Optional Practical Training (OPT)
Optional Practical Training (OPT) Overview
OPT is a type of work authorization that allows F-1 students to work in the U.S. for one year after graduation to gain experience in a field related to their major. Students apply for OPT through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and receive an Employment Authorization Document (or EAD card) as proof that they are legally able to work in the U.S. Saint Mary's continues to sponsor the F-1 student visa for the duration of OPT.
All undergraduate and graduate students are eligible for OPT if they meet all of the following criteria:
- must have been in valid F-1 status for one academic year or longer
- must have maintained a full-time course load for one academic year or longer
- cannot have previously been granted OPT for the degree level that you are currently seeking approval for
- cannot have accrued 12 months or more of full-time Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or Pre-Completion OPT
IMPORTANT: Students are not required to have a job before submitting an application for OPT. A student who is eligible to apply may submit an application whether or not they have a job or offer of employment.
When to Apply
USCIS will accept applications for OPT as early as 90 days before a student's Program End Date as listed on their SEVIS record and will continue to accept applications for up to 60 days after the student's Program End Date as listed on their SEVIS record. The Center for International Programs highly recommends applying for OPT as early as possible because it will take 90 - 120 days for USCIS to process the application. USCIS will only accept applications for OPT during this time period.
First day to submit an application: 90 days before Program End Date
Last day to submit an application: 60 days after Program End Date
OPT is a "use it or loose it" opportunity! You can only apply for OPT during the time period mentioned above. Students cannot apply for OPT outside of this timeframe. All applications submitted outside of this timeframe will automatically be denied.
How to Apply
The Center for International Programs will provide support to students applying for Optional Practical Training (OPT). However, it is the responsibility of the student to make sure that they have read, understood, and followed all application instructions and filing deadlines and procedures. The Center for International Programs does not assume responsibility for improperly filed applications nor can we guarantee that applications will be approved.
Step 1: Attend an OPT Application Workshop hosted by the Center for International Programs
- Get assistance with the application process, required documents, and timeline
Step 2: Request an OPT I-20 from the Center for International Programs by completing the OPT I-20 Request Form
- Cannot apply for OPT without a new I-20
- OPT I-20 is valid for 30 days
- USCIS must receive the OPT application before the OPT I-20 expires or else the application will be denied
- OPT I-20 Request Form
Step 3: Submit an online application to USCIS
- Create an online profile with USCIS
- Application fee is $410 USD
- Read the instructions for the I-765 carefully
- Be sure to include all required documents
- Cannot change OPT Start Date once application is submitted
Step 4: Wait 90 - 120 days
- Check the status of the application on the USCIS website by clicking "Check Case Status" or by logging into your USCIS account
- Acceptance materials will be sent electronically and via mail
- Once approved, USCIS will send the EAD card
Application & Required Documents
- Completed Form I-765
- Digital copy of OPT I-20 from the Center for International Programs
- Digital copies of SMC I-20s with CPT authorization (if any)
- Digital copy of previous EAD card & all supporting documentation (if any)
- Digital copy of biographical page of passport
- Digital copy of I-94
- Digital copy of a U.S. passport-sized photo
- Credit or debit card for the application fee ($410 USD)
- Will need a U.S.-based credit or debit card to make payment online
- Digital copy of Change of Status approval notice*
- *If you changed your status to F-1 while in the U.S.
Working on OPT
Students may begin working in the U.S. on or after their OPT Start Date and they must have their EAD card in-hand. All employment must be directly related to the student's degree/field of study and be appropriate for their degree level. To maintain valid F-1 status, OPT employment must meet the following criteria:
- Must be at least 21 hours per week, but can be more
- Must be a position/field directly related to the student's major
- Must be a position that is appropriate for the student's degree level
Remember - OPT is not a visa! It is a benefit of the F-1 student visa and Saint Mary's will continue to sponsor the F-1 visa for the duration of OPT. This is important to mention to employers when interviewing and talking about your eligibility to work in the U.S.
Because Saint Mary's continues to sponsor F-1 visas during OPT, it is important that the following information is reported to the Center for International Programs within 10 calendar days of the change:
- Change of employer
- Additional employer
- Change of local U.S. address or foreign address
- Plans to end OPT early and depart the U.S.
- Regular paid employment
- Internships (paid or unpaid)
- Consulting or contract work
- Self-Employment (must have all appropriate licenses and the business must be legally operable in the U.S.)
Students working on OPT can have multiple employers during their period of work authorization. This means that a student can change jobs while working on OPT or have more than one job at a time. As long as each job is directly related to the student's degree and is appropriate for the student's degree level, the student has the flexibility to change employers or work multiple jobs during their time on OPT.
Reporting OPT Employment
As the sponsor of F-1 visas during OPT, students must report all employment and changes in employment to the Center for International Programs by completing the OPT Employment Reporting Form.
Student & Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) Portal
Once approved for OPT, students will be given access to the SEVP Portal, where they can update their employment and contact information. It is the student's responsibility to create and maintain their SEVP Portal account as well as monitor their employment and contact information and make the necessary changes.
For more information about the SEVP Portal, please see the Study in the States SEVP Portal Help page.
While on OPT, international students should be actively employed on a full-time basis in order to maintain valid F-1 status. All days of unemployment are actively counted in SEVIS, and once students have been unemployed for 90 days or more, they will begin to accrue days of unlawful presence if they do not leave the U.S. immediately.
Important facts about unemployment while on OPT:
- 90 days total
- Day 91 of unemployment = Day 1 of unlawful presence in the U.S.
- No 60-day grace period - students must depart the U.S. immediately
- Not a grace period to find a job - students must start working on or after their OPT Start Date
- Don't forget to sign all of your I-20s
- If applying via mail, DO NOT mail cash - only a check or a money order
- DO NOT submit online or mail the application if the OPT I-20 is expired - the application will be denied!
- Once the application is submitted online or mailed, the OPT Start Date cannot be changed
- Send a copy of your EAD card & approval notice to the Center for International Programs