Optional Practical Training

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*On April 12, 2021, USCIS announced that F-1 students are eligible to file their I-765 OPT application online at uscis.gov/i-765. Please review available information at USCIS website. The application process information below addresses both filing by mail and filing online. Regardless of how you submit your OPT application, you must still acquire an I-20 with OPT Recommendation from ISSA before filing. 

Students applying for Post-Completion OPT often have two initial questions:

  • Do I need a job offer to apply for OPT?
  • How long does the application process take? 

First, an employment offer is not required to apply for OPT and OPT is not employer specific; students should not wait for an employment offer to apply for OPT.  Second, the OPT application process includes a request to ISSA for an I-20 with OPT Recommendation AND a request to USCIS to approve Post-Completion OPT. USCIS does not guarantee processing times, which can range from 2-6 months, and there is no option to expedite the process. We recommend that students apply for Post-Completion OPT as soon as they are eligible, which is 90 days before the program end date on their Form I-20.  

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for employment authorization for pre-completion or post-completion OPT at the current academic level, the student must meet all the following conditions:

  • Maintaining lawful F-1 status at time of application.
  • Enrolled full-time for at least one consecutive academic year. Generally this means enrolled full-time in Active F-1 status for one academic year, but there are some exceptions. 
  • Have no previous authorization for full-time OPT at their current education level. Students may be authorized for a total of 12 months of OPT at each level of education.
  • Participate in less than 12 months of full-time CPT. Students who have engaged in 12 months or more of full-time CPT are ineligible for OPT at the same academic level. 

Though no job offer is required to apply for OPT, all employment during the authorization period must be directly related to the student’s major area of study, as listed on their Form I-20.

For more information about other visas that allow foreign nationals to work in the U.S., reference this presentation from 2021.

Application Process

Students can schedule a virtual appointment or stop by 105 Main Building during walk-in hours, Monday-Wednesday, 2-4:00pm, with OPT questions.

After watching the OPT Information video, students must complete the following steps to apply for employment authorization with Optional Practical Training:

  1. In ISSAlink, under F-1 Practical Training, submit the Optional Practical Training (OPT) Application form. 
    • The student's academic advisor will receive an email from ISSA with a link to the OPT Advisor Recommendation form. It is the student's responsibility to ensure their advisor submits this form.
  2. Upon approving the form, ISSA will issue an updated Form I-20 with OPT Recommendation and email the student an electronic copy. The student is responsible to review the program information and OPT Recommendation; if accurate, they will print and sign it.
Filing Online (Recommended) Filing by Mail

The student will prepare the following documents for uploading to the online filing system:

  1. An electronic copy of the updated I-20 with OPT Recommendation
  2. An electronic copy of the passport biographical page (color or black and white)
  3. An electronic copy of the F-1 visa page (color or black and white)
  4. 2X2 color passport style photo that meet USCIS guidelines (see page 25, section C)
  5. An electronic copy of the most recent I-94 record
  6. Copies of any I-20s with CPT Authorization (if applicable)
  7. Copies of any previously issued EAD cards (if applicable)
  8. Credit card information for online payment

The student will gather hard copies of these OPT Application Materials:

  1. Form I-765 – Application for Employment Authorization (Type your answers and print off all seven pages, even if blank)
  2. Copy of Form I-20 with OPT Recommendation
  3. I-765 filing fee of $410USD (Check or money order made out to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security)
  4. Two passport style photos, which meet standards outlined on travel.state.gov.
  5. Copy of passport biographical page
  6. Copy of most recent I-94 record
  7. Copy of current F-1 visa
  8. Copies of any I-20s with CPT Authorization (if applicable)
  9. Copies of any previously issued EAD cards (if applicable)

Create a free online USCIS account

 Schedule appointment with ISSA Advisor to review application packet (optional)
  Complete USCIS I-765 Online Application and upload all requested documents  Mail completed I-765 Application Packet to USCIS (find mailing address here under Foreign Students)

After submitting the OPT application, the student should look for a receipt notice. For applications filed online, USCIS will issue a receipt notice within 48 hours through the online portal; for applications filed by mail, USCIS will issue a receipt notice within three weeks to the mailing address listed on the I-765. 

USCIS Filing Timelines for Post Completion OPT

Regardless of whether the student files by mail or online, they must ensure USCIS receives the completed application:

  • No earlier than 90 days prior to the program completion date on their form I-20 
  • No later than the end of the 60-day grace period following the program completion date on their form I-20.
  • No later than 30 days after the student is endorsed for OPT by the ISSA advisor.
Additional details:
  • If the student will move while the application is being processed, they will need to update their address with USCIS. 
  • The current USCIS filing fee is $410.00 USD.
  • Employment authorization is in the form of an Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) issued to the F-1 student by USCIS.
  • Student is not authorized to begin working until they receive the EAD and the start date has been reached.
  • Students must report all changes to employment via the SEVIS OPT portal or ISSAlink no later than 10 days after the change.

Post-Completion OPT

An F-1 student may be authorized to participate in post-completion OPT upon completion of studies.

  • Employment must be directly related to the student’s major area of study.
  • Only full-time (more than 20 hours per week) OPT is available for post-completion OPT.
  • Application for post-completion OPT must be received by USCIS prior to the end of the 60-day grace period following the completion of the student’s academic program.
  • Required: Students must attend an information session before applying for OPT.
  • Students earning a degree in a STEM field may qualify for an extension of OPT, which can be applied for in the final 90 days of the OPT authorization period.
  • To maintain status, students must report employment in ISSAlink or the SEVIS OPT Portal within 10 days of any change. If employment is not reported, students risk automatic SEVIS termination after 90 days.

Each OPT type requires a separate application and approval by USCIS.

Pre-Completion OPT

An F-1 student may be authorized to participate in pre-completion OPT after he or she has been enrolled for one full academic year with program requirements or coursework remaining for degree completion.

  • Employment must be directly related to the student’s major area of study.
  • Employment may be authorized for part-time employment (20 hours or less per week) during regular fall and spring semesters, with approval from the academic advisor. Exception: Students who have completed all program requirements except for thesis or dissertation may be authorized for full-time OPT during any semester as long as the student continues to make normal academic progress.
  • Employment may be authorized full-time or part-time during summer vacation.
  • Authorization for pre-completion OPT must end on or before the program completion date on I-20. Students must continue to fulfill the full-time enrollment requirement during fall and spring semesters during OPT.
  • Students must report employment in ISSAlink within 10 days of the employment start date.
  • Student may apply no earlier than 90 days from the requested authorization start date.

Employment During OPT

USCIS considers more than 20 hours per week full time. All employment during the first 12 months of OPT must be directly related to the student's program of study, but it can include:

  • regular paid employment,
  • payment by multiple short-term employers,
  • independent contractor positions,
  • self-employment,
  • employment through an employment agency, or
  • volunteer or unpaid internships, where no labor laws are violated.

It is the student's responsibility to maintain documentation of all reported employment and report all changes of employment within 10 days of the change.

Student Responsibilities During OPT

Students authorized for OPT remain in F-1 status and must continue to maintain their F-1 status, which means:

  • Maintain a valid passport
  • Maintain a valid I-20
  • Use the SEVIS OPT Portal or ISSAlink to report these changes within 10 days of the change:
    • change of U.S. address
    • all employment information and changes
    • change in immigration status
  • If traveling outside the U.S.:
    • Travel signatures must be valid within six months of reentry
    • Valid F-1 visa is required for re-entry
    • Enter the U.S. in F-1 status for the duration of OPT

The F-1 status and SEVIS record are the student's responsibility to manage, and SEVIS has made it easier by launching the SEVP OPT Portal, which allows ACTIVE F-1 students on OPT to manage their mandatory reporting requirements directly through the SEVIS website. Through the portal, the student can add/edit their phone number, add/edit their  address, and add/edit their employer information, including the initial employment.

Note: as of August 2020, students cannot report employment start dates more than 10 days after the start date. Any late reporting will result in the accrual of unemployment days. 

Other student responsibilities include:

  • Monitor unemployment. Students cannot accrue more than 90 days of unemployment during standard post-completion OPT. If SEVIS registers that a student has exceed the unemployment limit, they can terminate the SEVIS record and the student will need to exit the U.S.  
  • Notify ISSA if student permanently departs the U.S. before OPT authorization period ends.
  • Notify ISSA if student plans to begin a new full-time academic program before the end of the OPT. This will end the OPT authorization. 
  • Monitor work eligibility. After the program end date on page 1 of the I-20, the student may not work on campus unless they have received their EAD card, the start date has been reached, and the employment is related to your program of study.
  • Pursue appropriate employment. All employment while on OPT must be related to the student's major/s and fall within the authorization dates printed on the EAD card.  

Travel During OPT

Students who have applied for or are approved for OPT remain in F-1 status, but guidelines for travel may change.

Post-Completion OPT Travel Guidelines
Before I-20 program end date May travel and re-enter the U.S. according to enrolled student F-1 travel guidelines.
After I-20 program end date, OPT application not submitted Departure from U.S. completes F-1 status. Student is no longer eligible to apply for OPT.

After I-20 program end date, OPT application PENDING 

Riskiest time to exit U.S., as USCIS may send a Request for Evidence (RFE). If student is not present in the U.S., they may not be able to respond within the deadline. If application is denied while the student is outside the U.S., their F-1 status is completed.

After I-20 program end date, OPT APPROVED, before EAD start date

May return to U.S. to search for or begin employment. The EAD is not a travel document, so in addition to carrying the unexpired EAD, students need the following to reenter the U.S.

  • a valid passport,
  • a valid F-1 visa, 
  • an I-20 with travel validation signature signed by a DSO (page 2) within the preceding 6 months
  • verification of employment from U.S. employer on official letterhead that includes the employment start date
After I-20 program end date, OPT APPROVED, after EAD start date

 May return to U.S. to resume employment. The EAD is not a travel document, so in addition to carrying the unexpired EAD, students need the following to reenter the U.S.

  • a valid passport,
  • a valid F-1 visa, 
  • an I-20 with travel validation signature signed by a DSO (page 2) within the preceding 6 months
  • verification of employment from U.S. employer on official letterhead that includes the employment start date

Students on pre-completion OPT follow the same travel procedures as other enrolled F-1 students. 

Canceling OPT

F-1 students who have applied for Optional Practical Training may cancel the application only under specific circumstances. USCIS will consider the cancellation of a pending application for OPT only if the Employment Authorization Document (EAD) has not yet been issued or, if the EAD has been issued, the EAD start date has not yet been reached.

The cancellation of any request for OPT that has already been mailed to USCIS requires the student to write a letter to USCIS requesting the cancellation. A copy of the cancellation letter will need to be submitted to ISSA before we can provide official supporting documents for your case. 

OPT cancellation remains at the discretion of USCIS and is not guaranteed. Students who consider requesting cancellation of an OPT application are required to consult with an immigration advisor in ISSA before filling out the application through ISSAlink. Before you submit your application via ISSAlink, you will be required to upload a copy of your cancellation letter and any other supporting documentation, if applicable.

Replace an EAD Card

If the EAD card is lost, stolen, or incorrect, the student can apply to USCIS for a replacement card. The process is very similar to the original application process, and generally the student will need to pay the filing fee again. 

To apply for a replacement card because the card was lost or stolen, the student will need to gather and submit the following documents to the same service center they submitted their original application: 

  • New original Form I-765 indicating:
    •  1.b. Replacement of lost, stolen, or damaged employment authorization document.
    • they HAVE previously applied for OPT/STEM and include all application receipt numbers on page 7
  • current I-765 filing fee (if lost in the mail, student may be eligible to apply for a filing fee waiver but this requires a letter from USPS that it was lost)
  • 2 U.S.-style passport photos, taken in the last six months and not used for any other application
  • letter explaining original EAD has been lost, stolen, or not delivered by mail  
  • copy of current I-20 with OPT Approval (request an updated I-20 in ISSAlink, if necessary)
  • copy of passport bio page
  • copy of F-1 visa stamp, if applicable
  • copy of I-94 record
  • copy of I-797 receipt notice and approval notice (if available)
  • copy of all previous EAD cards
  • additional documentation, as applicable (e.g. police report if card was stolen, letter from USPS confirming that it was not delivered)

If there is an error on the card (e.g. misspelled name), USCIS provides two correction options, based on who made the error

If your EAD contains incorrect information that is not due to a USCIS error, the student must submit the list as noted above plus the card containing the error. The letter will explain how the card needs to be corrected.  

If your EAD contains incorrect information because of a USCIS error, they will make the appropriate correction at no additional cost to the student. In these cases, the student not need to submit a new Form I-765 or a filing fee. Instead, they must submit:

  • The original card containing the error,
  • A detailed explanation of the card error, and
  • Supporting documentation on the correct information. 

Contact ISSA with any questions regarding this process. Students are responsible to ensure they using the current version of the Form I-765 or completing the online application correctly.

Options After Post-Completion OPT

At the end of the 12 months of OPT authorization, students have a number of options.

If the student is eligible to apply for the 24 Month STEM OPT Extension, they must do so before the current authorization period ends. The student must have received a degree included on the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) Designated Degree Program List and have employment related to that degree. More information about apply for the OPT STEM Extension can be found here. 

All students (who will not apply for the STEM Extension) are eligible for a 60 day grace period upon completion of the OPT authorization period. During that grace period, students have the following options:  

  • Begin a new degree program at another institution: If beginning a new program at another institution, the student must submit an F-1 Transfer Out Request form in ISSAlink at least one week before the end of the grace period. We recommend students schedule the transfer as soon as possible.
  • Begin a new degree program at Notre Dame: If beginning a new program at Notre Dame, the student should contact ISSA for a new Change of Level I-20 before the end of work authorization period.
  • Change to another visa type: The student must file the appropriate change of status paperwork before the end of the grace period. If the student plans to apply for an H-1B employment visa, their employer should begin planning early as the process can be complicated.
    • H-1B Cap Gap Extension: If the student was picked in the H-1B lottery and received a receipt notice for the cap-subject H-1B petition prior to the end of their OPT, their F-1 status and OPT authorization will automatically be extended to either September 30 or date of H-1B denial, whichever is earlier.  
  • Depart the US: If the student does not take any action to remain in the US, they will need to depart by the 60th day.