F-1 OPT (Optional Practical Training) During Your Degree Program

Are you looking to gain practical experience during your time as a student? OPT (Optional Practical Training) is the most common way students in F-1 status obtain permission to work.

Applying for OPT Graphics
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What is OPT?

OPT (Optional Practical Training) is a benefit of F-1 student status that allows you to work off-campus in your field of study to gain practical experience.

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Before You Apply

If it’s on-campus, you don’t need to apply for OPT. Your F1 status allows you to work on-campus, whether it’s related to your field of study or not, and is not deducted from the time you’re allowed to work under OPT. Review our information on On-Campus Employment.

You do not need a job offer to apply but if you don’t work you lose the time authorized for employment.

You may use OPT during and/or after your degree program if it is longer than one academic year (2 semesters). OPT during your program is referred to as Pre-Completion OPT.

OPT during the academic year is limited to part-time (20 hours or less per week).

OPT during a summer vacation period may be part-time or full-time (more than 20 hours per week), but you must specify which one.

You get 12 months of OPT for each higher degree level you complete (Bachelor's, Master's, and PhD Degree).

If you’re a student in in certain STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), you may be eligible for an extension of OPT for an additional 24 months.

Pre-Completion OPT is deducted from the 12 month total at graduation. 

For example:

Pre-Completion OPT is deducted from the 12 month total at graduation

Part-time OPT is deducted at half the rate. 

For example:

Part-time OPT is deducted at half the rate

The earliest you may apply for pre-completion OPT is 90 days before your requested OPT start date. We encourage you to apply to the ISSO as early as possible for the OPT I-20 because it is part of the OPT application you will send to the government. 

Pre-Completion OPT Application Timeline
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How to Apply


Obtaining OPT employment authorization is a two-part application:

Part 1. Submit an online application to the ISSO to obtain a new I-20 with the OPT recommendation printed on it.

Part 2. Send your OPT application with fee to the immigration agency USCIS (Citizenship and Immigration Services). It may take USCIS three months (or maybe more) to process your OPT authorization, so you need to plan ahead--and mail the complete application as soon as possible.


OPT During Program Timeline
Step 1.

Gather your documents and information

These are the documents you will upload when you login to Compass to submit your application for the OPT I-20.

Step 2

Log in to Compass with your UNI and password to submit your application

Please click the appropriate link below:

Not sure of your campus? Check our campus school list.
Need help using Compass? Learn more on our Compass User Guide.

Step 3.

We will contact you

Allow up to 10 business days for us to review and process your application. We will notify you by email when your new I-20 with OPT recommendation is ready to be picked up.

Step 4.

Pick up your OPT I-20

Review page 2 to verify your requested OPT dates, then sign and date page 1. Always use your most recent I-20 when you travel. The travel signature on page 2 is valid for 12 months or until your program end date, whichever is earlier. Keep all previously issued I-20s.  You may need them in the future.

Step 5.

Mail your complete OPT application with fee to USCIS via FedEx or UPS

** Be very careful that your application is complete before you mail it! USCIS can deny your application if it's missing any required documentation without sending you an RFE (Request for Evidence) Read more.

Want a printable version? Download our USCIS Application Checklist.

Send all the required documents! 

Use the checklist to make sure you send everything you need as instructed.

Send it on time

USCIS must receive your application within 30 days after the date your Pre-Completion OPT I-20 was issued. If USCIS receives it later than that, they will deny your OPT application, without returning or refunding your $410 fee. 

Be sure your address on the I-765 will be valid for four months after mailing

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.

Sign all forms with dark blue or black ink

Make sure all your forms are signed! Your application will be rejected if you don’t sign your I-20, I-765 form, credit card authorization form or check.

Make a copy of your entire application for your records

You may need a paper or scanned copy in the future.

UEMS Discount Shipping Option

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 get your shipping label.

To avoid mailing problems, send your application by FedEx or UPS to the correct USCIS Lockbox facilities.

Most Common Address

If you list a mailing address on the I-765 in: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, U.S. Virgin Islands, or West Virginia, send your application to the Dallas lockbox:

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

Less Common Address

If you live in: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Guam, or the Northern Mariana Islands, send your application to the Phoenix lockbox:

1820 E. Skyharbor Circle S, Suite 100
Phoenix, AZ 85034

The USCIS processing time of OPT applications can vary. According to USCIS Case Processing Times, it can take 3 - 5 months. Unfortunately, they are not required to adjudicate OPT applications within a specific timeline, nor is there a way for the ISSO to inquire about pending cases. We understand that the waiting period can be very difficult.

We recommend the following actions:

  1. Track your case status by using your receipt number on USCIS Case Status Online.

  2. Sign up for a USCIS account to receive updates and submit inquiries for  individualized responses to your case through a USCIS account.

  3. Track your EAD card delivery by signing up for a  USPS informed delivery account.

  4. Enter your information in the USCIS E-Request online "Case Outside Normal Processing Time" option, but you may receive a standard response if you are within the 5-month window.  

  5. Contact the ISSO if you receive a Request For Evidence, Denial Notice or if your OPT application has been pending for 5 months. To calculate USCIS processing time, refer to the receipted date located on the upper left corner of your I-797 receipt notice.

  6. Speak with your prospective employer early in the process to inform them of USCIS processing times or updates.  

Step 6.

Contact us immediately if your application is returned to you

The ISSO will need to assist you if:

  • your application is returned to you with instructions to resubmit, or
  • you receive an RFE (Request for Further Evidence).

Normally, you will receive only three documents:

  1. Receipt notice with case number
  2. Approval notice
  3. EAD. You can begin working only when you have your EAD card.

EAD sample
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After You Receive the EAD Card

If you do not already have an SSN, you are now eligible to apply on or after the start date on your EAD card.

You should have already made a copy of your application materials before sending to USCIS. Now add a copy of the EAD. You may need them for future immigration or visa applications.

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Travel During Pre-Completion OPT

Since you are currently enrolled and will return to the U.S. as a continuing student before the program end date on your I-20, your OPT application has no impact on your travel. It makes no difference whether the OPT application is pending or has already been approved. You need the usual documents that an F-1 student needs to return from a trip abroad. See our Documents Needed to  Travel page for F-1 students.