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Graduating in spring 2021? Watch this webinar where an ISSO advisor discusses OPT eligibility requirements and the application procedures (recorded February 4, 2021).
What is OPT?
OPT (Optional Practical Training) is a benefit and extension of F-1 student status that permits you to remain in the U.S. after you complete your academic program with permission to work in your field of study.
Post-Completion OPT extends your F-1 status even though you are no longer an enrolled student, and also extends the F-2 status of any dependents who are with you.
Learn more! Watch our short video, "What is OPT?"
Before You Apply
F-1 regulations require you to be in the U.S. in F-1 status at the time you apply for OPT. Your most recent I-94 admission record is among the required documentation.
Employment on Post-completion OPT is paid or unpaid work in your field of study for at least 20 hours per week.
Learn about types of employment allowed:
A job offer is not required in advance of submitting an application which allows you more time to job hunt. However, you need to begin OPT employment within 90 days of the start date on your EAD.
The "clock" to count unemployment days begins on the start date of OPT on your EAD card
Be careful! If you accrue more than 90 days of unemployment, or if you forget to report and update your OPT to the ISSO, your F-1 SEVIS record may automatically terminate. A terminated SEVIS record cancels OPT authorization and requires you to leave the United States.
Your maximum amount of Post-Completion OPT is 12 months. If you had OPT previously authorized at the same degree level it will be deducted from the 12 month total. This includes:
Use your previously-issued EAD cards to calculate the number of days to be deducted.
We recommend that you maintain evidence — for each job — of the position held, the job title, contact information for the your supervisor or manager, a description of the work, and proof of the duration.
If possible, obtain a signed letter from your hiring official, supervisor, or manager stating how your degree is related to the work performed.
These records and letters are not part of your applications. It is useful to have them available in your personal files in case questions ever arise during OPT or in a future employment-based application.
Learn more! Watch our short video "5 Fun Facts About OPT (Optional Practical Training)"
Determine Your OPT Timeline
Your OPT approval may take more than three months to be processed by USCIS, so you need to plan ahead. Hopefully, you will receive an approval earlier than this.
Apply as early as possible
The earliest you can submit your ISSO application is 90 days before your program end date on your I-20. We encourage you apply as early as possible.
Use our OPT Calculator to determine:
- When to apply;
- How much OPT time you have left if you have used OPT at this educational level:
- You will need to have your EAD Card(s) available to add together all the days to be deducted from the 365-day total;
OPT start and end dates
As a doctoral student, you have some flexibility in determining your program end date for OPT purposes. You may use the defense date or the end of the term in which you complete requirements.
Note that after your program end date, you are no longer eligible to engage in on-campus employment as a student or receive funding from your department. OPT employment can begin only after you have received your EAD card, and are within the dates printed on your EAD card.
Consult with both an ISSO adviser and your academic adviser before finalizing your "custom end date" in the "OPT Calculator".
Choose Your OPT Start Date
Choose your OPT dates wisely
You get to choose the date you would like OPT authorization to begin, within the 60-day period following your program end date. This is not an easy decision if you don’t have a job offer at the time of application.
The latest date is not always best
You may want to maximize the time you'll have for job-hunting by choosing the latest possible date. The downside, however, is that you cannot begin employment until the start date on your EAD.
OPT dates cannot be changed
Once you choose your OPT start date and submit your application to us, you cannot change it.
We Will Contact You
Allow up to 10 business days for us to review and process your application. If your request is approved, we will email your new digital OPT I-20 for you to print with additional instructions.
Receive Your OPT I-20
- Look at page 2 to verify your requested OPT dates, then sign and date on page 1.
- Always use your most recent I-20 when you travel. Be aware that the travel signature on page 2 is valid for six months (not 12) when you’re on OPT.
- Keep all previously issued I-20s. You may need them for future applications.
Gather USCIS Application Documents and Fee
First, complete the I-765 (# 4 on the checklist). Watch this short video and use our sample form as a guide to complete your I-765 Application for Employment Authorization. Always download the I-765 from this link for the current version. USCIS will reject applications with older versions of the form. When you’re finished, print and sign it with black ink.
Download our USCIS Application Checklist.
Mail Your USCIS Application
USCIS can deny your application if you're missing any required documentation. Use the checklist to make sure it is complete, and organize your application materials in the same order (#1 on top).
- Use paper clips, not staples.
- Copies may be black and white, or color
- Make single-sided, rather than double-sided, copies.
Send to the correct USCIS address:
1) no earlier than 90 days before your I-20 program end date, and 2) in time for the USCIS to receive it within 30 days after the date your Post-Completion OPT I-20 was issued. If USCIS receives it outside this timeframe, they will deny your OPT application, without returning or refunding your USCIS fee.
Government mail is not forwarded to another address. If you change your address during the processing time, you can use the USCIS Change of Address site but we cannot guarantee its efficacy.
Make sure all your forms are signed! Your application will be rejected if you don’t sign your I-20, I-765 form, and check.
You may need a paper or scanned copy in the future. And it's the only way to check your materials after you submit your application.
UEMS (also known as eShip Global) offers discounted rates to ship your OPT application to USCIS by FedEx, UPS, or USPS. Follow eShipGlobal instructions to create your shipping label.
USCIS Mailing Address
In January 2021 USCIS changed their I-765 mailing procedure so that all OPT and STEM OPT I-765 applications are sent to one location, the Chicago lockbox, regardless of where you live.
To avoid mailing problems, send your application by FedEx or UPS.
Attn: I-765 C03
131 South Dearborn - 3rd Floor
Chicago, IL 60603-5517
Contact Us If Needed
Normally, you will receive 2 documents from USCIS before the EAD. You do not need to contact us when you receive these two documents.
1. I-797 Receipt Notice with a case number. Important to check for accuracy in case there’s an error in your name or other information that needs to be corrected. * 1/21/21: Note that the USCIS lockbox in Texas has had significant delays in processing and sending receipt notices since November 2020. USCIS changed the address to the Chicago lockbox on 1/8/21 for all kinds of OPT applications.
2. I-797 Approval Notice
However, contact us immediately for assistance if:
- your application is returned to you with instructions to resubmit
- you see errors in your I-797 receipt notice
- you receive a Request for Further Evidence (RFE)
- you see an error on your approval notice or on your EAD
- you receive a Denial Notice
- you realize you have made a mistake on your application or failed to include required document(s) even if you have not heard from USCIS
Learn what you can do while waiting for the EAD.
After You Mail Your USCIS Application
The USCIS processing time of OPT applications can vary. USCIS is not required to adjudicate OPT applications within a specific timeframe, nor is there a way for the ISSO to inquire about pending cases. We understand that the waiting period can be very difficult. Since November 2020 the USCIS lockbox in Texas has had significant delays in processing and sending receipt notices. On January 8, 2021 USCIS changed the address to the Chicago lockbox for all types of OPT applications, as part of their plan to address the backlog. See our FAQs on OPT/STEM Delays.
Check USCIS Case Processing Times to find out how long I-765 applications are taking.
We recommend the following actions:
USCIS Processing Time and EAD Delivery FAQs
Unfortunately, it is not possible to know exactly when your OPT application will be approved. Due to the uncertainty of when your application will be adjudicated, you may need to be flexible in regard to your OPT start date.
USCIS may take three months or longer to adjudicate OPT requests. Hopefully, you will receive an approval earlier than this.
In the unlikely event that you do not receive an update from USCIS within the timeframe listed on USCIS’ Case Processing Times, feel free to reach out to us again. We will be able to provide accurate advisement at that point regarding the best actions.
Any activity that could be considered OPT employment cannot begin until you have your EAD card and are within the dates on the EAD card. You cannot work without pay for your prospective employer until your EAD card arrives. Refer to our on Unpaid Internships and Volunteering web page for information on what might constitute a bona fide volunteer position.
The 60-day grace period does not apply to you once you have applied for OPT before the deadline. You are able to stay in the US for as long as it takes USCIS to adjudicate your request.
Generally, USCIS will adjust the start date on your EAD card to the date that USCIS approved your OPT.
Regardless of when you are approved, F-1 regulations limit the extension of your OPT end date to 14 months after your program end date.
Travel before OPT approval is not recommended. If you decide you must travel, check here for the risks involved and the required documents. If your EAD card is delivered to your US address before you return, we recommend that you obtain a scanned copy of the front and back of the EAD card rather than have the card itself sent to you.
Try one of these two methods:
- Use USPS’ Missing Mail and Lost Package Form to locate your envelope.
- Visit your local US Post Office and ask them for detailed scanning information about where and when your package was scanned.
If USPS lost the EAD, attach a letter from the US Postal Service on official letterhead, stating that the USPS is responsible for the lost EAD, including the contact person from the US Post Office to an email to the ISSO.
See additional FAQs on OPT/STEM OPT Processing Delays during fall 2020 - Spring 2021.
After You Receive Your EAD
If you do not already have an SSN, and didn't apply for one when you completed the I-765 OPT application, you are now eligible to apply on or after the start date on your EAD card.
Do not apply again if you have already done so.
In general, post-completion OPT cannot be extended, except in the following two situations:
- STEM OPT Extension: If you graduated from a degree program in a government-designated STEM field, you may be eligible for an extension for an additional 24 months of OPT. Read more about the STEM OPT extension.
- Cap-Gap Extension: If your employer files a change of status H-1B petition while you are on authorized OPT and it is selected by USCIS for processing, your OPT may be automatically extended during the period of time between the expiration of your OPT and the October 1st change of status to H-1B. Read more about the “Cap Gap” extension.
Learn more! Watch our Extending Your OPT video for more information.
While you are on OPT, you remain in F-1 status. If you have plans to travel abroad during this period, you need to know in advance which F-1 documents you need to have with you to return to the U.S. so you won't jeopardize your OPT authorization.
While on OPT, you are not permitted to study toward a degree program. During OPT, study is limited to part-time non-degree classes.
If you decide to begin a new full-time program at:
When your EAD expires, you have a 60 day grace period in which:
You cannot work during the grace period, or leave and return to the U.S. in F-1 status. On the 61st day after the EAD expires, SEVIS automatically completes your F-1 SEVIS record.
If you decide to discontinue your OPT before the EAD expires, you do not have a grace period and must report your departure through OPT Reporting. This will complete your F-1 SEVIS record.