Optional Practical Training

OPT Quick Links

OPT Application Checklist   OPT Video   ISSAlink OPT Application

Book an OPT Advising Appointment

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 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 Note: USCIS has been taking longer than 90 days to process most EAD cards. It is highly recommended that students take into consideration the long processing times, ranging from 3-6 months, when applying for work authorization. 

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for employment authorization for pre-completion or standard 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. Students previously enrolled in another immigration status may count lawful full-time enrollment toward this requirement.
  • OPT is not employer-specific; no offer of employment is required to apply. 
  • Qualified students may be authorized for a total of 12 months of OPT at each progressively higher educational level.
    • 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. 
  • Part-time OPT is deducted from the aggregate total at one half the full-time rate.
    • Example: A student who uses four months of part-time pre-completion OPT is eligible for 10 additional months.
  • A student who has engaged in 12 months or more of full-time CPT is ineligible for OPT at the same academic level.

Application Process

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

  1. Attend an OPT Information Session presented by International Student and Scholar Affairs (ISSA) within the current academic year or watch the online video. OPT Information Sessions are offered throughout the year and are announced in the ISSA weekly e-mails and posted on the Events page.
  2. Submit the Optional Practical Training Request 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. Assemble materials on the OPT Application Checklist. 
  4. After your advisor has approved the form, bring all of the materials to ISSA in 105 Main Building during walk-in hours. You will meet with an advisor who will review your application, print your new Form I-20 with OPT Recommendation, and help you finalize the application.
  5. Mail completed application to the USCIS address provided by ISSA at your meeting.  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 ISSA and the I-765 signature date.

Additional details:

  • If you will move during the time your application is being processed, we recommend using the ISSA address instead of your current address.
  • The current USCIS filing fee is $410.00 USD. 
  • The current USCIS processing time for work authorization is more than 3 months.
  • Employment authorization is in the form of an Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) issued to student by the USCIS.
  • OPT employment may not begin until student receives the EAD and the start date has been reached.
  • Students must report employment in ISSAlink or the SEVIS OPT portal. If they do not, they risk automatic SEVIS termination of the F-1 status.

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.  Please see the Options After OPT section below for more information.
  • Students must report employment in ISSAlink or the SEVIS OPT Portal or 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 only for part-time employment (20 hours or less per week) during regular fall and spring semesters. 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.
  • Required: Students must attend an information session or watch the OPT video before applying for OPT.

Employment During OPT

USCIS considers at least 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. 

Be sure to maintain documentation of all reported employment. 

Student Responsibilities During OPT

Your status and 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.

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: 
    • 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 fo re-entry
    • Enter the U.S. in F-1 status for the duration of OPT

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, they may automatically terminate your F-1 record.
  • 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. Students on pre-completion OPT follow the same travel procedures as other enrolled F-1 students. Students on post-completion OPT should follow these guidelines for travel:

  • Travel before I-20 program end date: No change; may travel and re-enter according to regular F-1 travel guidelines.
  • Travel after I-20 program end date but before OPT application: Departure from U.S. completes F-1 status.
  • Travel after I-20 program end date but before EAD start date: May return to U.S. to “search for employment.” In addition to a valid passport and F-1 visa, student must have:
    • I-20 endorsed by a DSO on page two within the preceding 6 months
    • Unexpired EAD or official receipt notice for post-completion OPT
  • After I-20 program end date and after EAD start date: May return to U.S. to “resume employment.” In addition to a valid passport and F-1 visa, student must have:
    • I-20 endorsed by a DSO on page two within the preceding 6 months
    • Unexpired EAD for post-completion OPT
    • Written offer or verification of employment from U.S. employer on official letterhead that includes the employment start date
    • Further information regarding traveling while on OPT can be found on the USCIS website.

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. A sample cancellation request letter can be viewed here.

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.

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 have submitted a cap-subject H-1B petition and received a receipt 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. If your H-1B petition is approved, this means you will be able to continue working without a gap in authorization.
    • H-1B Cap Gap Status-Only Extension:  If you have submitted a cap-subject H-1B petition and received a receipt during the 60 day grace period following the end of your OPT, your F-1 status will automatically be extended to September 30 or the date of H-1B denial, whichever is earlier. However, your OPT authorization will NOT be extended during this time.
  • 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.