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Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT Checklist Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Introduction to Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT is an opportunity for F-1 student visa holders to obtain training and related experience in their field of study. Students often apply for ‘post-completion OPT’, which is a 12-month work authorization that begins after the degree has been completed. If an OPT application is approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), this work authorization allows students to accept employment that is related to their field of study. Students who have earned a degree in a STEM field might also be eligible to apply for a 24-month extension of this work authorization if they have a paid, full-time position offered directly by an E-Verify employer that is related to their field of study. When applying for this work authorization, students request an updated I-20 with a specific recommendation for this benefit of F-1 status. Once they have obtained the updated I-20, the student submits a detailed application for OPT to USCIS. Students may begin working on OPT only after they have received an Approval Notice from USCIS, an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) issued by USCIS, and have reached the start date on that EAD.

Applying for Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Who is eligible?

In general, F-1 students are eligible to apply for OPT if they are enrolled in a degree program and have not previously used 12-months of OPT at the same degree level. For additional information about OPT eligibility, please review the university’s OPT workshop presentation.

When do I apply?

Students applying for post-completion OPT should send their application to USCIS as early as 90-days before the end of their last trimester of study. However, applications can also be submitted as late as 60-days after the end of the last trimester of study as long as the student ensures that the application reaches USCIS by that date. Students are strongly encouraged to apply as early as possible within this period of time.
(Note: An application for OPT will not be accepted by USCIS if it is sent more than 30-days after an updated I-20 was issued with a recommendation for OPT.)

How do I apply?

Click the OPT Checklist above to review a detailed list of documents to collect for this application. Please remember, a request must be made for an updated I-20 with a recommendation for OPT. To obtain this I-20, please complete the OPT Request Form and the ISO will issue an I-20 with an OPT recommendation if the student is eligible.

Where do I send the application?

Click the OPT Checklist above to confirm the specific address to send this application to. Please note, the address will be different depending on whether the application is sent by USPS mail or through an express service.

Applying for a STEM Extension

Who is eligible?

In general, F-1 students are eligible to apply for a STEM Extension if they are currently approved for OPT and the end date of their OPT period has not yet passed, if their degree was in a STEM field, and they have or will have a paid, full-time position offered directly by an E-Verify employer that is related to their field of study.

When do I apply?

Students applying for post-completion OPT can send their application to USCIS as early as 90-days before the end of their current OPT authorization, but the application must be received by USCIS before the end of that period. Students are strongly encouraged to apply as early as possible within this period of time.
(Note: An application for OPT will not be accepted by USCIS if it is sent more than 60-days after an updated I-20 was issued with a recommendation for STEM Extension.)

How do I apply?

Click the OPT Checklist above to review a detailed list of documents to collect for this application. Please remember, a request must be made for an updated I-20 with a recommendation for STEM Extension. To obtain this I-20, please complete the STEM Extension Request Form and the ISO will issue an I-20 with a STEM Extension recommendation if eligible. A Form I-983 training plan will also need to be completed by the student and the STEM Extension employer and uploaded with the student’s request.

Where do I send the application?

Click the OPT Checklist above to confirm the specific address to send this application to. Please note, the address will be different depending on whether the application is sent by USPS mail or through an express service.

The Approval Process for OPT/STEM Extension

Delivery Confirmation

Available within a few days once an application is delivered to USCIS by USPS mail with Return Receipt or by an Express Service.

Receipt Notice

A one-page document issued by USCIS that arrives by mail a few weeks later. This document acknowledges receipt of the application by USCIS and that a case number has been assigned to that application. To check the status of this application and set-up an e-mail alert to track its progress, visit the USCIS website.

Request For Evidence (RFE)

This is a document that could arrive a few months later if the USCIS officer wishes to collect more documents and information before making a decision on the application for OPT or STEM Extension. An RFE is not an indication of whether the application will be approved or denied. It is only an indication that USCIS is requesting more information to make that decision. If an RFE is received, please send a scanned copy of it to the ISO promptly so an advisor can confirm if any of the documents requested would be issued by the university.

Approval Notice or Denial Notice

Arrives a few months after the Receipt Notice when a USCIS officer makes a decision on the application. If an RFE has been issued, the decision will likely be delayed by an additional one or two months.

Reporting OPT Employment and Related Obligations

Initial OPT Employer Reporting

Once an F-1 student has been approved for OPT, received an EAD card from USCIS, and has been offered employment in the related field of study, the next step is for the student to report this employment to the university within 10 days. To report initial OPT employment, please complete the OPT Employment Reporting and Verification Form. An updated I-20 will be issued within 7-10 business days after the form is completed and submitted.

Change of OPT Employer Reporting

If an F-1 student is changing from one OPT employer to another, both positions must be related to the student’s field of study. In this case, the next step is for the student to report this employment to the university within 10 days. To report a change of OPT Employer, please complete the OPT Employment Reporting and Verification Form. An updated I-20 will be issued within 7-10 business days after the form is completed and submitted.

Six Month Verification of OPT Employment

If an F-1 student has been working for an OPT employer without any changes, the student would still verify this employment with the university every six months. To verify ongoing OPT employment, please complete the OPT Employment Reporting and Verification Form. An updated I-20 confirming this ongoing employment will be issued within 7-10 business days after the form is completed and submitted.

Annual and Final Evaluations for Students on a 24-Month STEM Extension

An F-1 student with an approved 24-month STEM Extension is required to submit an evaluation after 12-months of employment with a STEM Extension employer and again at the end of the STEM Extension employment. These evaluation forms are found on pages 6 and 7 of the Form I-983 training plan. To submit these evaluations, please complete the OPT Employment Reporting and Verification Form. The ISO will send an acknowledgement of receipt after each evaluation is received.

Allowed Periods of Unemployment

An F-1 student is allowed up to 90 days total of unemployment during the initial 12-months of OPT. If approved for a STEM Extension, the student will receive an extra 30-days allowance for unemployment under a 17-month approval or an extra 60-days allowance for unemployment under a 24-month approval. This additional period of unemployment is allowed in addition to any unused portion of the original 90-days. Students who have a period of unemployment during OPT or STEM Extension that are nearing such limits should contact the ISO for advising.

Related Links

Questions?

For questions about ITU’s OPT program, please see our Frequently Asked Questions or contact the International Student Office through ITU’s ticketing system.

Last modified: July 26, 2016