Optional Practical Training (OPT) Important Information
Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) is temporary work authorization following completion of your degree and is designed to give F-1 students an opportunity to apply their knowledge gained through their educational experience.
OPT is not automatic – you must apply for it no more than 90 days prior to graduation and you are responsible for reporting your anticipated graduation to the OGE office and scheduling an appointment with the International Student Advisor for OPT processing and attend an OPT workshop held prior to graduation.
Each semester, an OPT workshop is held prior to graduation with ample time to apply for your work permit card. Since immigration regulations may change, it is highly recommended that graduating international students attend one of these workshops to be sure they are knowledgeable about current rules and guidelines for the OPT experience and file the petition for the work permit effectively.
Authorization for optional practical training is granted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). Your I-20 will be adjusted to request authorization to work after graduation by the OGE at the time of filing the request for OPT.
You are authorized to work only upon approval and upon receipt and delivery of your work permit card / Employment Authorization Document (EAD) by the USCIS.
Items needed in preparation for the OPT application:
- I-765 form – Make sure the form is downloaded directly from the website to ensure completion of the most current form. Students fill out the form with help from the International Student Advisor at the time of their application.
- G-1145 form - for electronic notice of application acceptance
- A check or money order, payable to the "Department of Homeland Security". Or complete the G-1450 form for credit card payment (must be U.S. credit card). The current fee is $410.00 - always check the I-765 Form site for the most updated fee.
- Two, identical full-face, passport-style color photos, 2” x 2.” Must be on white or off-white background, taken within the past 30 days.
- A copy of your I-94 (travel history/record).
- 1 copy of your current I-20 and 1 copy of all previous I-20s from any institutions.
- Copy of your passport photo & signature page
- Copy of your F-1 student visa – photo page & port-of-entry stamped pages.
U.S. immigration regulations require the following in order to be eligible to apply for work authorization:
- Must be in full-time student status for at least one full academic year prior to the submission of the OPT application
- Must have maintained valid F-1 status at the time of the application, and
- Must intend to work in a position directly related to your major field of study.
In addition, students applying for OPT must also concurrently satisfy the following:
- Must have no financial encumbrances on your student account at the time of the OPT application
- Must be in good academic standing and approved for graduation; thus, you must bring verification of a letter from your Academic Advisor that you are cleared for graduation to the OGE.
OPT Reporting Requirements and Reminders
- Students must report the following information to their DSO/International Student Advisor within 10 days of the change (preferably before the change occurs):
- Physical address and mailing address
- Email address and phone number
- Employer information (changes in job or position, company name and address, supervisor name, phone, and email, hours per week, description of how employment directly relates to program of study).
- Students must work above 20 hours per week total (considered "full-time" in SEVIS). If a student falls below this, they would start accruing unemployment days.
- Students receive 90 days of unemployment total for the OPT year. SEVIS automatically counts the unemployment days for any time there is no current employment information in a student's SEVIS record, or if the student is working 20 hours or less per week (part-time).
- The unemployment count begins on the OPT start date on a student's EAD card and in their SEVIS record if there is no employment information added on the start date.
Distinction Between Employment and Volunteering
What is the difference between an employee an a volunteer? A common misconception is that the only difference is employees get paid and volunteers do not.
However, work that is unpaid may still be considered employment for F-1 and J-1 visa holders and may require employment authorization.
What is an employee? In the context of immigration regulations, it is as follows: "An individual who provides services or labor for an employer for wages or other remuneration". Note that "remuneration" is a broad term and includes a variety of non-monetary benefits, such as free housing, food, gifts, etc.
What is a volunteer? According to the Department of Labor, it is: an "individual who performs hours of service...for civic, charitable, or humanitarian reasons, without promise, expectation, or receipt of compensation for services rendered". A volunteer cannot displace a genuine employee, and the services provided by the volunteer should not be the same services for which they were previously paid and/or expects to be hired and paid for in the future.