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Optional Practical Training (OPT)

OPT allows F-1 students to gain off-campus work experience in their field of study prior to or after graduation. Most F-1 students who have been in F-1 student status for at least 9 months or 2 semesters are eligible for up to 12 months of OPT per degree level (F-1 students are entitled to only 12 months for each degree level). While on OPT, an F-1 student visa holder must stay in contact with the Office of International Student Services (OISS) to maintain status.

Authorization for Optional Practical Training is granted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Applications for OPT may be submitted up to 3 months prior to completion of your studies at IU South Bend and up to 2 months following your program completion date. As the authorization from USCIS may take 3 or more months, it is important to allow enough time to receive the EAD (Employment Authorization Document) card before your work start date.

While you may use Optional Practical Training part time during the fall or spring semesters and full time during semester breaks, most students use their OPT full time after graduation. You are limited to a TOTAL of 12 months of OPT. For example:

  • No off-campus OPT during period of study.  Eligible for 12 months full time OPT after graduation
  • Full-time OPT authorized after first, second and third years of school during the summer for 3 months each year.  After graduation, only 3 months of full time OPT available.
  • Part-time OPT authorized summer before last year of school.  3 months worked.  After graduation 10 and half months of OPT available.

To apply for OPT please make an appointment to see the Assistant Director and pick up the forms from the OISS. You may download the required form I-765. Recent updates and key points to remember while on OPT here.

What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is authorization for temporary employment with any U.S. employer that is directly related to an F-1 student’s major area of study. An F-1 student can be authorized to receive up to a total of 12 months of practical training either before (pre-) and/or after (post-) completion of studies. Additionally, some F-1 students may qualify for an H-1B “Cap-Gap” Extension and those granted a degree in the so-called the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) may be able to apply for a 17-month extension of the initial 12-month allotment.

Pre-completion OPT:
An F-1 student may be authorized to participate in pre-completion OPT after he/she has been enrolled for at least two full academic terms. The pre-completion OPT must be directly related to the student’s major area of study (i.e. a summer internship in his/her field). Students authorized to participate in pre-completion OPT must work part-time while school is in session. They may work full-time on breaks.

Post-completion OPT:
An F-1 student may be authorized to participate in post-completion OPT upon completion of studies. The post-completion OPT employment must be directly related to the student’s major area of study.

What is the application process to participate in pre- or post-completion OPT?

Students must initiate the process by attending one of the OPT information sessions held by the OISS throughout the semester. At the session, they will receive an application packet with detailed instructions. When a student has completed the steps required in the packet, a Designated School Official (DSO) in the OISS must recommend the student for OPT by endorsing the student’s Form I-20 and by making appropriate notations in SEVIS. Students then file Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization Document, or EAD), with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If approved, the USCIS will issue an EAD to the student. The student may begin engaging in pre- or post-completion OPT only after an application has been approved and an EAD has been issued.

Who is eligible to apply?

  • A student who has been enrolled full-time at his/her current level for at least two academic terms.
  • For post-completion OPT, a student who plans to complete all the necessary requirements of his/her program (i.e. planning to graduate) BEFORE his/her requested start date for the OPT period.

Who decides if my OPT position is right for me?

It is entirely up to the student and the employer to decide if the position is right before employment commences. If a student or employer has any questions about whether or not their position can be considered “related” to a specific field of study, please feel free to contact the Office of International Student Services. Please note, however, that a student does not need to have a specific job offer in-hand in order to apply for OPT.

Can I start my OPT period before I complete my courses?

If a student is requesting full-time, post-completion OPT, the answer is no.
A student who still has coursework remaining to complete his/her educational objective or degree program is limited to part-time or up to 20 hours/week of pre-completion OPT employment while school is in session. (If this situation applies to you, please discuss your plans with the International Student Office. There may be a better option for you, than using up your 12-month OPT allotment on a part-time basis before officially graduating).

If a student has completed all of his/her program requirements except for a thesis, dissertation, or final research project, he/she may apply for full-time post-completion OPT. The student must make normal progress toward completing his/her thesis, dissertation, or final research project during the OPT period. Remember: if your OPT period ends and your thesis/project is not approved, you risk having to leave the U.S. without the degree/certificate you have worked so hard for!

CAUTION: An H-1B application requires a completed degree. Therefore, if a student plans on filing an H-1B application during his/her OPT period, he/she MUST have completed the final thesis/project and be approved for his/her degree.

How long does OPT last?

The total “working” period of OPT employment for most students cannot exceed twelve (12) months at each degree level. Any pre-completion OPT used before graduation will be deducted from any post-completion allotment. A student has up to fourteen (14) months after graduation to complete the 12-month “working” period. The reason for the 2-month allowable buffer in between graduation and an OPT start date is to allow for EAD cards that arrive after the OPT period begins. Some F-1 students in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) may be able to apply for a 17-month extension to the initial post-completion allotment. This requires a second application to the USCIS after an official job offer with an E-Verify employer has been obtained.

notallowed to work after the expiration date on their EAD card, unless they have applied for an extension. Students who are the beneficiary of an approved H1-B petition should consult with the ISO about a “Cap-Gap” extension.

When do I apply?

  • For pre-completion, it is recommended that you apply 90 days prior to the proposed start date.
  • For post-completion, the student may apply 90 days before the program end date and up to 60 days after the program end date. It has been taking 3 months for the USCIS to process and approve OPT applications. Often they are requesting additional material, which delays the receipt of an EAD card. Therefore, it is suggested that you apply as EARLY as possible.

If the DSO says I am eligible to apply for OPT, who decides if I can get an EAD card?

The USCIS Service Center will adjudicate an OPT application (Form I-765 with supporting documentation) and issue an EAD card on the basis of the DSO’s recommendation, unless the student is found otherwise ineligible. The Service Center will notify the applicant of the decision and, if the application is denied, of the reason or reasons for the denial. The applicant may not appeal the decision.

Can I apply for half of my 12-month OPT allotment now, then get another degree at the same level and take the other 6 months later?

No. OPT cannot be divided among degrees—it’s all or nothing. If a student enrolls full-time in a new academic program during post-completion OPT, he/she effectively cancels any current OPT employment authorization and loses any time remaining. On the other hand, if a student moves up to another degree-level (i.e. from Bachelor’s to Master’s or Master’s to Doctorate), he/she will be eligible for another 12-month allotment at the higher degree level.

I want to cancel my post-completion OPT application and stay another term, is that OK? Can I apply again?

If a student has not yet mailed in his/her OPT application packet to the USCIS, he/she should see a DSO in the International Student Office to discuss his/her plans for staying another semester. The DSO can go into SEVIS and cancel an OPT request that has not been mailed, and then extend a student’s program of study if necessary. There will most likely not be any negative repercussions on a later OPT application, as long as the student is eligible for a SEVIS program extension.

If a student has already mailed in his/her OPT application packet, the OISS  can contact the USCIS Service Center and ask to withdraw the application. If the application has not been adjudicated, the USCIS may cancel the application. This cancellation prior to adjudication should not affect a later OPT application; however, please note that the $380 application fee must be paid again for a later application.

For OPT applications that have already been approved by the USCIS Service Center, a student cannot withdraw or cancel his/her OPT. A student does not have to use the approved OPT period, but he/she cannot apply again for the same degree-level after having an application approved.

Always speak with a DSO about the specific details of your application BEFORE applying.

Can I start working right after I graduate?

Per regulations, an F-1 student seeking OPT may not accept employment until he/she has been issued an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card by the USCIS. Confirmation of an EAD issuance can be documented by an I-797 Approval Notice. Online status indicators are not sufficient grounds for commencing employment because the Web site can be wrong at times! In cases when the EAD is issued before the requested OPT start date, a student may not commence employment until the start date listed on his/her EAD card.

What if I requested my OPT to start May 21st, it’s now May 25th, and my EAD card will arrive any day?

We recommend that you do not begin to work until the EAD card is actually in your hand.

What happens if my EAD is taking a long time to arrive?

You must allow 90 days for processing, no matter what time of year it may be or how late you have applied. The OISS may contact the USCIS only after 90 days from the issuance of a Receipt Notice regarding the delayed processing of an EAD application. If this is your situation, please speak to a DSO in the OISS at your earliest convenience.

Once I’m in my post-completion OPT period, am I still a student of Indiana University South Bend?

No…and yes. For academic and student services, you are no longer considered a student after graduation, and you will not have the same benefits of a tuition-paying student enrolled full-time. You will be considered an official alumnus of Indiana University South Bend. Congratulations! However, for U.S. immigration purposes, post-completion OPT is an extension of your F-1 student, nonimmigrant visa status; and thus, you are a student in the eyes of the U.S. government. Therefore, you must comply with many of the same F-1 regulations you followed during your studies. Section 14.2(f)(10)(ii)(E) of the regulations states that a DSO who recommends a student for OPT remains responsible for maintaining the student’s records in SEVIS during the time that training is authorized. During the OPT period, a student must notify the DSO of his/her name or address changes, of the name and address of his/her employer, or if the student wishes to discontinue training.

In addition, a student engaged in OPT must have a Form I-20 endorsed within the last 6 months by the DSO for reentry into the U.S. The DSO and student must continue to communicate in order to ensure that the student does not take any action that would adversely affect his/her non-immigrant status.

Only with proper communication can a DSO ensure that a student is maintaining lawful status. DO NOT jeopardize your visa status by failing to communicate any necessary changes with the International Student Office. The OISS will help you in any way they can, but you are ultimately responsible for maintaining your own status.

Can I move while my OPT application is being adjudicated?

The USCIS Service Center will not forward mail if it is delivered to the wrong address. The EAD card may end up being returned to the Service Center and it can take up to an additional 3-4 months to obtain a replacement EAD card.

The OISS recommends that all students use the mailing address for IUSB’s Office of International Student Services when applying for the 12-month OPT authorization. This should prevent most problems with lost/missing mail.

Can I leave the country while my OPT is pending?

Before graduation, yes. A student may leave the U.S. for a short trip as long as he/she has coursework to complete, warranting a return to the U.S. However, be careful! If a student does not have coursework to return to, then his/her program of study is considered complete, and there will be no reason for the border officials to allow him/her to re-enter the U.S. as an F-1 student.

Please note that a student with a pending OPT application may receive communication from the USCIS requesting additional information in order to approve the application. These requests usually have a deadline for response, and if a student is outside of the country, he/she may miss the required deadline for response and have his/her OPT application denied (which he/she cannot appeal).

After graduation, not recommended. The OISS does not encourage leaving the U.S. until a student has received his/her EAD card and secured an employment letter from his/her new employer. According to regulations, an F-1 student seeking to re-enter the country after the program end date may be admitted only to resume employment under the appropriate authorization.

Some students have applied for post-completion OPT, however, and having received a USCIS notice of receipt, have successfully re-entered the U.S. after traveling abroad for a brief period. So long as all other immigration documents are in good order, and they have a copy of the I-797 Receipt Notice to document that the OPT authorization is still pending, F-1 students have been allowed to re-enter the U.S. after the program end date. If you are considering this travel option, please contact the OISS immediately.

Traveling after graduation but before you have an EAD card is risky.

Can I leave after my post-completion OPT is approved?

Yes, but… if you have departed the country for a long period of time, and cannot document that you are seeking re-entry to take up a job before the 90 limit on unemployment or to resume employment, you may be denied entry.

On the other hand, if you do have a job or job offer, you may travel outside the country while on OPT. We recommend that you present to border officials upon your return: an employment letter, a signed I-20 within the last 6 months (required), a valid visa stamp in your valid (for at least six months from the time of re-entry) passport (required), and your EAD card.

I hate my job and want to take a position at another company, can I do that on OPT?

A student may work for more than one employer or change employers during a period of authorized OPT provided that each position is directly related to his/her field of study. A student should keep in mind, however, that any periods of prolonged unemployment may jeopardize his/her F-1 status. Students are not allowed to accrue over 90 days of unemployment while authorized to work under OPT.

I can’t find a job. What should I do?

The job search process is a daunting and difficult task. The OISS advises that you begin the process at least a year to 3 months before graduation and that you contact the IUSB Career Services office to gain assistance and advice on your job hunt. If after graduation you are still having trouble finding a job, be sure to document all of your efforts in searching for a job. Copy your resumes, mailings, emails, online applications, letters of rejection, etc. and keep them safe in a folder. You are required to maintain employment during OPT or you will be considered out-of-status for your F-1 student visa. Documenting your failed job search may help you support your case if questioned by an immigration official.

You may not accrue 90 days of total unemployment while on OPT. If you have a 17-month extension, you are not allowed to accrue more than a total of 120 days of unemployment throughout the entire period, including the initial and extended time.

Can I work for more than one employer?

Yes, as long as the positions are in your field of study.

What happens if my application is denied?

There is no formal appeal for a denial, but the student may file a motion to re-open or reconsider the decision if such a motion has merit. A student should contact the OISS as soon as possible if his/her application is denied.

I have a STEM degree. When can I apply for a 17-month extension?

A student with a STEM degree may apply for a 17-month extension no earlier than 4 months before his/her current OPT period expires and no later than the expiration date. However, regulations state that the case must be filed in a “timely manner” (i.e. about 90 days before expiration). The student must file Form I-765 with the USCIS, a new Form I-20 endorsed by the DSO, a copy of the STEM degree, and the required application fee ($380). If his/her post-completion OPT expires while the 17-month extension application is pending, a student who timely filed a STEM extension application with the USCIS will receive an automatic extension of employment authorization after his/her current employment authorization expires, but for no more than 180 days.Click here to get the complete process for filing a STEM extension.

What are the eligibility requirements for the 17-month extension of post-completion OPT?

  • The student must have a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctorate degree included on the STEM Designated Degree Program List.
  • The student must currently be in an approved post-completion OPT period based on a designated
  • STEM degree and not have accrued more than 90 days of unemployment.
  • The student’s employer must be enrolled in E-Verify.
  • The student must apply on time (i.e. before the current post-completion OPT expires).

What is the E-Verify program?

The E-Verify program is an Internet-based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in partnership with the Social Security Administration (SSA). The E-Verify program determines employment eligibility of new hires and the validity of their Social Security Numbers. The system electronically compares information contained on the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 with records contained in SSA and DHS databases to help employers verify identity and employment eligibility of newly-hired employees.

I do not have a STEM degree. What can I do to extend OPT?

Currently only students with STEM degrees are eligible for a 17-month extension to OPT. However, any F-1 student whose employer files an H-1B petition on his/her behalf may be able to extend his/her OPT period. If a cap-subject H-1B petition on his/her behalf is accepted by the USCIS in the April lottery, the OPT period and F-1 status is automatically extended while the case is pending. If the petition is denied, OPT ends immediately or when the current EAD expires, whichever is later. If the petition is approved, his/her OPT and F-1 status are automatically extended until September 30th, the day before H-1B status will start.

What’s a Cap-Gap Extension?

The H-1B “cap-gap” no longer exists. Because we now have the cap-gap extension.  Any F-1 student whose employer files an H-1B petition on his/her behalf in a timely fashion while the student is still in valid status (including the grace period days) may be able to extend status and/or employment authorization under the cap. If a cap-subject H- 1B petition on a student’s behalf is accepted (receipted) by the USCIS in the April lottery while the student has an unexpired EAD, the student’s OPT period and F-1 status are automatically extended while the case is pending. If the petition is subsequently denied, the student’s OPT ends immediately or when the current EAD expires, whichever is later. If the petition is approved, the student’s OPT and F-1 status are automatically extended until September 30th. If the student has an expired EAD and is in the grace period at the time of the H1-B filing, the student will retain status but not employment authorization.