F-1 visa students, who have completed two semesters of their academic program, are eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT). Students can use their OPT eligibility before graduation (pre-completion OPT) or apply during their final semester for post-completion OPT. Using pre-completion OPT will however reduce a student’s post-completion OPT eligibility (pre-completion OPT counts at half the rate of post-completion OPT).

Students applying for post-completion OPT have a 150 day window to submit applications; 90 days prior to graduation, up to 60 days after. However, applying early is always recommended. Post-completion OPT applicants will choose an OPT start date within 60 days after their study completion date. The study completion date will correspond with either the spring, summer, or fall graduation dates. Students applying during their last semester must complete an OPT recommendation form with their academic advisor. This ensures students meet with their advisor to confirm they have met the program requirements needed to graduate. Students should be made aware that once an OPT application has been approved, it cannot be cancelled. In addition, the $410 fee will not refunded once an application has been submitted to USCIS.

Students must find employment within 90 days of their OPT start date. Once employment is confirmed, the student should complete an OPT Employer Information form on our website within 10 days and notify us of any future change of address. We will then update the student’s record in SEVIS to meet reporting requirements.

SEVP Portal

Beginning spring 2018, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) will be sending emails to all students approved for Optional Practical Training (OPT) inviting them to create a SEVP OPT portal account. This will allow students on OPT to update their personal address, email, phone number, and employment information. If you cannot log in to the portal or do not receive an invitation email from SEVP on the first day of your OPT period, please contact ISSS. A portal reset message will be sent to your current email address.

F-1 visa holders on OPT are required to update their employer information or change of address within 10 days. Former students currently on their 24 month STEM OPT extension can only update personal information through the SEVP portal. Students on STEM OPT must still contact ISSS and complete a new I-983 training plan form if they change employers.

Please contact ISSS if you have any specific questions about reporting requirements while on Optional Practical Training.


Frequently Asked Questions

+ When should I apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

For both pre and post completion OPT, students should apply at least 90-100 days before they wish to begin working. USCIS often approves OPT within 3 months, but it is not uncommon for some applications to take up to 4 months for approval during high volume periods. Bachelor’s and Master’s level students can apply within 90 days of their graduation ceremony; PhD students have the option of applying within 90 days of either their graduation ceremony or dissertation defense date.

+ What do I need to do in order to apply?

Students are encouraged to make an appointment with ISSS and bring the following documents:

  • Signed and completed I-765 form (found on the USCIS website)
  • 2 passport photos (2x2 inches with white background)
  • Check or money order for $410 (paid to the US Dept. of Homeland Security)
  • Copies of previous I-20 forms, visa copy, passport biographical page copy, and I-94 printout
  • Academic Advisor Recommendation form (found on the ISSS website under forms and information page)

During the appointment, ISSS will request OPT in SEVIS, printout a new I-20 with your requested OPT dates, and check your documents before mailing to USCIS.

+ Can I volunteer and report it as OPT employment?

Yes, as long as you are confident the volunteer position relates to your major. However, STEM majors cannot request a 24 month OPT extension based on volunteer positions.

*Volunteer positions that do not relate to your degree cannot be reported in SEVIS as OPT employment.*

+ How long do I have to look for employment?

Students are allowed a total of 90 days of unemployment from the OPT start date on their Employment Authorization Document (EAD). STEM majors approved for a 24 month extension receive an additional 60 days of unemployment.

+ What address should I use on my OPT application?

It is encouraged that students use the ISSS Sterne Library mailing address on their I-765. However, ISSS will not be held responsible if the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) is lost by the US Postal Service. If you wish to use a personal address, you must send ISSS a scan of your EAD when you receive it. Students who lose their EAD, either in the mail or after receiving the card, will have to submit a new application to USCIS and pay the $410 fee again for a replacement card. Students should contact USCIS National Customer Service at 1-800-375-5283 if they believe USCIS is at fault for the lost card. It is highly recommended OPT applicants sign up for Informed Delivery at the USPS website to track incoming mail from USCIS.

+ Can I travel while my OPT is pending? Can I travel after it has been approved?

While it’s not recommended students travel outside the US while OPT is pending, students that must leave the US can lower their risk of having problems at the airport by traveling with the following documents:

  • Signed I-20 endorsed for travel
  • Valid F1 visa
  • Receipt from USCIS proving pending OPT application
  • Travel letter from ISSS

Students who have been approved for OPT should have no issues leaving and re-entering the US as long they travel with the following:

  • Signed I-20 endorsed for travel
  • Valid F1 visa
  • Proof of Employment (pay slip or letter from employer)
  • EAD (Employment Authorization Document)

Additional OPT information