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Applying for Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Last updated on Apr 01, 2024

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.

Please note you DO NOT need to have a job offer to apply for OPT.

When to Apply

  • The earliest you can apply for OPT is 90 days before your program end date (the last day of classes in your final semester)
  • The latest USCIS can receive your application is the 60 days after your program completion date
  • USCIS needs time to process OPT application. Please apply as early as possible!

Please Note: You MUST have a new I-20 from ISS with an OPT recommendation in order to apply for OPT. DO NOT submit your USCIS I-765 online OPT application without a new OPT I-20 from ISS.

Documents needed to apply for OPT

Items needed to apply in order to receive your new OPT I-20 from ISS:

  • Completed ISS OPT I-20 Request Form signed by program advisor (bachelors) or program chair (masters)
  • Completed PDF Form I-765 (Recommended for ISS review - if you do not provide this to ISS, 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 $470 USCIS application 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
  • Scan 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)

Please Note: You MUST have a new I-20 from ISS with an OPT recommendation in order to apply for OPT. DO NOT submit your USCIS I-765 online OPT application without a new OPT I-20 from ISS.

When you send these documents to ISS for OPT processing, please include in the body of the email:

  • -Name
  • -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 allow 2 to 3 business days for processing OPT request when sent by email. If you wish to receive your OPT in one day, please schedule an appointment for same day processing.

How to Apply

Step 1: Complete OPT Tutorials

Please review the application process by watching the OPT Tutorial.

Step 2: Complete the OPT Request Form

The ISS OPT I-20 Request Form is an ISS form that is submitted along with your OPT application materials. The form required academic approval. See instructions on the form for who to contact.

Step 3: Gather all required documents for your OPT 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.

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

Once you have gathered all application materials, you can either :

1) Make an Appointment to review your application materials and have OPT recommended or

2) You can email us forms for ISS to review (I-765, I-94, ISS OPT I-20 Request Form)

If your OPT application is complete, ISS 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 of receiving your OPT I-20

  • 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. You will pay the OPT application fee online as the last step in the process.

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 notices. 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 alone 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.