Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Frequently Asked Questions About Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 Students

Q. Where can I learn more about OPT?

A. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has information about Practical Training.

Q. What forms do I need to apply for OPT?

A. The forms are available online:

Pre-completion OPT:

  • Pre-completion OPT allows a student to work off-campus full-time during the student's annual vacation and at other times when school is not in session. The student must be currently enrolled and returning to study the next semester.

  • Students may work while school is in session, provided that practical training does not exceed 20 hours a week while school is in session.

How to apply for Pre-completion OPT:

  • Students can apply for pre-completion OPT up to 90 days before being enrolled for one full academic year, provided that the period of employment will not start prior to the completion of the full academic year. This would allow first-year students to obtain pre-completion OPT in the summer after their first year.

Post-completion OPT:

  • A student may engage in post-completion OPT after completion of the course of study, or, for a student in a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree program, after completion of all course requirements for the degree (excluding thesis or equivalent).

How to apply:

  • Students can apply for post-completion OPT up to 90 days before the program end date and up to 60 days after the program end-date, provided that is filed within 30 days of the date the DSO enters the OPT recommendation into SEVIS.

  • Applications for the 17-month STEM extension must be filled before the current EAD expires.

Q. How much OPT am I eligible for?

A. If you have not been authorized for any previous practical training at the same degree level or at a higher level, you are eligible for up to twelve months, once you have completed one academic year of your program of study. Previous curricular practical training will not affect the 12 month allotment unless the curricular training was full time and for more than twelve months.

Q. May I apply for less than 12 months of OPT?

A. Yes, but… you must be sure that you will not want more than the period that is less than 12 months. You cannot apply for additional time after the degree completion date deadline has passed.

Q. May I obtain 12 months of OPT after each degree?

A. Yes. A student is eligible for 12 months of practical training for each change to a higher educational level. So a student in F-1 status who enters as a Bachelor’s degree student is eligible for up to 12 months practical training upon completion of the Bachelor’s and then another 12 months upon completion of the next higher degree (Master’s).

Q. How long does it take for the OIE to process my OPT application?

A. The Designated School Official, Jane Nucup (janenucup@rmc.edu) will work with you to put together your application. You should plan on two meetings with the DSO. Once your package is complete (including a new I-20), you are responsible for mailng the application to the USCIS (United States Customs & Immigration Services) Lockbox in Dallas, Texas.

Q. How long will the application approval process at USCIS take?

A. Processing time is highly variable and difficult to predict. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to twelve weeks and sometimes longer. Therefore, you are urged to apply early to allow sufficient time for you to receive your EAD card. You can contact USCIS about your application 75 days after they have begun the adjudication process.

Q. How much is the OPT application fee?

A. The USCIS application fee for OPT is $410.00

Q. What if I apply for Optional Practical Training and end up not using it? Perhaps I won't be able to find a job, or perhaps I decide to go back to school. What happens then?

A. Applying for practical training is a two-step process. You must first make a request to the DSO, and then mail your application to USCIS to obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Once your DSO requests employment authorization on your behalf, it is not possible to cancel the practical training authorization. Therefore, any unused time will be lost.

Q. I have a job offer but my EAD has not arrived yet. Can I begin work?

A. No!

Q. Can I work at any job with OPT authorization?

ANo! OPT authorization is only for employment related to your field of study. Working in an unrelated job is a serious violation of your F-1 status. Do not put your legal status at risk.

Q. Can I work part-time?

A. For post-completion OPT, you must work at least 20 hours per week.

Q. What if I receive my EAD (Employment Authorization Document) but cannot find a job? Will I lose my OPT?

A. During post-completion OPT, a student (including STEM students) may not be unemployed for an aggregate of more than 90 days. If a student receives a 17-month STEM OPT extension, the limit on unemployment is raised to an aggregate of no more than 120 days, applied to the entire 29-month period of post-completion OPT. 

Q. Once I receive my EAD, is there anything else I should do?

A. Yes, please bring in your EAD card to the OIE so that a photocopy can be made for your file. Please Note: Employment cannot begin until the date authorized for practical training on the EAD and you have received your EAD card.

You must report your employer's information to the OIE so they can enter it into your SEVIS record. You are only permitted a TOTAL of 90 days of unemployment while on OPT, therefore, it is essential that you notify the OIE of a new job or the termination of employment within ten days of that change.

Q. I have already received my EAD. I will not graduate as expected. Do I need to file for a program extension?

A. Yes! You must file for an extension if you will not graduate before the program completion date on page 1 of your SEVIS I-20.

Q. Do I need a job offer to obtain Optional Practical Training? 

A. No. Proof of employment is not required to obtain OPT.

Q. What should I do if I change my name while I am on Post-Completion OPT?

A. While on OPT post-graduation, students must continue to report any name or address changes within 10 days to the OIE because the school continues to maintain the F-1 record until OPT ends.

Q. I may be moving while my application is pending. Can I use the OIE as my mailing address?

A. Yes. US Citizenship and Immigration Services will mail EAD cards to an office address at a university. If you will be moving before you receive your EAD card then you will want to have the card sent to you at a friend or relative’s address or at the OIE address.

To use a friend or relative's address, complete form I-765, by showing your mailing address like this:

Your Name
c/o (the name of your relative or friend)
Street Address
City, State Zip Code

To use the OIE office address show the mailing address like this:

Your Name
c/o Office of International Education
P.O. Box 5005
Randolph Macon College
Ashland, VA 23005 - 5505

Q. I am planning to travel outside of the United States. The signature on my I-20 is 8-months old. Do I need a new signature?

A. Yes, while you are on OPT you need a travel signature on page 3 of your I-20 that is less than 6 months old on the day of your re-entry.

Q. What if I want to travel outside the United States before I receive my EAD? after I've received my EAD?

A. The OIE strongly advises against travelling outside the U.S. while your application is pending. The Port of Entry may deny your entry because you abandoned your petition.

However, once the EAD card for OPT is issued to the F-1 student, and the student decides to travel abroad, the student can only re-enter the United States to resume employment. The F-1 student does not need to have already begun actual employment before leaving, as long as the student has a job offer to which to return.

The best general advice is that an F-1 student on OPT, who has received the EAD card, and has to travel abroad should make sure that there is documentation from his or her employer confirming the employment or the job offer. Otherwise the student assumes a risk that he/she may not be allowed to re-enter the United States. 

Please note: If you will need to obtain a new F-1 visa, such travel may be risky. There have been cases where students who had completed their degree program were denied a new visa and not permitted to reenter the United States. Even if your visa is still valid, USCIS regulations state that re-entry is permitted only to “resume authorized employment.” Therefore, students who do not yet have jobs take a risk if they travel outside the U.S.