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Optional Practical Training FAQs

Students are eligible for one 12 month period of OPT for each successively achieved a higher level of study (12 months after a bachelor’s, 12 months after a master’s program, and 12 months after a Ph.D. program). Students may engage in OPT only during the authorized periods as reflected on their EAD. OPT is canceled if and when a student changes status or transfers to another school. Students may work for more than one employer or may change employers without prior approval but must update changes in their address and their employment information with OIS. Students on OPT should not be enrolled in a full-time or degree study program and long periods of unemployment may result in termination of status.

In order to accept salary or wage payment from U.S.-based source, it is necessary to obtain a Social Security Number.

Additional information about OPT is provided on this website, as well as on several government websites. Students who have further questions or circumstances that may be unusual should make an appointment to speak with an OIS advisor. Students may also contact USCIS directly to ask questions regarding pending applications.

Types of Employment

All OPT employment is required to be in a job that is directly related to the student’s degree program. Employment under pre- or post-completion OPT may include:

  • Paid employment. When on post-completion OPT, students must work more than 20 hours per week .
  • Multiple employers. Students may work for more than one employer, but all employment must be related to each individual student’s degree program and for pre-completion OPT cannot exceed the allowed per week cumulative hours.
  • Short-term multiple employers (performing artists). Students, such as musicians and other performing artists, may work for multiple short-term employers (gigs). The students should maintain a list of all gigs, the dates and duration.
  • Work for hire. This is also commonly referred to as 1099 employment where an individual performs a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by DHS, students should be prepared to provide evidence showing the duration of the contract periods and the name and address of the contracting company.
  • Self-employed business owner. Students on standard OPT may start a business and be self-employed. The student should be able to prove that he or she has the proper business licenses and is actively engaged in a business related to his or her degree program.
  • Employment through an agency or consulting firm. Students on post-completion OPT should be able to provide evidence showing they worked more than 20 hours per week while employed by the agency.
  • Unpaid employment. Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns, where this practice does not violate any labor laws. The work should be more than 20 hours per week for students on post-completion OPT. A student should be able to provide evidence, acquired from the student’s employer, to verify that he or she worked more than 20 hours per week during the period of employment.

Most students choose to save their 12-month period of OPT until after they graduate, but on occasion some students will want to use some or all of their OPT before they graduate. Students who meet the eligibility requirements can apply for OPT during their studies (part time only – see below), full time during the summer vacation, or full time if they are graduate students who have completed all course requirements and are registered for dissertation research or writing. Time spent doing pre-completion OPT is subtracted from the 12 month maximum (3 months of summer pre-completion OPT leaves 9 months for post-completion OPT).

Students may wish to apply for part-time pre-completion OPT (20 hours or less per week) during the course of their studies once they become eligible. Time spent doing part-time OPT is pro-rated at one half the rate in terms of the 12-month maximum (e.g., 4 months of part-time pre-completion OPT results in 2 months being subtracted from the 12-month maximum for a remainder of 10 months of post-completion OPT).

For post-completion OPT, your start date must fall within 60 days after your program completion date. The date within that window is up to you to decide.

For undergraduate and MS non-thesis students, the program completion date is the last day of the final semester of required enrollment. For MS thesis and PhD students, the program completion date can be the last day of the final semester of required enrollment OR the defense date. (Please note that the defense date must fall within the final semester of required enrollment. If it falls in an intersession period, the program completion date will be the last day of the final semester of enrollment). MS thesis and PhD students become eligible for post-completion OPT once all the course requirements for their degree have been met.

Students may request OIS to recommend a start date of the OPT to be within the 60-day grace period following the program completion date. The program completion date can be the last day of the last semester of enrollment (i.e. graduation date) or the defense date. When recommending OPT, OIS is required to shorten the program end date on the I-20 to the student’s program completion date. Graduate students should refer to the graduate school’s requirements for completion of the degree program and graduation. All student employment activities (and wages) must end by the program end date on the I-20 or on the last day of the student’s final semester of enrollment, whichever is sooner. It is the responsibility of the student, if employed on-campus, to notify the hiring unit’s Payroll Representative that their employment activities (and wages) cannot continue past the program end date on the I-20.

As soon as you have the EAD card in hand AND as of the start date listed on the card.

You are eligible to apply once per degree level, as long as you move up in level (e.g. from MS to PhD).

Yes, you have a grace period of 60 days.

While there is a 12 month maximum period of OPT per academic level available to most students in F-1 status, graduates in certain STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields may be eligible to apply for an extension of up to 24 months beyond their first 12 month period if certain conditions are met. There is a list of STEM eligible fields at: Further instructions on STEM OPT extension procedures are available in the STEM Extension information. Interested students should contact an OIS advisor at least 4 months before the expiration of the current EAD for instructions and advice.


It can. If you engage in more than 11 months and 29 days of full-time CPT, you become ineligible for OPT. Please note that this only applies to full time CPT, not part-time CPT.

Yes. Any pre-completion OPT used is deducted from your 12-month total allotment of OPT. Part-time OPT is deducted at a half time rate, so if you use 4 months of part time pre-completion OPT, you have 10 months of post-completion OPT left.

Yes, temporarily. You have an allotment of 90 days to be unemployed in the U.S.

The Application Process

Students may not apply for OPT earlier than 90 days before their program end date. USCIS must receive a completed application (including correct fee and I-20 with an OPT recommendation) no later than 60 calendar days from the students program completion date and no later than 30 days from the date the I-20 is issued by OIS. Students may be authorized for less than 12 months if an application is not approved and an EAD issued before the 14 month anniversary of the student’s program completion date. Students who experience a delay in their program completion after they have applied for post-completion OPT and obtained an EAD may use their EAD for employment, but are limited to twenty hours of employment per week until they have completed all degree requirements – the EAD time clock does not stop and unused time cannot be re-captured. An EAD application cannot be expedited and one that has been issued cannot be canceled or extended. Plan carefully.

Please see our OPT information here.

OIS will issue your recommendation for OPT, which is reflected in a new Form I-20. We also provide multiple resources to aid students in completing the I-765 along with OPT Q and A sessions via Zoom at which students are able to discuss any questions or concerns about the I-765 or application process as a whole.

No. The start date is decided before your new I-20 is issued and can be changed up until you mail the application to USCIS.

You can, but it can (and often does) result in a delay of receipt of your EAD card. Please contact an OIS advisor to request an address change. We highly recommend to use a mailing address you know will be valid for at least 3 months on your application, so that your EAD card will be delivered on time.

OPT Processing and Approval

USCIS will send you a confirmation of receipt if you have submitted Form G-1145 with your application. Next, you will receive a hard copy receipt notice via regular mail with your case number on it. If your case is approved, you will next receive your EAD card. The processing can take around 3-5 months from the date on your receipt notice. If USCIS needs further information from you, you will receive a hard copy “request for evidence” in the mail. Please have this reviewed by an OIS advisor before sending your response.

Students may use the case number (the number begins with “YSC”) that is provided on the receipt notice to track the status of the application on this USCIS online tool.

Review your EAD card to make sure there are no errors and upload a copy of your EAD card to OIS. You may begin working once the start date on your EAD card has passed.

We cannot predict how long it will take for your case to be processed exactly. USCIS usually takes 3-5 months to process your OPT application, though it can also take less time. Generally, we have experienced that the earlier in the semester you apply, the faster your application is processed due to the fact that at the end of each semester USCIS is swamped with OPT applications.

No. USCIS does not offer expedited processing for OPT applications.

No. You are welcome to include your job offer with your application, but we have not seen cases being processed faster due to an offer being included in the application.

Please let us know about your notice by reaching out to or during the virtual drop-in hours and an advisor will review it with you and help you to prepare your response. You can also schedule an appointment.

Maintaining Status During OPT

You are considered to be in lawful F-1 status as long as you meet the following requirements:

  • You have employment for more than 20 hours per week in your field of study and commensurate to your degree level,
  • You have not been unemployed for more than 90 days during your 12-months of OPT,
  • You report any changes in your employment situation in the SEVP Portal within 10 days of occurrence. In addition to the employment information, you are responsible for updating your physical home address, mailing address, and telephone numbers. Any address change must be reported within 10 days through GlobalHome. You are also required to inform OIS on any changes in your immigration status or if you change your legal name.

Please submit a copy of the approval notice of your new immigration status to OIS, so your F-1 immigration record can be closed appropriately. You can upload proof of a change of status here.

Please submit the departure form to OIS, so that we can close out your F-1 record accordingly.


Traveling internationally and re-entering the U.S. with a pending OPT application can be risky and you should consider the specifics of your situation and your own tolerance of risk before choosing to travel internationally under these circumstances. Please consider the following scenarios and the documentation needed for each one.

Entering before I-20 Program End Date, OPT Still Pending or Already Approved:

Required Documents:

  • Valid passport
  • Valid visa
  • Most recently issued I-20 with a travel signature dated within the last 6 months

If you are entering before the I-20 program end date, you only need the above documents regardless of the status of your OPT application. Remember, however, that you must wait until you receive the USCIS receipt notice (I-797C) after filing your OPT application before leaving the U.S.

Entering after I-20 Program End Date, OPT Still Pending:

Required Documents:

  • Valid passport
  • Valid visa
  • Most recently issued I-20 with a travel signature dated within the last 6 months
  • USCIS receipt notice for your OPT application (I-797C)

Highly Recommended Documents:

  • Proof of employment, such as a job offer letter
  • Proof of an active search for employment (if you don’t have proof of employment)

Entering after I-20 Program End Date, OPT Approved:

Required Documents:

  • Valid passport
  • Valid visa
  • Most recently issued I-20 with a travel signature dated within the last 6 months
  • EAD Card

Highly Recommended Documents:

  • USCIS Receipt Notice (I-797C) and/or Approval Notice (I-797A)
  • Proof of employment, such as a job offer letter (especially if your OPT start date has passed)
  • Proof of an active search for employment (if you don’t have proof of employment)

If you need to re-enter the US after your EAD card has been issued, the expectation when you go through customs is going to be that you have the EAD card in hand upon entry. If the EAD is issued while you are abroad, you can have your card mailed to you abroad, but a potential issue is that you may not have enough time to receive it before your return travel. In this case, you can either try to enter without it, which can be risky and OIS does not advise you to do so. Or, you can choose to change your travel plans which may be costly and delay the beginning of your work.

Another potential risk if the EAD is issued while you are abroad is if the EAD becomes lost in the mail (either on it’s way to your U.S. address or on it’s way to you abroad). The only way to get another one is to reapply for a replacement which takes another three months (if your application is even accepted as typically you are required to be in the U.S. when you apply), and you would have to remain abroad that whole time, unless you try to re-enter without it, which, again, could be risky. 

OIS highly recommends that you have proof of employment to re-enter the U.S. when you’re in F-1 OPT status. If you have to travel, bring evidence that you have been actively looking for a job and that you (if applicable) have interviews scheduled in the U.S. upon your return. However, students who have reached 90 days of unemployment will not be able to re-enter the US in F-1 status.

Students may travel or temporarily depart from the US while on OPT and then return to resume their OPT employment. Student who are traveling after their OPT has been approved by USCIS must travel with the EAD card and a job offer letter or evidence of an active job search.

If you depart the US during your 60-day grace period without applying for OPT, you will no longer be eligible to return to the US in F-1 status and no longer be eligible to apply for OPT. The 60-day grace period is only valid if you are planning to remain in the US.  Travel outside the US does not stop the accrual of time towards unemployment.

If you have a pending H-1B application, please check with the person who has filed your H-1B for travel eligibility.

  • Passport (valid 6 months into the future)
  • Valid F-1 visa
    • If you have been arrested for driving under the influence, driving while intoxicated, or for other similar reasons, your visa may in fact be revoked (even if it appears valid on the face of it and has not yet expired). If your visa has been revoked, typically you will have received an email notification of such to the email address associated with your DS-160 when you applied for the visa. Even if you did not receive any such notification, if you have such an arrest, your visa is likely revoked. If you try to re-enter the U.S., your entry may be denied. If your visa has expired and you are renewing your visa, you may have difficulty doing so if you have such an arrest. If you have any concerns about this or think your visa may have been revoked, please consult an OIS advisor BEFORE leaving the U.S.
  • I-20 (signed by OIS within 6 months*)
  • EAD card
  • Proof of employment (e.g. job offer)

If it has been more than 6 months since your most recent I-20 has been issued, please complete the Travel Endorsement Request Form for OPT Students.