of OPT per degree level (Bachelor’s Master’s, PhD). Keep this in mind if you are considering another degree at the same educational level in the future.  Students in STEM majors may be eligible for an additional 24 month extension.
  • Any PRE-completion practical training that is authorized prior to completion of studies or for another degree of the same level will be deducted from the total 12 month allotment for post-completion practical training (part-time pre-completion OPT is deducted at a half-month rate).  
  • Post-completion OPT must be full-time (20 hours or more per week).  You must NOT accrue more than 90 days of unemployment during your 12 month OPT period (see next page for details).

When should I apply?

  • PRE-completion applications must arrive no more than 90 days prior to the start date  POST-completion applications must arrive to the immigration service center no more than 90 days prior to your completion of studies date and no later than 60 days after your completion of studies date*.  You ARE allowed to remain in the U.S. between your completion and your OPT start date.     
    • *What is my completion date?
      • Summer Graduates: The last day of your last summer session, NOT the end of August.
      • PhD Students:  When you defend, including any revisions and your assistantship is finished.
      • May Graduates: Your completion date will be the graduation date.Exchange Students: The last day of  finals for the semester.
  • You should submit your application to the OISS 1-2 weeks prior to when you want to submit the application to the immigration service center.  It will take the OISS up to 2 weeks to process your new I-20.
  • PLAN AHEAD and APPLY EARLY! It can take up to 3-4 months for your OPT to be approved AND another 1-3 weeks to receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD).  You cannot begin without your EAD!

How do I chose my OPT start date?

POST and PRE Completion:

  • The dates you choose will be the dates you are eligible to work. Note:  If your OPT is approved after the date you choose your EAD start date will be the date of approval.
  • You cannot apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) until the start date on your Employment Card.  If you do not have an SSN you should choose a start date at least 2 weeks prior to your job start date or the date you want to be eligible to begin working.  You may also choose to apply for an SSN with your OPT application. Ask the OISS for detials. 
  •  Once submitted to the immigration service center the dates CANNOT be changed or extended. Sometimes the OPT can be cancelled before it is approved, but you will not receive a refund.

POST Completion ONLY:

  • Your OPT start date must fall between the day after your completion date and 60 days after your completion date.  (ex. Complete May 23rd, choose a date between May 24th and July 22nd)
  • How do I choose the dates if I do not have a job offer?
    •  If you choose a later date (ex. July 20th) and your employer wants a June 1st start you can’t start
    • If you choose an earlier date (ex. May 25th) the 12 months and 90 days of unemployment starts accruing from that date, even if your job starts later.
  • If your employer will file an H1B for you on April 1st of the following year, your OPT will automatically be extended until September 30th as long as your end date for your OPT is April 1st or later.

What is the 90 day unemployment limitation for POST-OPT? Is it serious?
YES, it is SERIOUS!  
 As of December 2015, failure to report an employer to the OISS WITHIN 90 DAYS of the start date on your EAD will result in automatic TERMINATION of your F-1 status and OPT. See the OPT reporting page for more details.

Can I travel when during POST-OPT?
Yes! You will need the following to re-enter the U.S. with AFTER your completion date on your I-20.*

  • Valid F-1 visa stamp in your passport. (This does not apply for travel to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean islands if you go for less than 30 days).  You are still in F-1 status while on OPT! NEVER enter the U.S. on any visa status other than F-1 – it will cancel your OPT!!
  • I-20 form with a travel signature on page 2 from the OISS, dated within the last 6 months.
  • EAD Card: If you have not yet received your EAD Card you may be able to travel with your I-797 OPT receipt. Please contact the OISS for advice on travel. 
  • Job offer letter:  Upon entry into the U.S. (and at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate if you have to renew your F-1 visa) you could be asked for a job offer letter.  If you have just graduated and do not have a job offer, we recommend carrying proof of interviews or email correspondence with potential employers.

*Note:  Prior to the completion date on page 1 of your I-20, you are still considered a student and DO NOT need your EAD card or receipt and job offer.  (Example: Travel in April, finish in May)

How do I apply?

Step 1: Submit the OPT request form to the OISS, AND a completed I-765 form no sooner than approximately 3 ½ months prior to your completion and no later than 1 ½ months after your completion date.  Your work authorization can take up to 90 days to be approved, so please plan ahead. The application is available on the OISS website and in the office.

Step 2:  After you submit the above documentation, the OISS will issue you a new I-20 with a recommendation for practical training for the specific time period and review your I-765 form. The OPT recommendation will appear on page 2 of your I-20. This process will take 1-2 weeks and an email will be sent to your BC email when your new I-20 is ready and the I-765 form has been reviewed. 

Step 3:  Pick up your new I-20 and I-765 form from OISS and mail all of the necessary items to the Immigration Service (An OPT Mailing Checklist will be provided with your I-20 and I-765).    Pay careful attention to the required mailing dates at the top of the checklist and on your envelope.  Failure to ensure the application arrives between these dates will result in DENIAL of your application!  

Step 4: Wait approximately 2-3 weeks to receive your I-797 receipt and up to 3 months to receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD).  Once your OPT is approved, you will receive an approval notice and the EAD card separately. You are not allowed to work until you receive the EAD card and the start date has passed on your card.