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Applying for Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Last updated on Mar 21, 2023

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.

Who is Eligible to Apply?

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

  • Be in your final semester of study
  • Have completed at least two consecutive semesters in F-1 status (one academic year) immediately prior to finishing your degree.
  • Have not previously had OPT authorized at the same degree level (bachelors, masters).
  • Have not previously been authorized for 365 or more days of full-time CPT cumulatively at the same degree level.

When to Apply

  • The earliest you can apply for OPT is 90 days before your program end date (the last day of classes) - The first possible day to apply for OPT for Spring 2023 grads is February 6th, 2023.
  • The latest USCIS can receive your application is the 60 days after your program completion date.
  • USCIS can take an average of 2 to 3 months to process OPT applications. We highly recommend that you apply for OPT as early as possible.

Please Note: You MUST have a new I-20 from ISAP with an OPT recommendation in order to apply for OPT regardless of whether you are applying online or by mail. DO NOT submit your OPT application without a new I-20 from ISAP.

Documents needed to apply for OPT

Items needed to apply in order to receive your new OPT I-20 from ISAP.

  • Completed OPT recommendation request form signed by program advisor (bachelors) or program manager (masters)
  • Completed PDF Form I-765 (Recommended for review - if you do not wish to provide this to ISAP, we will not be able to check for errors. If you submit your online application with errors, you may be responsible for paying USCIS to correct them and be issued a new EAD)
  • electronic I-94*

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

  • Credit card to pay the $410 fee - you will pay online as the final step of the application
  • recent US passport-sized photo - digital copy as .jpeg or .png
  • Scan of passport ID page
  • Scans of previous I-20s with CPT or OPT authorizations only
  • Scans of any previous EAD cards (if you have been previously authorized for OPT or economic hardship)

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


-CCA ID number

-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 (optional - an appointment is not required).

At this time, you can apply for OPT online

  • When you are ready to apply 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.

Please Note: You MUST have a new I-20 from ISAP with an OPT recommendation in order to apply for OPT regardless of whether you are applying online or by mail.

How to Apply

Step 1: Complete OPT Tutorials

Familiarize yourself with the application process by watching the OPT Tutorial.

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

  • Form I-765 PDF. 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 5/31/22 at the bottom left corner of each page.
  • Passport and I-94. See the instructions in step 3 for printing your electronic I-94.
  • 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, 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 (US based credit card or banking information)
  • 1 recent US passport-sized photo (digital)
  • Scan of passport ID page
  • electronic I-94*
  • Scan of the first and second page of previous I-20s with CPT or OPT authorizations only
  • Scan of any previous EAD cards (if you have been previously authorized for OPT or economic hardship)

* If you have a paper I-94 , please let the ISAP team know when you apply for OPT.

Step 4: Obtain a new I-20 with OPT recommendation

Once you have gathered all application materials, you can either Make an Appointment to turn in your OPT Recommendation Request form, review your application materials and have OPT recommended or you can email us the forms needed (I-765, I-94, OPT request form)

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: Apply online through a USCIS Online Account within 30 days

  • Go to and select "create account"
  • Once you have created your account, you will select "MyUSCIS"
  • Select "File a Form Online"
  • In the drop down menu under "type of form" you will select I-765
  • Be sure to enter post-completion OPT (C) (3) (B) as the eligibility category
  • From this point forward the questions will reflect those that you have already completed on the I-765 pdf form and there will be spaces for you to upload the additional documents that you have prepared as evidence.
  • Please feel free to make an appointment with ISAP so that we can do this together, over Zoom or in person, if you do not want to file the online application on your own.

Step 6: Save your entire application packet for your records

We strongly suggest saving all of the documents that you have submitted for your OPT application as well as the full completed I-765.

Important Notes

  • USCIS must receive your application within 30 days of the OPT recommendation date.
  • Once you submit your application to USCIS, you will not be able to make changes to your OPT start date.
  • If you choose not to apply for OPT, you will have a 60 day grace period from the last day of classes to either leave the country, transfer to another program, or submit a change of status.

What Happens After I Apply?

Once your application has been received, USCIS will send you several pieces of mail. 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.