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Optional Practical Training (OPT)

This page provides information regarding the 12-month period of Post-Completion OPT*. Click the following links to find information about the 24 month STEM Extension or H-1B Cap-Gap Extension. 

If you are interested in applying for OPT, you must first attend an OPT session.

*Most students use OPT for post-graduation employment and Curricular Practical Training (CPT) for pre-graduation employment. If you wish to use OPT for pre-graduation employment, please consult an ISSP Advisor.

Optional Practical Training
  • OPT work authorization allows F-1 students to gain practical experience in their major field of study for up to 12 months. OPT is granted by U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) in the form of an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card.
  • You must have been in F-1 status for at least two semesters, directly prior to graduation.
  • You do not need a job offer to apply for OPT.
  • A student who uses 12 months of full-time CPT (over 20 hours/week) is not eligible for OPT.
  • If you have previously used OPT, this can affect your OPT eligibility. You can only be granted 12 months of post-completion OPT once per degree level. For example, if you were previously  approved for 12 months of OPT as a master's student, if you do an additional master's degree, you may not be eligible to do more OPT.
  • The work must be related to your major field of study.
  • The work may be paid or unpaid and must be at least 20 hours per week.
  • Employer sponsorship is not required - you will have work authorization through OPT.
  • You cannot be unemployed for more than 90 days during the OPT period.
  • Up to 12 months of full-time OPT for each higher level of study. For example, a student may be eligible for 12 months for a bachelor’s degree and another 12 months for a master’s degree.
  • You can only work on OPT during the employment dates listed on your EAD card.
  • You must stop working by the end date listed on your EAD card, unless you have applied for a 24 month STEM extension, or your employer has filed for an H-1B on your behalf. 
  • After your OPT ends, you have a 60 day grace period to stay in the U.S.
Application Process
  • You must attend an OPT session and receive an OPT I-20 from our office for the application.
  • See applying for OPT for a list of documents required for the application.
Application Timeline
  • The earliest you can apply is 90 days before your degree completion date.
  • The latest you can apply is 60 days after your degree completion date. 
  • USCIS must receive your application no later than 60 days after the program end date on your I-20.
  • Your application must also be submitted no later than 30 days after ISSP processed your OPT I-20 in SEVIS.
  • USCIS typically takes several months to approve your OPT application. You may begin working once you receive your EAD card and the start date on the card has arrived. 
Other Reminders
  • Notify SEVP of any address changes, new employment or termination of employment within 10 days
    • When your OPT is approved, you should receive an email from SEVP with a link to the SEVP Portal, where you can report this information directly to Immigration. If you do not receive this email, or are having difficulty accessing the portal, please contact an ISSP advisor.
  • Ensure that you have the documents you need to travel on OPT, including an I-20 that has been signed within the last six months.
  • You may take a few classes but enrolling in a new degree program may end your OPT.
Information for Employers
  • No employer sponsorship is needed to hire an international student on Optional Practical Training (OPT).
  • The student is responsible for applying for their OPT work authorization. Once the OPT is approved, the student will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card. This card will state the specific start and end dates for the OPT. The student may begin working once they receive their EAD card and reach the start date on the card.
  • Resources for completing the I-9 for an international student hire: