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Applying for Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Last updated on Sep 10, 2021

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is an immigration benefit for F-1 students to apply for employment authorization in the US to gain practical experience in their field of study. OPT is recommended in SEVIS by ISAP, and then students submit the application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for review and approval.

OPT is not a different visa status or “change of status”; it is a benefit linked to your F-1 status, and extends your F-1 status for the time you are on OPT.

Who is Eligible to Apply?

In order to be eligible for post-completion OPT, you must:

  • Be within 90 days of completing your degree requirements (i.e., within 90 days of the end of the semester during which you will graduate).
  • Have been in F-1 status for at least two consecutive semesters immediately prior to finishing your degree.
  • Have not previously had OPT authorized at the same degree level (e.g., if you are completing a second bachelor’s degree and had previously been authorized for OPT after your first bachelor's, you would not be eligible for OPT again until you completed a higher degree level -- either a masters or doctorate).
  • Have not previously been authorized for 365 or more days of full-time CPT cumulatively at the same degree level.
  • It is STRONGLY recommended that students are inside the United States at the time of application. Submitting the application from outside the US could be a reason for USCIS to deny the request.

When to Apply

The earliest USCIS can receive your application is 90 days before the program completion date.

The latest USCIS can receive your application is the 60th day of your grace period (60 days after your program completion date).

USCIS can take up to 3 or 4 months to process OPT applications. We highly recommend you submit your complete OPT application packet to ISAP as early as possible.


Information for Fall 2021 graduates applying for OPT

Students completing their CCA degree in December 2021 can apply for OPT starting September 15, 2021. The ISAP team encourages all fall 2021 graduates to apply as early as possible due to long Immigration processing times as a result of COVID-19.


Documents needed to apply for OPT

Items needed to apply in order to receive your I-20 with an OPT recommendation from an ISAP advisor.

Additional items that must be included in your OPT application to USCIS

  • Check or money order for $410 made payable to: "U.S. Department of Homeland Security" or completed form G-1450 to pay with credit card
  • 2 recent US passport-sized photos
  • Scan or photocopy of passport ID page
  • Scan or photocopy of F-1 visa (all students except Canadian citizens)
  • Scans or photocopies of the first and second page of only previous I-20s with CPT or OPT authorizations
  • Scans or photocopies of any previous EAD cards (if you have been previously authorized for OPT or economic hardship)
  • Completed Form G-1145 (only for mail in applications)

When you send these documents to an ISAP staff member for OPT processing, please include in the body of the email:

-Name

-CCA ID number

-Whether you plan to apply online or mail a paper OPT application

-Whether or not you would like a travel signature on page 2 of the new I-20 with the OPT recommendation

Please schedule an appointment with an ISAP advisor to discuss next steps or any questions.

At this time, you can apply for OPT online or by mail.

  • If you choose to apply online through a USCIS online account, you may choose to schedule an appointment with a member of the ISAP team to go over the online application with you. Please make sure you have digital copies of all of your documents including the required passport photos available to you at the time of your appointment.
  • If you are planning to apply by mail, please make sure you have hard copies of all of the required documents. ISAP will provide a list of the document you need to mail.


How to Apply

Step 1: Complete OPT Tutorials

Familiarize yourself with the application process and how to maintain your F-1 status on OPT by watching both parts of the OPT Tutorial:

When watching part 1, please have the following items with you:

  • Form I-765. This is the government form you will submit as part of your OPT application. PLEASE make sure you are using the version listed as Edition 8/25/20 at the bottom left corner of each page.
  • Passport and I-94. See the instructions in step 3 for printing your electronic I-94.
  • Check, money order, or credit card that is linked to a US address
  • ISAP OPT Recommendation Request Form (You can download this form as a PDF or Word Doc by clicking "File --> "Download" and choosing your preferred file type)

Step 2: Complete the OPT Recommendation Request Form

The OPT Recommendation Request Form is an ISAP form that is submitted along with your OPT application materials.

You must make an appointment with your academic advisor or program manager to have them complete section 3 of this form. You will fill out the other sections.This form needs to be completed before your OPT appointment and you need to bring it with you to your appointment, along with the other application materials.

Step 3: Gather all required documents for your OPT appointment and application

Review the Applying for OPT tutorial for answers to questions about the application documents listed below, including how to properly complete the I-765.

Note: All US government forms, including the I-765 and G-1145, are available for free on the ISAP website and at the official website of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

A complete OPT application contains the following:

  • Completed OPT Recommendation Request Form. You can download this form as a PDF or Word Doc by clicking "File --> "Download" and choosing your preferred file type. (including section 3 completed by your academic advisor or program manager)
  • Completed Form I-765
  • Application fee of $410 in one of the following forms of payment:
    • Check or money order for $410 made payable to: "U.S. Department of Homeland Security"
    • Completed form G-1450 to pay with credit card if mailing a paper application
    • If applying online, you will pay with a credit card as part of the online application
  • 2 recent US passport-sized photos
  • Scan or photocopy of passport ID page
  • Scan or photocopy of printout of electronic I-94*
  • Scan or photocopy of F-1 visa (all students except Canadian citizens)
  • Scans or photocopies of the first and second page of only previous I-20s with CPT or OPT authorizations
  • Scan or photocopies of any previous EAD cards (if you have been previously authorized for OPT or economic hardship)
  • Completed Form G-1145 (only for mail in applications)

* If your last entry into the US was before April 30, 2013, your I-94 will be a white card, most likely stapled into your passport. If you completed a change of status to F-1 in the US, your I-94 card was included in your approval notice. Please photocopy the front and back of this card and include it in your application.

Step 4: Schedule an appointment to review your application materials and get a new I-20 with OPT recommendation

Once you have gathered all application materials, you will need to Make an Appointment to turn in your OPT Recommendation Request form, review your application materials and have OPT recommended.

To avoid any processing delays, please be sure the OPT application is complete when you come to your appointment.

When your OPT is approved, ISAP will provide you with a new I-20 with OPT recommended on page 2. Please scan or photocopy pages 1 and 2 of this new I-20 to include in your OPT application.

Step 5: Photocopy your entire application packet for your records

After OPT has been recommended, we highly suggest photocopying your completed application packet before sending it to USCIS. Keep the photocopied application in a safe place for your records.

Step 6: Mail your completed application to USCIS or apply online through a USCIS Online Account within 30 days

ISAP will provide you with mailing instructions for the OPT application if you are sending the application by mail.

Important Notes

  • USCIS must receive your application within 30 days of the OPT recommendation date.
  • Once you send your application to USCIS, you will not be able to make changes to your OPT start date.

What Happens After I Apply?

Once your application has been received, USCIS will send you several pieces of mail. If you filled out the G-1145, you will also receive electronic updates. Pay close attention to your mail and save everything sent from USCIS.

You will receive the following notifications from USCIS:

  • Receipt Notice: This is your receipt from USCIS confirming receipt of your application and payment of the application fee. If you apply online, you will receive your receipt number immediately after submitting your application.

You can use this number to check the status of your application online.

  • Approval Notice: This confirms your OPT has been approved. This approval notice is not considered proof of work authorization. You must wait until you have your EAD card and your OPT start date has arrived to begin working.
  • Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card: This is your official permission to work in the United States. If you receive your EAD card before your OPT start date, you must still wait for your OPT start date to arrive before beginning work.

Please note that while your EAD card indicates “Not valid for reentry to the United States,” it is still possible to travel internationally while on OPT. It only means your EAD card is not a reentry document.

Your F-1 visa is your re-entry document, and during your OPT period, you must still have a valid F-1 visa to reenter the United States.

  • (Possibly) Request for Evidence (RFE): You may receive an RFE if a mistake in your application is discovered, something is missing, or USCIS wants more information.

Important: You are required to respond to the RFE within a specified amount of time. If you receive an RFE, contact ISAP as soon as possible, so we can assist you in responding and answer any questions you may have.