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Optional Practical Training (OPT) Application Basics

Optional Practical Training is defined as 'temporary employment for practical training directly related to the student's major area of study.' An F-1 student who has maintained lawful F-1 visa status for at least one academic year may be eligible to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT may be granted before or after completion of their program, however limitations apply. A student is allowed a maximum of 12 months of full-time OPT for each increasing degree level. You do not need a job offer in order to apply for OPT and having a job opportunity does not expedite the process. Some students may be eligible for an additional 24 months of OPT, see OPT STEM Extension for details.

As a result of a recent court order, USCIS has extended certain filing flexibilities to OPT applicants.  Please review the details here.

OPT Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Pre-completion vs. Post-completion OPT

Students may apply for full-time pre-completion OPT provided all coursework has been completed and they are working full-time on a thesis or dissertation; otherwise, students may only apply for part- time OPT (20 hours or less) during their degree program (except during normal schools breaks when pre-completion OPT may be authorized for full-time).

A student is eligible for post-completion OPT once:

1.     You have completed all degree requirements OR

2.     You are a graduate student and have completed all degree requirements with the exception of the thesis/dissertation.

Full-time vs. Part-time OPT

Part-time OPT is deducted at half the rate of full-time OPT towards the 12 month total. For example, if a student engages in 6 months of part- time OPT prior to degree completion, 3 months of eligibility will be deducted from their total of 12 months of eligibility and they will have 9 months of full-time OPT remaining.

All post-completion OPT is considered full-time.

Impact of CPT

Part time CPT has no impact on OPT.  Please be aware, however, if an F-1 student has engaged in 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT), he/she is ineligible for OPT.

When to Apply for OPT

Pre-completion OPT

During your degree program, if you are interested in a practical experience that does not qualify for Curricular Practical Training, you may able to pursue that opportunity using pre-completion OPT. Be sure to reach out to OIS to speak with an advisor to see if you qualify. Students applying for pre-completion OPT can mail their applications to USCIS up to 90 days before their requested OPT start date. In order to begin working, the student must have the EAD card and have reached the start date on the card. On Form I-765, section 27 should be completed as follows: (C)(3)(A).

Post-completion OPT

Post-completion is for students that wish to be employed in the US after the completion of their degree in a position that is related to their degree program. Students applying for post-completion OPT can apply up to 90 days before the date that they will complete their course of study and must submit their OPT application to USCIS NO LATER THAN 60 days after the date that they will complete their course of study. Please see below for a visual representation of the application timeline. For most Bachelor's and Master's students, the day that degree requirements are completed is the last registered class day or the end of the semester. For doctoral students, the date on which degree requirements are completed varies by school. Consult an OIS Advisor for specific details. Once a student has completed all degree requirements, regardless of whether the date of graduation is weeks or months later, that student is considered to have finished their program, regardless of the end date on the I-20. OPT applications must be received by USCIS no later than 30 days after the I-20 with the OPT recommendation is issued and the OPT start date should be within 60 days from the program end date.  Applications filed too early or too late will be rejected by USCIS. On Form I-765, section 27 should be completed as follows: (C)(3)(B).

Application Timeline for Post-Completion OPT

It can take from 3 to 5 months for you to receive your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from USCIS. USCIS processing times may vary. Make sure to check the USCIS website for the latest information. Review these points when determining when you should apply:

  • You can submit an OPT application to USCIS up to 90 days before the program completion date and no later than 60 days after the completion date

    • If you wish to begin working immediately upon completing your degree requirements, you should plan to apply for OPT as soon as you are within 90 days of your program completion date

    • Your requested OPT Start Date cannot be changed after you have applied

  • You must have your EAD and have reached the start date on the EAD in order to work. 

    • If your employment date has arrived and you do not have your EAD card you cannot begin employment.

    • The start date on your EAD card may not be the same as the date you requested.

  • Students must be in the U.S when applying for OPT

    • If you depart the U.S and your program completion date has passed, you cannot re-enter as an F-1 student and apply for OPT

Requesting an OPT Start Date

When applying for OPT, you will need to select an OPT start date. That date must be within 60 days after the end date on your I-20. For example, if you finish all degree requirements by April 15th, the last day you may request to start your period of OPT will be June 15th. The date you request as the start date does not necessarily mean that is the start date that will be approved. Therefore, please note: You must have the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) in your possession and the start date on the EAD must be reached before you may engage in employment. Also, once you have completed all degree requirements you may not continue to work in any capacity until you have received your EAD. This includes on- campus employment.  It is often advisable to discuss the OPT dates with an OIS advisor before submitting your OPT Application to USCIS. Once you have requested an OPT start date, it cannot be changed.  

OPT Application Process

STEP 1: Attend an OPT Information Session in person or online

Virtual or in-person information sessions are typically held throughout the year and are listed in the OIS Update Newsletter you receive to your email.  If you would like to take the session online instead of attending an in-person session, we do offer an eCourse presentation that can be accessed using this link or in your iHopkins account embedded into the OPT Presentation and Quiz eForm.

STEP 2: Take the OPT Quiz

The Post-Completion OPT request process is comprised of a group of two eForms which are located in iHopkins.  The first eForm is the OPT Presentation and Quiz. To ensure that you have reviewed the presentation and have a basic understanding of OPT, you are required to complete a brief quiz.  You must answer all questions correctly before you can proceed to the Post-Completion OPT Request eForm.

To access the eForms:

  • Go to iHopkins.
  • Click "Login" under "Active JHED Login."
  • Login with your JHED ID and password.
  • Once logged in, click on "Post-Completion OPT Quiz and eForm” group in the menu on the left, then click on "OPT Presentation and Quiz."
STEP 3: Prepare and submit OPT Request form to the OIS and receive new I-20

After you pass the OPT quiz, you must complete the “Post Completion OPT Request eForm”.  This eForm will be routed to your Academic Advisor via email for review and approval. If you are a PhD student you will need to speak with your program or thesis advisor to discuss your specific end date before submitting the OPT Request eform.  Upon approval from the Academic Advisor, the OIS will review the eForm and create your new I-20. If you choose option 1 below, your I-20 will be created when you review your documents with an OIS advisor.

Options for issuing your I-20 with an OPT Recommendation

  1. You can schedule to meet with an advisor to go over your application and ask any additional questions you might have. (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED)
  2. You can indicate that you do not want to meet with OIS.  In this case, OIS will issue your new I-20 using the info on the eForm and we will not review your OPT application.

You will indicate how you wish to receive your I-20:

  1. Mailed to you by express mail (DHL/FedEx/UPS) after you set up shipment in eShipGlobal  (tracking is available)
  2. Email you an electronic I-20
STEP 4: Prepare OPT Application

You will be responsible for compiling the documentation that is required as part of the OPT application.  Below is a list of documents that must be submitted to USCIS.  This information is also available as a pdf checklist.  

  • USCIS Form I-765 completed and signed in black ink by the student.  The code for question 27 is (c)(3)(b) if you're filing for post-completion OPT (this is the most common) and (c)(3)(a) if you're filing for pre-completion OPT.  We highly encourage single sided printing for all USCIS forms.  For help with this form, please refer to our I-765 Aid.   
  • USCIS Form G-1145 for email/text notification updates regarding your application.
  • Check or money order in the amount of $410 made payable to "U.S. Department of Homeland Security". 
    • You can also pay by a US credit card using Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transaction (PDF, 260 KB).  However, be aware that this new process is subject to a higher level of USCIS errors that have resulted in the OPT application being denied and requiring students to refile.   If you use a credit card and the application is rejected, you still are subject to the filing window.
  • 2 Passport-style photographs that meet USCIS specifications found on Form I-765 instructions. You will need to write your full name and SEVIS ID number on the back of each photo
  • Copy of pages 1 and 2 of I-20 with OPT endorsement (endorsement can be found on page 2).  This is the document you will receive from OIS after you submit your “Post Completion OPT Request eForm”.
  • Copy of your current I-94 Arrival/Departure Information.
  • Copy of your current, unexpired passport id page.
  • Copy of your current F-1 visa stamp (Citizens of Bermuda and Canadians are exempt from this requirement).
  • Copies of front and back of any previous work authorization cards (EADs) that you have ever been issued.
  • If you received Curricular Practical Training (CPT) authorization, include copies of I-20s showing that authorization.
STEP 5: Submit the OPT Application to USCIS using one of the processes below

Mail a paper application to USCIS: Your full application MUST be BOTH mailed to and received by USCIS within 30 days of the date that your most recent I-20 (the I-20 with the OPT recommendation on page 2) was signed by an OIS advisor. Failure to submit your application during this time frame WILL result in a denial of your application.  Send the application to the appropriate USCIS office.  You are advised to make a copy of your entire application.  Be careful that the address you use on the I-765 is one at which you may receive mail.  Applications should be mailed via express mail such as Fed Ex or UPS so that the package can be tracked and delivery confirmed.  

Send your application by courier delivery (FedEx, DHL, UPS) to:

USCIS
Attn: I-765 C03
131 South Dearborn- 3rd Floor
Chicago, IL 60603-5517

 

File your application onlineUSCIS now offers students in F-1 status the ability to submit the I-765 electronically through their online portal.  This process involves filling out the I-765 electronically, uploading the required documents and paying the fee  through the online portal. By filing online, you will automatically receive digital notifications so you do not need to file Form G-1145.  The online application process is new and OIS advisors may not be able to answer all of your questions about the process.  Additionally, at this time we know very little about how the processing of online applications compares to the processing of those filed by paper.

 
STEP 6: Receive OPT Card and Begin Employment

Approximately 2-3 weeks after submitting the OPT application, you will receive a text message or email containing your receipt number. With this number you can track your case online at uscis.gov. Usually 30 days after the text message or email, you will be mailed the I-797 (a paper receipt notice). If you do not receive the I-797 by the date listed on the case tracker website, contact USCIS customer service. When you receive the I-797, it is important that you check the spelling of your name to make sure there are no errors. If you find an error, contact USCIS at the phone number provided on the notice.  You may begin working once you have the EAD card and the start date on the EAD card has been reached.  Please note that USCIS considers this to be your personal application for benefits and will not talk to OIS about its progress.  Only if there is trouble with the SEVIS recommendation for OPT can the OIS take any action.