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 is primarily relevant for students who will file by mail. Students must still acquire an I-20 with OPT Recommendation from ISSA before filing. 

All students interested in Optional Practical Training (OPT) must either attend an information session or view the OPT video before completing the OPT Application at ISSAlink.

An outline of the process and required documents can be found on the OPT Application Process and Checklist, including the Form I-765. We have provided some recommendations for completing Form I-765, and USCIS has additional recommendations for completing their forms here.

Special Notes for Post-Completion OPT Applications: It is highly recommended that students take into consideration that USCIS does not guarantee processing times, which can range from 2-6 months, and there is no expedite process.  We recommend applying for Post-Completion OPT as soon as you are eligible, which is 90 days before the program end date on the Form I-20. An employment offer is not required to apply and OPT is not employer specific; do not wait for an employment offer to apply.  

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for employment authorization for pre-completion or post-completion OPT, all of the following conditions must be met:

  • The student must be maintaining lawful F-1 status.
  • Employment must be directly related to the student’s major area of study.
  • The student must have been enrolled full-time for at least one academic year.  
  • The student must not have been previously approved for 12 months of 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.
    • Example 1: A master’s degree student who was authorized for 12 months of full-time OPT during a previous master’s program is ineligible for OPT in any subsequent master’s program.
    • Example 2: A master’s degree student who is authorized for four months of full-time pre-completion OPT is eligible for only 8 months of post-completion OPT upon completion of the program.
  • The student has not engaged in 12 months or more 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. 

Application Process

ISSA is currently providing online advising via Zoom video conferencing for students wishing to apply for OPT. (In-person appointments and walk-in hours are suspended until further notice).

To apply for employment authorization for Optional Practical Training, students must complete the following steps:

  1. Watch the OPT video at issa.nd.edu. (ND login is required)
  2. Submit the Optional Practical Training (OPT) Application form in ISSAlink. Your academic advisor will receive an email from ISSA with a link to the OPT Advisor Recommendation form. It is your responsibility to ensure your advisor submits this form.
  3. Schedule a Zoom appointment to review your documents. (optional)
  4. Depending on whether you indicated you wanted to schedule an appointment, the ISSA DSO will issue a Form I-20 with OPT Recommendation and provide mailing details. 
  5. Once you have received the updated I-20, print off pages 1 and 2, sign and date page 1, and include the COPY with your application packet. Retain all previous I-20s for your records.
  6. Mail completed application to the USCIS address provided by ISSA at your meeting OR file online with I-20 with OPT Rec. You must ensure USCIS receives the application:
  • No earlier than 90 days prior to the program completion date on your form I-20 (post-completion OPT only).
  • No later than the end of the 60-day grace period following the program completion date on the student’s form I-20.
  • No later than 30 days after I-20 is endorsed for OPT by the ISSA advisor.
Additional details:
  • If you will move during the time your application is being processed, you will need to update your 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 students by USCIS.
  • OPT employment may not begin until student receives the EAD and the start date has been reached.
  • Students must report employment in the SEVIS OPT portal or ISSAlink no later than 10 days after the start date.  

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. 
  • 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 the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (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.

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.

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

Your status and SEVIS record are your 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, you can add/edit your phone number, add/edit your address, and add/edit your 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 responsibilities include:

  • Do not accrue more than 90 days of unemployment during standard post-completion OPT. If SEVIS registers that you have exceeded this limit, it may automatically terminate your I-20 record and you would need to exit the U.S.
  • Notify ISSA if you permanently depart the U.S. before your OPT ends.
  • Notify ISSA if you plan to begin a new full-time academic program before the end of your OPT. This will end your OPT authorization.
  • After your program end date, you may not work on campus unless you have received your EAD card and the employment is related to your program of study.
  • Do not pursue employment that is not related to your major or that falls outside the dates printed on your 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 your EAD card is lost, stolen, or incorrect, you can apply to USCIS for a replacement card. The process is very similar to the original application process, and generally you will need to pay the filing fee again. 

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

  • New original Form I-765 indicating:
    •  1.b. Replacement of lost, stolen, or damaged employment authorization document.
    • that you 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, you 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 your card (e.g. misspelled name), USCIS provides two options, based on who made the error

If your EAD contains incorrect information that is not due to a USCIS error, you must submit the list as noted above plus the card containing the error. Your 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 you. In these cases, you do not need to submit a new Form I-765 or a filing fee. Instead, you 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. Always ensure you are using the current version of the Form I-765. 

Options After Post-Completion OPT

When you reach the end of your 12 months of OPT authorization, you have a 60 day grace period. At that time you have the following options:

  • Depart the US: If you do not take any action to remain in the US, you will need to depart by the 60th day.
  • Begin a new degree program at another institution: If beginning a new program at another institution, you must submit an F-1 Transfer Out Request form in ISSAlink at least one week before the end of your grace period.
  • Begin a new degree program at Notre Dame: If beginning a new program at Notre Dame, contact ISSA for a new Change of Level I-20 before the end of your program.
  • Change to another visa type: You must file the appropriate paperwork before the end of the grace period. If you plan to apply for an H-1B employment visa, your employer should begin planning early as the process can be complicated.
    • H-1B Cap Gap Extension: If you were picked in the H1B lottery and received a receipt notice for the cap-subject H-1B petition prior to the end of your OPT, your F-1 status and your OPT authorization will automatically be extended to either September 30 or date of H-1B denial, whichever is earlier.  
  • Apply for the 24 Month STEM OPT Extension: To be eligible for the 24-month extension, a 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.