Optional Practical Training
What is OPT?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a program for F-1 students wishing to obtain work experience directly related to their course work with a U.S. employer. Eligible students may work for up to one year and may apply for pre-degree completion OPT (before completing course requirements for your program) or post-completion OPT (after completing course requirements for graduation).
Cost: No Cost to Employer
Time Frame: Up to one year (non-STEM) or 36 months (STEM) post-graduation
- Must be related to academic program
- Paperwork filed by student
In order to be eligible for either pre or post-completion OPT, you must fulfill the following requirements:
- be an F-1 Student
- have maintained status for a minimum of one year
- have a position directly related to your program of study
Additionally, to be eligible for post-completion OPT you must:
- apply no sooner than 90 days before your graduation date
- apply no later than 60 days after your graduation date
Apply by following the checklist below. The adjudication process may take up to 90 days. Bring the following to the International Student Services (ISS) during OPT Training:
- Obtain a check or money order made payable to (no abbreviations): U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY. You can confirm the fee at the USCIS website.
- Obtain two passport-sized color photos in a small envelope. Your name and admission number (I-94) must be printed in pencil or felt tip pen on the back of the photos. Must have been taken with the last 30 days.
- Complete optional e-mail notification form G-1145
- Complete form I-765
- Letter of Certification from your department chair or academic advisor on letterhead supporting OPT. View a sample letter.
- The International Student Services Office must issue you an OPT Recommendation I-20 prior to the USCIS receiving your OPT application. The Form I-20 must be sent to the USCIS within 30 days of issue.
- Bring all copies of the Form I-20 that you possess; valid passport; Form I-94; Copies of all previous Employment Authorization Cards; and copy of Social Security Card if you have one.
*****SPECIAL NOTICE TO ONLINE APPLICANTS****
The Form I-20 and all documents must be created and reviewed by ISS prior to your online application. If you wish to apply online, see the International Student Service Office prior to doing so.
You must send all of the following by mail, fax, or email to the BGSU International Student Services (ISS):
- Copy of the front and back of the EAD card after you receive it from DHS
- Name and address of your employer within 10 days of employment
- Current mailing address
- Notify ISS within 48 hours if you have left employment
If you are not employed, you must be actively seeking a job. Once a total of 90 days of unemployment is accumulated during the 12-month OPT, you are considered out of status.
Travel After OPT is Granted
An F-1 student engaged in OPT follows the same procedure for visits abroad and re-entry as all F-1 students (see ). An F-1 student who is engaged in post-completion OPT who travels outside the United States temporarily (i.e., less than 5 months) can be readmitted to resume employment for the remainder of the period authorized on his or her EAD card, provided:
- The student presents a Form I-20 endorsed by the DSO within the preceding 6 months
- The student presents an unexpired EAD
- The student is returning to resume employment. (You should carry a letter from your employer on company letter head stating that you are taking vacation and that they expect you to return to work on your planned return date.)
Students approved for post-completion OPT continue to be in F-1 status. They are therefore subject not only to the requirements that they have an I-20 endorsed for travel and an EAD, but to the requirement that they have a valid F-1 visa to re-enter the United States, unless they are exempt from the visa requirement.
Travel While Waiting for OPT Approval
Many students ask if they are allowed to travel outside of the United States while waiting for their OPT to be approved. If you are traveling outside of the US while waiting for your OPT to be approved AND after your degree completion, this is somewhat risky. If you decide to take this risk, you will need to take the following items with you:
- passport (valid for six months from the date of your re-entry)
- signed I-20 (remember that each travel signature is valid for only 6 months during the period of OPT)
- valid F-1 visa stamp
- I-797C (receipt notice from USCIS for the OPT application)
*According to DHS, traveling back to the US while your OPT is pending is permitted in order to search for employment (more information under 2.O. and 2.P. on the SEVP FAQ page). However, it is still the discretion of the border authorities at the border as to whether they actually allow you to re-enter.
If the employer of an F-1 student on OPT files a timely H-1B petition (requesting a change of status within the U.S.), and requests an employment start date of October 1 of the following fiscal year, that student is permitted to continue working and may remain legally in the U.S. in F-1 status until the H-1B petition is rejected, denied or revoked. If the H-1B petition is approved, the immigration status change will occur on October 1.
The cap-gap work authorization continuation only applies in cases where the H-1B petition is filed before the EAD expires. If the EAD expires before the H-1B petition can be filed, but the student is still within the 60-day grace period, that student may remain in the U.S. in F-1 status until a decision on the H-1B petition is reached, but may not be employed.
F-2 dependents (spouses and minor children) are eligible to remain in F-2 status during this time as well.
Students and employers should note that this permission to remain in the U.S. in F-1 status and continue working under OPT in this particular situation is automatic, pursuant to the new regulation from ICE. There is no new application for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Note: This permission applies to all F-1s on OPT whose employers filed a timely H-1B petition for the following fiscal year, regardless of the student’s field of study.
Cap-gap extensions do not provide F-1 students with a new OPT card. DHS advises that students with an expired OPT card are not eligible to re-enter the U.S.
If the H-1B petition is rejected, denied or revoked, the OPT cap-gap authorization will end 10 days later, and the student has a 60-day grace period to depart the U.S., change status or begin a new program (at the same school or by transferring to a new school).
On March 11th, 2016, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security published the new rule on the OPT STEM Extension. Among other things, the new rule changes the STEM extension from 17 months to 24 months, for a total of 36 months of post-graduate Optional Practical Training.
In order to be eligible for this extension, students applying for this benefit must be already on OPT, and also be employed by, or have a job offer from, an employer who is registered with the E-Verify employment verification system. E-Verify is an internet-based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the Social Security Administration.
You can be eligible for the STEM extension if:
- You are currently participating in valid post-completion OPT
- You are within 90 days of your EAD card's end date (but not after that date)
- Your major (listed on your I-20) is approved for the 24-month extension. Your major CIP code is located on your I-20 next to your major in box 5*. Check the list of approved STEM majors.
- You have been unemployed less than 90 days during your OPT period.
- Your employer participates in e-Verify and has an e-Verify number.
Evaluation Reports on I-983
- After 1 year of your STEM extension, you must complete an evaluation report on your I-983 (page 6). This is a self-evaluation to be completed by the student and signed by the employer.
- At the end of your STEM extension, you must complete a final evaluation report on your I-983 (page 7). This is a self-evaluation to be completed by the student and signed by the employer.
STEM Extension for Previously Earned STEM Degree
If you are currently on OPT and have previously earned a STEM degree for which you did not apply for a STEM extension, you may be eligible for a STEM extension of your current OPT. You must meet this requirements:
- Your most recent degree must be from a SEVP certified school. Note: this degree does not have to be STEM.
- Your previous (STEM) degree must have been earned within the last 10 years.
- The previous (STEM) degree must be on DHS's STEM program list.
How long does the OPT Extension take to be awarded?
The application process may take up to 90 days.
How do I apply for an OPT Extension?
File Form I-765 with USCIS including in the following order:
- Two passport photos (taken within the last 30 days and with your I-94 printed in pencil or felt tip pen on the back of each)
- Complete G-1145 (OPTIONAL)
- Complete I-765 form (signed)
- Copy of current OPT employment authorization card (front and back)
- Copy of your diploma and transcript with degree conferred date
- Copy of OPT Extension Recommendation I-20
- Copy of old I-20s
- Copy of I-94 (front and back) or print I-94 from website:
- Copy of VALID passport
- Copy of Visa (even if expired)
Where do I send my packet?
You should send your packet to the USCIS Lockbox listed on the website. The location depends on where you live.
Make sure that you send your packet only via the U.S. Postal System if you use the first address listed. If you are sending express mail or via courier, you may send to the second address listed on the website.
What if my initial OPT expires while I’m awaiting adjudication of my extension?
If your post-completion OPT expires while the 24-month extension application is pending, students who timely filed their STEM extension applications with USCIS will receive an extension of employment authorization after their current employment authorization expires, but for no more than 180 days.
What fees are associated with filing for extended OPT?
Please check the USCIS website for current fees associated with filing for extended OPT.
When do I apply for an OPT extension?
Before the your current post-completion OPT employment authorization expires, but no sooner than 90 days before that expiration date and within 60 days of the DSO's recommendation of STEM OPT in SEVIS