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Optional Practical Training (OPT)

What is Optional Practical Training?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary employment authorization from US Citizenship and Immigrations Services (USCIS) with the purpose of gaining practical experience that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study.

Eligible students can apply to receive up to 12 months of OPT employment authorization for each academic level (bachelor's, master's and doctorate). They can apply before completing their academic studies (pre-completion) and/or after completing their academic studies (post-completion). However, all periods of pre-completion OPT will be deducted from the available period of post-completion OPT.

The Basics: 

  • OPT employment must always be directly related to a student's major area of study. 
  • Students must be enrolled full-time for at least one full academic year (two full semesters) before applying - this full academic year requirement can be satisfied even if the student was in another nonimmigrant status before obtaining F-1 status during this time. 
  • Employment is not required at the time of application. 

 

F-1 students may be eligible to participate in OPT in two different ways:

  • If a student participated in pre-completion OPT, USCIS will deduct that amount of time from their post-completion OPT authorization period. For example, if a student participated in 10 months of pre-completion OPT, they would be eligible for only up to 2 months of post-completion OPT.  
  • Students enrolled in 3 credit hours or more that is not research-based may not begin OPT before their program end date. 
  • Students on assistantships may not begin OPT before their program end date or before the end of their assistantship contract - whichever date is later.

If applying during summer vacation: 

  • Students must intend to register for the next semester. 
  • Students may work full-time (more than 20 hours per week). 

If applying during fall or spring semester: 

  • Students must continue to maintain full-time enrollment and cannot participate in any on-campus positions simultaneously. 
  • Students may work part-time (20 hours or less per week). 

If applying after completion of all course requirements but before completion of thesis, dissertation, or final project (non-thesis):

  • If degree requirements will not be completed before the program end date listed on the students Form I-20, they must request an extension of their program.
  • If a student uses less than 12 months of their pre-completion OPT, they must then apply to use the remaining time as post-completion OPT. - this requires a new OPT application and fee to be submitted to USCIS.
  • Students cannot enroll full-time during this employment period; the maximum enrollment allowed is 6 credit hours. 
  • Students on pre-completion OPT are required to continue carrying student medical insurance coverage, whether enrolled or not. 

Students are eligible to apply up to 90 days before to their program completion date and up to 60 days after their program completion date.

The requested  start date for OPT must be within the 60 days following program completion. Please note that USCIS processing times are typically between 3-5 months. If your application is approved after your requested start date, USCIS will adjust the start date to correspond with the date it is actually approved. Your start date will never be before your approval. 

If applying during Fall/Spring semester, students are eligible to apply up to 90 days before the job starts.

If applying during Summer Vacation OR after completion of all course requirements but before completion of thesis, dissertation, or final project, students are eligible to apply up to 120 days before the job starts.

Please note that while a job offer is not required before applying for Pre-Completion OPT, it is highly recommended.

Applying for OPT:

Students should start by reviewing this website thoroughly and completely; this website provides detailed information regarding the regulations, requirements, and risks associated with your application timeline and process, employment eligibility, and travel. We also recommend attending one of our OPT seminars throughout the semester and/or reviewing our OPT PowerPoint.  

 

Once you have reviewed everything and are ready to apply for OPT, you can request your OPT Form I-20 by submitting the Optional Practical Training (OPT) Request e-form through the IntlHokies PortalPlease have your Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) completed and ready to upload before submitting your request; the following resources can be helpful when filling out your Form I-765: 

If you wish to have any additional documents in your application packet reviewed, you may combine them in to one document and upload it to your request, as well; please note that this is not required. 

 

Once your OPT Form I-20 request has been submitted, an International Student Advisor will review your submission and create your OPT Form I-20; you will be notified via email if any additional information or corrections are needed OR once your OPT Form I-20 has been created. We ask that you allow 10 business days for processing.

 

Once you receive your OPT Form I-20, you can begin preparing your application for mailing; the OPT application must arrive to the USCIS lockbox within 30 days of the issue date listed on the Form I-20. Your application will be denied if it is received more than 30 days from the issue date. 

After receiving the OPT Form I-20, students should assemble their application packet with the following items:

  1. Payment of $410 USD - payment can be in the following forms:
  2. Two color, passport-style photos (see specifications for details) - we recommend writing your name and SEVIS ID # in pencil on the back;
  3. Form G-1145 (E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptance) - this notifies USCIS that you would like to receive a text message and/or email notification when they accept your application for processing; 
  4. Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) - please be sure that you have signed on page 5! Your signature cannot be digital - it must be physically signed in black ink. 
  5. Copy of the signed OPT Form I-20 - please be sure you sign the front before making a copy and remember to keep the original. Your signature cannot be digital - it must be physically signed in black ink.  
  6. Copy of your current passport ID page
  7. Copy of your most recent Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record);
  8. Copies of previous Form I-20s (if applicable) - you only need to include those that show previous CPT or OPT authorizations, as noted on page 7 of your Form I-765; 
  9. Copies of any other supporting documents from page 7 of Form I-765, if applicable. 

Important Notes:

  • Before sending off your OPT application, we highly recommend making a copy of the entire packet for your records, along with keeping a record of the tracking number for your package.
  • USCIS must receive your OPT application within 30 days of your OPT Form I-20 being issued, so please be sure to mail it off as soon as possible to the appropriate mailing address.

Please note the following:

  • We highly recommend using a trackable method in order to keep record of your application’s delivery.
  • Ensure your application is received by USCIS less than 30 days after your OPT Form I-20’s issuance date or your application will be denied. 
  • We recommend making a copy of the application for your own records before mailing to USCIS.
  • You will need to send your application as indicated below. You can also always find the most up-to-date mailing information directly on the USCIS website.


If using U.S. Postal Service (USPS):

USCIS
PO Box 805373
Chicago, IL 60680

 

If using UPS, FedEx, or DHL:

USCIS
Attn: I-765 C03
131 South Dearborn - 3rd Floor
Chicago, IL 60603-5517

While You Wait for your OPT Approval 

Once you have mailed your application:

  • If you have completed Form G-1145, You will receive an electronic notice that your application has been accepted and is now pending processing - this will be sent to the email and/or phone number you provide and can take 1-2 weeks to be sent. 
  • You will receive a receipt notice (Form I-797C - Notice of Action) by mail - this will be mailed to the address listed on your Form I-765 and can take anywhere from 4-6 weeks to be mailed. 

Once your request is pending:

  • Be prepared to wait 3-5 months for your application to be processed.  
  • If you receive a Request for Evidence (RFE) from USCIS, this could be because the application is missing a document or signature, there was an issue with your payment, your photo does not meet specifications, etc. If you receive such a request, reach out to your International Student Advisor immediately so that you can respond to USCIS with the requested evidence as soon as possible. When you respond to the RFE, place the original sheet on top and be sure to make copies of the additional materials before you respond to the RFE, and send them by courier mail.
  • If your address changes before the arrival of your EAD card, you will need to update USCIS as soon as possible to avoid delays or denials.

Traveling outside the US is strongly discouraged while an OPT application is pending because the risks involved can include the following:

  • It is impossible to predict when your authorization will be approved, therefore you may receive your approval and EAD card while outside of the US. Since all correspondence from USCIS is sent to the US address listed on your application, you would be required to coordinate with someone in the US to have your EAD card sent to you before you can reenter. 
  • You could potentially be sent a Request for Evidence (RFE), which requires that you submit additional evidence concerning your application within 30 days of the request. Since all correspondence from USCIS is sent to the US address listed on your application, you may either miss this request or you will be required to coordinate with someone in the US to complete the request. USCIS will not continue processing your application until the requested information is submitted. USCIS will deny your application if you do not submit the requested information on time or if the submitted information is not adequate for approval.
  • If you must travel, please make sure that you have the following documents for your reentry to the US: 
    • Valid F-1 visa;
    • Valid passport;
    • OPT Form I-20 that has been endorsed for travel on page 2 - a travel signature must be less than 6 months old at the time of re-entry while on OPT;
    • Receipt notice (Form I-797C - Notice of Action) showing that your OPT application is currently pending. 

You are eligible to travel outside of the US while your OPT application is pending and prior to completing your degree, just as you would normally travel any time during your program. 

IMPORTANT NOTE: Given the dynamic nature of current travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus) pandemic, reentering the US might not be possible before your program end date and you will be forced to forfeit your OPT benefit, as you are required to submit it from within the US.

Once OPT is approved, you will need the following documents for reentry to the US:

  1. Valid F-1 visa;
  2. Valid passport;
  3. Valid EAD (Employment Authorization Document) card;
  4. OPT Form I-20 listing your OPT in "Approved" status that has been endorsed for travel on page 2 - a travel signature must be less than 6 months old at the time of re-entry while on OPT;
  5. Letter from employer stating job offer and conditions of employment - if you are approved but do not have an employment offer before reentering the US, you will be denied entry. 

IMPORTANT NOTE: Given the dynamic nature of current travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus) pandemic, re-entering the US by your employment start date might not be possible. You will need to discuss this possibility with your employer in order to create a contingency plan in case your re-entry is delayed. 

Rules and Reporting Requirements on OPT

Federal regulations require that employment be directly related to your major area of study. As part of your OPT reporting requirements, you must provide a description demonstrating a logical connection between your regular job duties and your major area of study. If the relationship between the job and a student's field of study is called into question by USCIS in the future, the burden of proof is on the student to demonstrate the relationship. Your International Student Advisor will not be able to advise you on specifically which jobs do or do not qualify as we are not experts in your field of study. If you need assistance determining the fit of a job offer, we recommend discussing this with your academic advisor and/or department, or you can review the available SEVP Policy Guidance.

Below are the types of employment allowable: 

  • Paid employment - Students may work in a paid, part-time (at least 20 per week) or full-time position.
  • Multiple employers - Students may work for more than one employer.
  • Short-term multiple employers - Students, such as musicians and other performing artists, may work for multiple short-term employers (i.e. gigs). If requested by DHS, students should be prepared to provide a record of all gigs along with their location, date, and duration.
  • Work for hire (i.e. 1099 employment) - Students may perform a service based on a contractual relationship rather than an employment relationship. If requested by DHS, students should be prepared to provide a record of the company name and location along with the dates and duration of each contracted period. 
  • Self-employed business owner - Students on OPT may start a business and be self-employed. The student should be able to prove that they have the proper business license(s).
  • Employment through an agency or consulting firm - Students may engage in employment through an agency or consulting firm. 
  • Unpaid employment - Students may work as volunteers or unpaid interns as long as the practice does not violate any labor laws. The work should be at least 20 hours per week and they should be able to provide evidence of the name and address of the company, as well as the date(s) and duration of their employment. 

Once your OPT is approved, you can report your approval by uploading a copy of your EAD card to the EAD Upload and Form I-20 Reprint e-form through the IntlHokies portal - you can also request an updated OPT Form I-20 at this time, if needed. 

A few days after the start date listed on your EAD card, you should also receive an email from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), prompting you to create a SEVP Portal account - this account allows students to meet their legal reporting requirements while participating in OPT. Through your SEVP Portal account, you are required to report the following within 10 days of the event:

  • Initial employment
  • Any changes in employment 
  • Any changes in physical and/or mailing address
  • Any changes in legal name

Addtional Resources

You may begin working on the start date listed on your EAD card and you must have the EAD card in hand to start working. During your period of OPT authorization, you should be working or actively seeking employment. If you are unable to find employment or you decide to quit your job,  please keep the unemployment rules in mind:

  • Students on post-completion OPT may not exceed 90 days of unemployment; 
  • The 90 days start counting from your approved OPT start date as listed on your EAD card, NOT the recommended start date nor the program end date on your Form I-20); 
  • The 90 days are cumulative; 
  • If you accumulate 90 days or more of unemployment, you are in violation of your F-1 status and are expected to leave the US, transfer to another school, or change your visa status before the 90th day. 
  • Approved vacation from a job does not count as "unemployment" if you are still considered as employed by your employer during that time. 
  • Employment that is part-time (less than 20 hours per week) will count towards the 90-day unemployment limit.

IMPORTANT: Failure to report employment could jeopardize your SEVIS record because the SEVIS system is set up to auto-terminate records that exceed unemployment limits. To avoid issues with this, please be sure to report employment information within 10 days of the start date of employment. The Update Employer Information section of the SEVP Portal Help Guide has instructions on how to properly report your employment through the SEVP Portal so that it is counted correctly.

If you currently have on-campus employment: 

Student are not authorized to continue any on-campus employment after their program completion date; if your on-campus job will become your OPT employment, please note that you may not continue working again until your OPT start date arrives. 

 

If you graduated with a STEM-elgible degree from Virginia Tech: 

If you have earned a degree at Virginia Tech in certain science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields AND your employer is E-verified, you are eligible to apply for a 24-month STEM OPT Extension.  

 

If you would like to take classes while on OPT:

Enrolling full-time, taking classes at a higher educational level, or starting a degree-seeking program of study while on OPT is not allowed. Current government guidance states that recreational and avocational study is permissable, but these terms are not officially defined. Since there is not official written guidance, we are not able to verify if specific courses or programs fall under the category of “recreational and avocational”. We caution students against beginning any kind of training outside of the work place without speaking with an immigration attorney first. 

 

If you would like to end your OPT and start a program at another school: 

Please request a transfer of your SEVIS record by submitting the Transfer Out e-form through the IntlHokies Portal

 

If you have been approved for H1B during OPT:

If there will be a gap between your OPT end date and the start of your H1B status (October 1st), please submit a Cap Gap Extension Request through the IntlHokies Portal.

 

If you change to any other status during OPT or decide to return home: 

Please notify your International Student Advisor so that we can update your SEVIS record accordingly. 

IMPORTANT UPDATES:

01/08/2021 - USCIS Receipt Notice Delays:

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an increase in filings, current postal service volume, and other external factors, USCIS is experiencing delays of up to 4-6 weeks when issuing receipt notices for some applications and petitions. This delay will not affect the receipt date of when your application was received by USCIS, only the date when you receive your receipt notice. You can review the complete update regarding receipt notice delays on the USCIS website.