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Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT is a temporary work authorization for F-1 visa students to apply their classroom knowledge in a real-world work setting. Students interested in OPT should consult the Center for Global Engagement as soon as possible.

Eligibility

Applicants must meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • Current F-1 visa status
  • Completion of at least one academic year in full-time F-1 status
  • Enrollment in an academic degree program (ESL students are not eligible for OPT)
  • No prior OPT at the same degree level

NOTE: You do not need to be hired for a job at the time of application. Most OPT applicants secure employment after they apply.

Timeline
  • Beginning of final semester of coursework: Review OPT information and consult Center for Global Engagement for guidance
  • 90 days before program end date (or completion of doctoral coursework): Submit all application materials to Center for Global Engagement
  • 1-2 weeks after application: Receive Form I-797 (receipt notice from USCIS) with case tracking number
  • Waiting period (at least 90 days): Explore job opportunities in field of study
  • 90+ days after application submission: Receive EAD card in the mail showing official OPT employment dates
  • OPT start date: Begin working on or after date listed on EAD card
  • OPT work period (12 months maximum): Maintain employment and document work and address details in SEVP Portal
  • 90 days before OPT end date (STEM students only): Apply for 24-month STEM OPT extension
  • OPT end date: Stop working no later the end date listed on EAD card
  • 30 days after OPT end date: Depart United States (unless transferring to new program or using the STEM extension)

Application

Applicants should submit the following items to the Center for Global Engagement:

  • Completed Form I-765
    • Detailed instructions are available online
    • Applicants should leave blank any question or item which does not apply to them
    • For question 27, applicants should select the relevant code:
      • Post-completion OPT: (c)(3)(B)
      • STEM OPT extension: (c)(3)(C)
      • Pre-completion OPT: (c)(3)(A)
  • Completed Form G-1145
  • Two passport-style photos
    • Specific details on photo requirements can be found on page 20 of the Form I-765 Instructions
    • Photos may be obtained easily and cheaply at CVS, Rite-Aid, or other photo centers
  • Filing fee of $410
    • Check or money order only
    • Should be payable to "US Department of Homeland Security"
  • Letter from academic advisor indicating applicant's degree progress and expected date of completion of studies
  • Photocopies of all past and current Forms I-20
  • Photocopy of passport photo/expiration page
  • Photocopy of F-1 visa
  • Photocopy of most recent Form I-94
  • Photocopy of previous EAD card (only for students who have previously had work authorization)
Responsibilities

OPT applicants assume responsibility for:

  • Gathering and completing all application materials in a timely manner
  • Contacting USCIS to check on application status, if necessary
  • Seeking and maintaining full-time employment (at least 20 hours per week) related to field of study
  • Reporting employment and address information using the SEVP Portal
  • Requesting I-20 travel signatures for international travel throughout OPT period

The Center for Global Engagement will provide assistance with:

  • Reviewing application materials and answering OPT-related questions
  • Creating a new I-20 showing requested OPT dates
  • Mailing completed applications to USCIS (for Pittsburgh-based applicants only)
  • Resetting SEVP Portal access, if necessary
  • Providing travel signatures as needed throughout OPT period
Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of work can I do? Does it have to be paid?

  • All OPT employment must be in your field of study and appropriate for your level of education. Unpaid work in your field is acceptable and should be tracked. 

How and when do I apply?

  • See the "Timeline" and "Application" tabs for details.

When will my OPT application be approved by USCIS?

  • Current processing time is at least 90 days, and you will likely hear nothing from USCIS until they mail your EAD card. You can track the status of your application online using the receipt number on your Form I-797. After 90 days without notice, you may call USCIS to inquire.

When can I start working?

  • Your requested start date must be between your program end date (graduation) and the end of your grace period (60 days later). Regardless of your requested start date, you may begin working only on the start date listed on your EAD card, which may or may not be the same as the date you requested. 

Should I look for full-time or part-time jobs?

  • During standard post-completion OPT, you should work at least 20 hours per week to be considered "employed." You will need to have a full-time job (20 hours or more) or multiple part-time jobs that average 20 hours per week in total.

When do I finish working?

  • You must finish working on the end date listed on your EAD card. The standard OPT length is 12 months, but students with degrees in certain STEM fields may be eligible for a 24-month OPT extension for a total of 36 months. Apply as early as possible to ensure that you get the maximum allowable OPT period.

What if I can't find a job or change jobs?

  • You are permitted up to 90 days of unemployment during your OPT period. If you have trouble finding paid work, remember that unpaid work in your field is acceptable. If you change jobs, be sure to update your employment information in the SEVP Portal.

Can I travel outside the US during OPT?

  • You should not travel outside the US until you receive your EAD card. Once the card is received, you may travel internationally, but make sure that you have everything you'll need to reenter the US: passport, valid (unexpired) US visa, EAD card, and a valid travel signature on your I-20.