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What is Optional Practical Training?

Optional Practical Training is an F-1 student benefit granted by the U.S. Citizenship and
Immigration Services (USCIS). It allows you to work off-campus in a job related to your
major. It is meant to supplement your academic experience with practical experience.

Who is eligible for OPT?

To be eligible for Optional Practical Training, you must document that:

you are currently in valid F-1 status AND
you have been a full-time student for at least one full academic year (two semesters)

When can I use OPT?

Optional Practical Training may be used during any of the following situations (or
combination of the following situations):

Pre-Completion OPT

  1. during the semester (up to 20 hours per week) -OR-
  2. during annual vacation periods (summer and winter breaks)

Post-Completion OPT after completion of study (full-time only)

Differences between Pre-Completion OPT and Post-Completion OPT
Pre-Completion OPT

  • Unemployment is not counted
  • Cannot apply for the 17-month STEM extension
  • Not eligible for the H-1B Cap-Gap extension
  • May extend I-20 if extra time is needed to complete degree requirements
  • Must apply for Post-Completion OPT if employment will continue after the degree conferral date

Post-Completion OPT

  • Unemployment is counted (You must have a job within 90 days of start date on
  • EAD card.)
  • Must work full-time
  • May not extend I-20 if extra time is needed to complete degree requirements
  • May apply for the 17-month STEM extension
  • Eligible for the H-1B Cap-Gap extension

How long is OPT authorized for?

Optional Practical Training may be authorized for a total of 12 months of full-time OPT, which must be completed within 14 months following the completion of your course of
study. However, F-1 students with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) degrees in certain fields may be eligible for a 17-month OPT extension.

  • Any Optional Practical Training authorization you receive is subtracted from your total 12-month period.
    Example: A student who is authorized for 3 months of full-time Pre-Completion OPT during the summer will have only 9 months of OPT remaining.
  • Any part-time OPT (20 hours per week or less) is deducted at the rate of one day of practical training for every two part-time days of OPT authorized.
    Example: A student who is authorized for 4 months of part-time Pre-Completion OPT during the semester will have 10 months of full-time OPT remaining.

Note: You become eligible to apply for another 12 months of Optional Practical Training if you change to a higher degree level and meet the above requirements again. You
may also be eligible for the “Cap Gap” Extension and 17-Month OPT Extension for STEM majors.

When should I apply for OPT ?

We recommend that you apply for OPT 90 days prior to your desired employment start date to allow sufficient time for USCIS processing and background checks. Note: You cannot apply for Post-Completion OPT more than 90 days before your “course of study completion date”. The latest date that you can apply for OPT is 60 days after your course of study completion date.
At Concord, we define this date as your degree conferral date. Please note that we do not recommend that you wait until the end of your 60-day grace period to apply for Post-Completion OPT.

Note: You can apply for Pre-Completion OPT up to 120 days before your desired employment start date.

What is my "course of study completion date”?

At Concord, your "course of study completion date” is the degree conferral date immediately following the last fall or spring semester or summer session during which you fulfilled requirements for
your degree.

Note: Your application must be received by the USCIS Service Center within 30 days of the issuance of your I-20 with OPT recommendation and the signature on your Form I-765. It must also be received no more than 90 days before your employment start date / course of study completion date or no later than 60 days after your course of study completion date. If your OPT application does not comply with these requirements, you will LOSE YOUR OPT BENEFIT.

What if I want to apply for OPT before I’ve completed a full academic year as a full-time student?

You may submit your application up to 90 days prior to completing one academic year, provided that the period of employment will not begin until the completion of the full academic year.

How do I apply for OPT?

  1. Schedule an appointment with your international student advisor, Nancy Ellison.
  2. Bring the following documents to the appointment:
  • Passport
  • I-94 Card (arrival/departure record)
  • All previously issued I-20s
  • Social security number
  • Two passport photos ( on the back of the photos, please write your name and your I-94 number)
  • A check or money order for the required fee. For fee amount see

How long is the OPT application process?

Processing time at the USCIS is estimated to be 60-90 days. However, processing times vary widely depending on the time of year and the workload at the Service Center to which you send your application. You can check the USCIS website for current processing times: You cannot begin employment until you have received your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) from the USCIS and the “start date” becomes effective.

After I receive my EAD card, what must I do?

  1. You must give a photocopy of your EAD card to your international student advisor
  2. You must send an e-mail report to the International Office every six months to verify:
    Your name
    Your residential address
    The name and address of your employer
    The date when you began working for your employer

    Note: The six-month report can be sent via e-mail to

  3. You must update your international student advisor about the following within ten days:
  • Any change in your name
  • Any change in your residential address
  • Any change of employer or employer’s address
  • Any interruption of employment lasting longer than 10 days

Do I have to find a job?

The Interim Final OPT Rule published on April 8, 2008 requires F-1 students to find a job within 90 days of the start of their OPT, and to report their employer’s name and address to their school within that time frame. Possible consequences to remaining in the U.S. after the 90-day deadline without a job include loss of visa status, denial of future immigration benefits, etc. Recently, the Department of Homeland Security further clarified how unemployment may affect your status. Starting in early 2009, the SEVIS record of any student who does not report employment within 90 days will automatically be terminated. The auto-termination will take place 6 months after the start of the OPT. Therefore, it is imperative that you not only find employment, but that you report it to your international student advisor IMMEDIATELY.

What if I find a job after the 90-day deadline, but before the 6-month termination date?

You should report your employment to your international student advisor immediately. As long as your SEVIS record is still active, you may continue working in the U.S. Possible consequences to missing the 90-day deadline include loss of visa status, denial of future immigration benefits, etc.

What types of employment are acceptable while on OPT?
There are various types of employment you may accept while on OPT. Any employment you choose must be directly related to your program of study.

  • Regular paid employment for at least 20 hours per week
  • Multiple employers. Total hours worked may not exceed 40 hours per week
  • Payment by multiple short-term employers. Ex. Musicians and other performing artists may work for multiple short-term employers (gigs). You should maintain a list of all gigs, including dates and duration.
  • Work for hire. This is commonly referred to as “1099 employment”, where an individual performs a service based on a contract. You should keep a record of the length of each contract as well as the name and contact information for each contracting company.
  • Self-employed business owner. You may start a business and be self-employed; however, you must work full-time (40 hours per week). You must also have proper business licenses.
  • Employment by an agency. You must keep proof that you worked at least an average of 20 hours per week while employed by an agency.

To qualify for the 17 month STEM extension you must have paid employment; volunteer positions do not qualify you for the STEM extension.

If my application for OPT is pending at the USCIS Service Center, can I travel outside the U.S. and then re-enter the U.S.?

YES. While your OPT application is pending at the USCIS, you may re-enter the U.S. to search for employment. Remember, you must have a valid F-1 visa, valid passport and recent signature on page 3 of your I-20. To avoid problems at the border, we recommend that you return to the U.S. before the expiration date on your I-20.

If I travel outside the U.S. after my OPT application was approved by the USCIS, can I re-enter the U.S?

After your OPT has been approved, we recommend that you only travel outside the U.S.
if you have a written job offer or a letter of employment. You should bring a copy of your job offer and EAD card when you re-enter the U.S.

What documents should I bring when I re-enter the U.S. while on OPT?

If you travel while you are on OPT after your completion of studies, you must bring the following documents in order to re-enter the U.S.:

  • Valid EAD card
  • Job offer letter on employer’s letterhead verifying your OPT employment
  • I-20 with the OPT recommendation on page 3
  • Signature from your international student advisor on page 3 of your I-20. Must have been signed within the last 6 months
  • Originals of all previous I-20’s
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • Valid passport


  • EADs may not be forwarded to new addresses by the U.S. Post Office.
    Therefore, you must be certain that the address you list in item #3 of Form I-765 is (and will be) your address when your application is processed.
  • Employment may not begin until the EAD is received. You may only work during the validity dates of your EAD card.
  • The EAD for Optional Practical Training will allow you to work only in a job related to your major area of study.
  • Once authorized for OPT, you may accept employment anywhere in the U.S.
  • When you are on OPT, you will still be in F-1 status.
  • If you transfer to another school or begin study at another educational level, then your OPT authorization will automatically be terminated.
  • While you are on OPT, you must notify your international student advisor of any change of home or employer’s address within 10 days and send us a report every six months.

Please e-mail this information to

While you are on OPT, you must have your I-20 signed every six months.

Created on Nov 29, 2011. Report incorrect information.