Optional Practical Training (OPT)
WHAT IS OPT?
Optional Practical Training is defined as authorization for “temporary employment authorization directly related to the field of study.” OPT employment authorization is granted for 12 months typically after completion of degree requirements.
WHO IS ELIGIBLE?
• Students who are in lawful F-1 visa status for at least one academic year; and
• Who will be completing degree requirements in the semester applying; and
• Whose proposed OPT employment will be directly related to their course of study and must be full time occurring anywhere in the United States.
WHEN TO APPLY FOR OPT?
You may file an application as early as 90 days before completing your program of study, but your application must be at the USCIS Lockbox in Phoenix, Arizona by the end of the 60 day grace period after graduation. The application must be approved by the International Center and then submitted to the USCIS Lockbox in Phoenix, Arizona. Your application will then be forwarded to the USCIS Nebraska Service Center in Lincoln, Nebraska for receipting and processing. Though it is possible to file OPT after graduation, we do not recommend doing so as the USCIS processing times vary and you may lose some of your 12-month employment authorization.
To apply for Optional Practical Training the following forms must be printed and submitted to the International Center, along with all supporting documents:
USCIS Application for Employment Authorization (I-765) Form for requesting OPT
NOTE: If you plan to spend one of your last two semester(s) outside of the U.S., you may not be eligible for OPT. Please consult with an International Student and Scholar Services advisor.
WHEN DOES OPT START?
Students have a choice of when they want their OPT to start. The earliest a student can start employment is the day after completing degree requirements. The latest date OPT can start is 60 days after the degree completion date. The processing of the application and the creation of an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) typically takes 10-16 weeks, so you are encouraged to apply as early as possible before an employment start date. You can not begin work until you have received the EAD card and the date on the card has commenced.
EMPLOYMENT REQUIREMENTS TO MAINTAIN STATUS WHILE ON OPT:
• During post-completion OPT; F-1 visa status is dependent upon employment. Students may not accrue a total of 90 days or more of unemployment during post-completion OPT. The 90 days of unemployment begins accruing on the start date of the Employment Authorization Document/card (EAD).
• Employment MUST be related to the field of study.
• The employment does NOT have to be paid employment. Therefore, a student who is volunteering in a position directly related to the academic field would be considered “employed” for the purposes of OPT employment. However, the employer must meet all Department of Labor requirements for volunteer positions.
• Employment authorization will begin on the date requested or the date the employment authorization is approved, whichever is later.
• Students must comply with the employment reporting requirements.
REPORTING REQUIREMENTS WHILE ON OPT:
All students on OPT are required to report the following to the International Center:
• The name and address of employer, and start date of employment: New/Change of Employer (for students on OPT/OPT Extension)
• Any change of employment (Loss of employment, change of employer, etc: New/Change of Employer (for students on OPT/OPT Extension)
• Any change of your name or address: Address Change Form
Students who have completed a STEM Degree Program and whose employer is enrolled in the E-Verify program may qualify for an additional 17-month OPT extension. Students with an approved 17-month OPT extension have additional reporting requirements. Please refer to the 17-month OPT extension application for further information.
GRACE PERIOD FOLLOWING OPT:
Students who successfully complete OPT will receive a 60-day grace period starting on the day after OPT expires. Before the 60-day grace period is over, you must have either departed the U.S., applied to change your visa status from F1 to another status, or have received a new I-20 to pursue a new academic program. Note: Only those who complete OPT receive the grace period – those who exceed the 90-day unemployment limit during OPT receive no grace period.
H-1B CAP-GAP EXTENSION:
- If an employer files an H-1B petition on behalf of an F-1 student while that student has valid OPT employment authorization or is in the 60-day grace period following OPT, that student is eligible for a “Cap-Gap” extension.
- If your employer files an H-1B petition on your behalf while you still have valid OPT employment authorization, then your employment authorization will be extended starting on the day after your original OPT expires and ending on September 30th. The Cap-Gap extension ends immediately if the H-1B petition is rejected, denied, or withdrawn.
- If your employer files an H-1B petition on your behalf after your OPT work authorization expires but before the end of your 60-day grace period, your status will be extended but your work authorization will not be extended. In other words, you will be allowed to remain inside the U.S. but you will not be allowed to work.
NOTE: International travel is not allowed during the OPT Cap-Gap extension.
- While proof of an H-1B petition is all that is needed to prove an OPT Cap-Gap extension, students may request that the International Center print a new I-20 which shows dates of continued F-1 visa status and employment authorization.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION:
• You must have your Employment Authorization Document/card (EAD) in-hand and the start date must be valid in order to begin employment.
• The EAD card will be mailed to the address that you put on the I-765 form. The Post Office will NOT forward mail from USCIS if you change your address after you apply. USCIS will NOT mail your EAD card to a P.O. Box or international address.
• We recommend you use the UCM International Center address. The International Center will email your UCM email account when we receive mail on your behalf. Please pick up your mail in-person immediately or reply to the email promptly and request that we send it to your new address.
• USCIS will request more information or will issue an EAD card approximately 90 days after receipt of your application unless you are found ineligible.
• If you change your status prior to the OPT expiration date, please inform the International Center and send a copy of your change of status approval to the office.
REMINDERS DURING OPT:
• If you plan on changing your status, we recommend that you begin this process before your OPT expires.
• If you are transferring to another institution, make sure to contact the International Center so that your SEVIS record may be electronically transferred BEFORE the end of your authorized stay.
• Check the International Center and U.S. Department of Homeland Security websites and your UCM email account for immigration updates.