What is OPT?
OPT (Optional Practical Training) refers to an authorization issued by the USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Service), verifying a student’s legal employment status after they graduate under F1 visa. An EAD (Employment Authorization Document) card is issued when your OPT application is approved. Employment without getting an EAD card is illegal in the United States. Usually the time length of OPT is a year, but if your major belongs to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), you are entitled to an extension to up to 29 months. The benefit of getting an EAD card is that you can apply for your SSN (Social Security Number) with it even if you don’t have a job. Paying taxes is not required during OPT period.
Who can apply for OPT?
Applying for an OPT isn’t difficult. Students who hold an F1 visa and graduate from a credited degree program can apply for an OPT. The degree program has to be at least a year. It’s important to also notice that your CPT (Curricular Practical Training) shouldn’t exceed one year in order not to affect your OPT application.
Pre-completion OPT vs. Post-completion OPT
Pre-completion OPT refers to OPT prior to your degree completion, whereas post-completion OPT refers to OPT after your degree completion. For pre-completion OPT applicants, you cannot work in the first year of study. If you apply for a pre-completion OPT, you can work only part-time, and your total working hours can’t exceed 20 hours. Your pre-completion OPT time will be counted into your total OPT time. Therefore it is better to take advantage of CPT before applying for an OPT.
You can apply for an OPT as early as 90 days prior to your program completion date, or as late as 60 days after your complete your program. If you fail to submit your OPT application within 60 days of your program completion date, you will have to go back to your home country. The OPT application is much more complicated than the CPT application, so it is recommended that students apply as early as possible. You do not need to have a job to apply for OPT, and it’s common that students are getting their EAD cards before securing a job. Students who applied earlier are more likely to get their EAD cards faster, possibly in less than two months. I applied for it about 45 days before my graduation, and it took me about three and a half months to get it. The latest time you need to begin working is 60 days after your program completion day. For example, if you graduate on Dec. 20, you have to start working no later than Feb. 18, given that you’ve received your OPT authorization. Once your OPT has begun, if your cumulative days of unemployment exceed 90 days, your EAD card will become invalid, and you need to return to your home country immediately. For example, if it takes you 60 days to find your first job, and when you leave your first job but fail to find another job in 30 days, you will have to return to your home country. It’s also crucial that you need to mail the following info to the international students office of your college: your company name, address, when your OPT starts and ends. There are students who forget about this and end up being deported.
What you can do under OPT?
Students are suggested to work in fields related to their academic studies. However, scrutiny is not strict during OPT in terms of which kind of job you actually pursue, unless you’re considering applying for a H1B visa after OPT, in which case the U.S. government would have strict scrutiny on where you worked before (under CPT and OPT). Taking myself as an example, my specialty was financial engineering, and I worked in an education company during my OPT. What I did had nothing to do with financial engineering. I also know students who have found unpaid volunteer positions during their OPTs.
Application process and required materials
1. Bring all materials required by your college’s ISSO(International Student and Scholars) to apply for a new I-20 form with an ISSO endorsement. Bring your passport, visa, I-94, all of your previous I-20s (if any), a completed Form I-765 and your OPT Recommendation Request Form. Some university international student offices like mine charge $100 for their OPT service. (Filling out the I-765 might be difficult. Ask the ISSO officials in your university for help if you have questions.)
2. After getting a new I-20, mail it with other materials required by USCIS to the address specified.
3. Wait for your EAD card. You will receive a receipt after you send out all the materials. This receipt will be used to complete the application process online or to expedite the application if you need to.
The required materials include the following:
1. IAS-150 Form (Download it from your college’s website. Each college has a different form.) It requires the signature of your adviser and the dean. An advisor would have been assigned to you when you started school. Check your enrollment materials or ask relevant officials in your department if you have any questions.
2. G-1145 Form ( USCIS website http://www.uscis.gov/files/form/g-1145.pdf)
3. I-765 Form (USCIS website http://www.uscis.gov/files/form/i-765.pdf). Fill in the specific information with a blue ink pen. NOTE: I-765 item 16 requires confirmation from the Office of International Students in your college.
4. Personal check in the amount of $380
5. I-94 double-sided copies
6. A copy of the passport information page
7. A copy of the VISA pages
8. I-20 copy (The I-20 should be the OPT version of the I-20. Go to the ISSS office to apply for OPT with your original I-20, and they will give you a new I-20.)
9. Two U.S. passport-formatted photos. (Any pharmacy such as CVS or Walgreen’s offer this service.) The photo needs to been taken within the last 30 days.
10. OPT copies (If you applied for it before, then it should also be attached.) When everything’s ready, take all documents to the ISSO and have the person in charge check and sign. (It generally takes one week, so be psychologically prepared). Send application to USCIS using Fedex, UPS or the express mail service of USPS. Regular USPS is not recommended because it is too slow. The documents are extremely important—you cannot afford to lose them.
U.S. Postal ServiceUSPS）
PO Box 660867
Courier Service (Fedex, UPS)
2501 S. State Hwy. 121, Business
Lewisville, TX 75067
NOTE: These addresses are for students in New York. Check your colleges’ websites for the addresses you should use.
How to expedite an OPT application?
USCIS’s general principle is first come, first serve. The interval between my receiving offers and the start date required by my employer was only one week. What is more, my OPT was not approved when I received my offer. I was worried because I cannot work without OPT. So I asked the ISSO office for help. I researched online and found that your college could send urgent letters on your behalf. Your receipt number is required to complete the expedition. You also need to provide copies of your offer letter to prove that you need your EAD card as soon as possible. I also want to add that there are always people requiring expedited processing. It is likely that you will be rejected when you call for the first time. Do not be discouraged. All you need to do is to keep on calling as long as you really have to work right away. If an offer letter is not enough, add the support letter from your boss. Attach your expedition request and offer letter when you send your materials. If it is approved, your card production will start immediately. It takes only a week to get your the EAD card. I think calling the USCIS Customer service is the most effective way for an expedition. After your dial, there is an option “if you have problem with the case or ….” Select this, then there will be a “request expedite processing” option. Select it, and someone will answer you.
Here is a template for expedite request:
EXPEDITE REQUEST (Receipt Number: XXXXXXXXXX)
CALIFORNIA SERVICES CENTER
Dear Sir or Madam,
I am writing in regard to the expedite request for my EAD application. I
requested the expedite service on *** of 2012. However, I received an email
telling me that I will need to wait for another 30 days for a decision.
I have been offered a great job position at The O*****y and the starting date is *** of 2012-less than 10 business days away. As a foreign student, one of the requirements for receiving this offer is that I should have employment authorization approved. As I need my salary to pay for my living expenses by myself, the delayed approval will lead to severe financial loss. More importantly, if I do not start on time, I may lose this great job opportunity!
Secondly, it has been more than 55 days since USCIS filed my case on 10/9/
2012. Based on the first-come-first-serve principle, my case is expected to be approved along with the cases of the same application date. Given that other cases filed later have been approved (Listed below) and my case is still pending, I believe my situation satisfies the criteria for expedite processing.
Case 1: LIN13***** Receive date: **, 2012. Card Delivery: **, 2012
Case 2: LIN13***** Receive date: **, 2012 Card Delivery: **, 2012
I also included a support letter from my future employer to support my expedition request.
Based on the two reasons, please grant me expedited processing. Thank you so much!
Have a great evening!
Below is my application information that you may need—
Date of Birth:
Case type: I-765 Application for Employment Authorization
Receive Date: Oct 9, 2012
Notice date: Oct 11, 2012
About RFE (Request for evidence)
Generally when you are informed of your RFE, USCIS will notify you of what materials are missing via regular mail. Usually you have to wait several days or even weeks. I waited 16 days before I was informed. Later I found out you can call the second stage customer service, and let them read the contents of the letter to you, so you can save a long time to know what materials you are missing.
USCIS has two kinds of customer services. Usually you have to call level one customer service to get to the level two customer service. Level one is computerized; it will only give you searchable information. So if you want to argue something or check some information that cannot be found online you have to transfer to level two. Level one is 1-800-375-5283; Choose 1for all menus until you hear the instruction to input receipt number. It takes about two hours to transfer to level two. The customer service will call you back.
Most RFE cases are resulted from photo problems. I tried about five photo studios of Costco, CVS and Walgreens during the process. Personally I recommend digital photograph specialists at Walgreens. They are more experienced, and the photos they take usually have the right level of brightness.
Do not forget to sign on the latest I-20 form. All signatures on forms cannot exceed the horizontal lines or the boxes. It is better to use black ink pens. USCIS will not remind you of these extra requirements.
USCIS generally will not pay for their mistakes
In case USCIS loses, wets or even forgets to process your materials, they’ll send you an RFE to let you re-apply. So you have to apply in advance, and actively negotiate when you encounter adverse situations. You can also ask your ISSO’s advisor who has his own specific channels to contact the USCIS for help.
About returning to your country
Do not return to your home country before your receive your OPT receipt. This is explicitly stated by USCIS. I strongly recommend you to get the EAD card before returning home. If your visa and I-20 are still valid when you return to the U.S., you can enter the U.S. with your EAD card. If the visa has expired and you need to apply for a new visa (with your new I-20 and EAD card), you have to clearly know your chance of getting the new visa.
About changing the mailing address
Many people are graduating when applying for an EAD card, and they move during that time. The mailing address of the card is recommended to be a long-term effective one. You should at least ensure that the address will not change before they mail the receipt to you. The safest way is to have it mailed to your ISSO or to your friend’s.
About STEM and Extension
Extension: According to the U.S. government’s policy, students who meet the following conditions may extend their OPT by 17 months after the end of the first year of OPT. So their actual OPT period will be 29 months. STEM is short for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
1. You can check the list of detailed STEM professionals at the following URL:
2. E-verify program
You can try to find some information on the unofficial site: https://www.numbersusa.org/everify/. Usually only large companies are E-verified. Small companies are difficult to be E-verified due to information disclosure, high costs and other issues. So when students are looking for jobs, ask the company in advance if it is E-verified. During the extension, there will be very strict requirements that your job is strictly related to your STEM professionals, otherwise it will be difficult to be approved.
3. For STEM extension information, please visit:
4. The procedure to apply for an extension: Mail your I-765 form, DSO verified I-20 form, STEM degree certificate copy and the required application fee. If your 12-month OPT expires when your application is still pending, you will acquire a temporary extension of no more than 180 days if you apply for STEM Extension within the specific time.
5. When your application is approved, you need to provide your DSO, name, living address, mailing address, employer name and employer address within 10 days. USCIS requires that information noted above needs to be updated every half a year even nothing changes.
Above is all that I want to share with you. I hope it will help.