Optional Practical Training (OPT)

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is one type of work permission available for eligible F-1 students.  It allows students to get real-world work experience related to their field of study.  Code of Federal Regulations (CFR): 8 CFR 214.2 (f)(10)

What is OPT?

In this section, you will learn more about types of OPT, eligibility, application timelines, deadlines and fees. Click on the tabs to learn more.

Types of OPT

There are three types of OPT:

OPT


For students engaged in post-secondary schools or at conservatories. Twelve months of regular OPT is available for each higher level of study. For example, a student may have 12 months for a bachelor’s degree and another 12 months for a master’s degree.

STEM OPT Extension


For students who majored in designated Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) degrees approved by DHS.  This type of OPT is a 24-month extension of OPT.

Cap-Gap OPT Extension


For students whose prospective employers filed a qualifying H-1B-cap subject petition. Click here to learn more.

Eligibility

You can engage in OPT while you are still attending school (pre-completion OPT) and/or after you graduate (post-completion OPT). You do NOT need an employment offer to apply for OPT. You may apply for OPT if you meet the following requirements:

RequirementsPre-completion OPTPost-completion OPT
1. You are maintaining your F-1 status at the time you applyRequiredRequired
2. You have been a full-time student in degree status in the U.S. for at least one academic yearRequiredRequired
3. You hold an unexpired I-20 that reflects your current major field and degree levelRequiredRequired
4. You hold a valid passportRequiredRequired
5. You are physically present in the U.S. and have not departed the U.S. since completing your program of study RequiredRequired
6. You have not used one year or more of OPT or of full-time CPT at your current degree levelRequiredRequired
7. You are in the final semester of your academic programNot applicableRequired

If you have any questions about your eligibility, please meet with an OIPS advisor before you start the OPT application process.

Permitted Hours

While you attend school/Pre-completion OPT:

  • Fall or Spring semester: you may work up to 20 hours per week while you are taking a full course of study;
  • Annual (summer) vacation: You may work full-time;
  • If you are a doctoral student, have completed all coursework, and have advanced to candidacy, you may engage in full-time OPT.

After you graduate/Post-completion OPT:

  • You need to work at least 20 hours per week.

Application Timeline

Pre-Completion OPT Application Timeline

A student may file for OPT up to 90 days before he or she completes a full academic year. If the student has already completed a full academic year, he or she may apply for OPT up to 90 days in advance of the requested employment start date.

If you have any questions about pre-completion OPT, please meet with an OIPS advisor before you start the OPT application process.

Post-Completion OPT Application Timeline

USCIS has established a "window" for applications, which begins 90 days before and ends 60 days after you complete your program of study. You may apply any time during that window but please note that USCIS may need up to 90 days to process your application and create the OPT employment Authorization (EAD) card. If you submit your application during the latter part of the application window (yellow/orange/red bar), you may lose part of your one-year work authorization, because the last possible day of OPT work authorization is fourteen months after your program completion date (green bar). We highly encourage you to apply for OPT prior to your program completion date. Remember, you don't need a job offer to apply for OPT.

1. Application timeline for undergraduate and graduate non-thesis students:

UG Grad Non-thesis timeline

Completion dates 2019-2020

  • Spring 2019 completion date (final day of exam period): May 15, 2019
  • Summer completion date (final day of exam period): Varies by Summer Session, please check the Office of Registrar 3-year Calendars
  • Fall 2019 completion date (final day of exam period): December 18, 2019
  • Spring 2020 completion date (final day of exam period): May 13, 2020

Please note that the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will NOT accept applications received 60 days or more beyond the program completion date.

2. Application timeline for graduate students who have only a thesis or dissertation remaining:

OPT-timeline-for-thesis_03

Graduate students who have only a thesis or dissertation remaining should talk with an OIPS advisor to determine their completion date.

Deadlines

 Program Completion (PC) dateEarliest date you can pick up an OPT packet in OIPS*Earliest date OIPS will accept I-20 OPT requestsLatest date OIPS will accept I-20 OPT requestsEarliest date USCIS will accept OPT applications (90 days before PC date)Latest date USCIS will accept OPT applications (60 days after PC date - or earlier if end of 60 days falls on a weekend)Earliest date you can request to start work (PC date + one day)Latest date you can request to start work (PC date + 60 days)
Summer 2020 Graduates1: 8/8/2020
A: 6/20/2020
B: 7/25/2020
C: 7/25/2020
D: 7/25/2020
E: 7/14/2020
Two weeks before the earliest date OIPS will accept I-20 OPT requests
1: 4/24/2020
A: 3/6/2020
B: 4/10/2020
C: 4/10/2020
D: 4/10/2020
E: 4/1/2020
1: 9/23/2020
A: 8/5/2020
B: 9/9/2020
C: 9/9/2020
D: 9/9/2020
E: 8/31/2020
1: 5/10/2020
A: 3/22/2020
B: 4/26/2020
C: 4/26/2020
D: 4/26/2020
E: 4/15/2020
1: 10/7/2020
A: 8/19/2020
B: 9/23/2020
C: 9/23/2020
D: 9/23/2020
E:9/12/2020
1: 8/9/2020
A: 6/21/2020
B: 7/26/2020
C: 7/26/2020
D: 7/26/2020
E:7/15/2020
1: 10/7/2020
A: 8/19/2020
B: 9/23/2020
C:9/23/2020
D: 9/23/2020
E: 9/12/2020
Fall 2020 Graduates12/16/20Two weeks before the earliest date OIPS will accept I-20 OPT requests9/3/201/29/209/17/202/14/2112/17/202/14/21
Spring 2021 Graduates05/21/2021Two weeks before the earliest date OIPS will accept I-20 OPT requests1/28/20216/25/20212/11/20217/11/202105/13/20217/11/2021

*F-1 students are required to complete the online OPT workshop + quiz BEFORE they can pick up an OPT packet in OIPS.

Process

The OPT application process can take up to four months.  OIPS recommends that you start the OPT application process early to make sure you do not miss any important deadlines. The image below depicts the key OPT application steps and processing times.  Please take a moment to review the steps and processing times/comments.

Fees

The current fee is $410.  For more information: Department of Homeland Security

USCIS has announced an upcoming fee increase, effective 10/02/2020.  The application fee for OPT and STEM OPT applications will increase to $550.  Any applications that are postmarked on or after 10/02/2020 must include payment of the increased amount ($550).  Any applications that do not include the proper fee will the rejected and returned.

Send your application to USCIS (postmarked 10/01/2020 or before) in order to pay the lower fee of $410.

Online OPT Workshop

F-1 students must complete the online OPT workshop BEFORE they can request an OPT I-20 from OIPS

  1. complete the OPT workshop access form
  2. go to http://mymason.gmu.edu (Blackboard)
  3. click on the link "Courses" in the top menu
  4. click on "International Student Launchpad"
  5. click on the link "OPT Workshop (Spring 2020)"

Note: After you have completed the OPT workshop access form, you will receive an email with log-in instructions within 1-3 days.

Submission of Application to USCIS

The student is responsible for submission of their OPT application to USCIS in a complete and timely manner.  While OIPS advisors will work with the student to give them the information to do this, the student is ultimately responsible for their OPT application to USCIS.  Students who have an OPT I-20 that is approaching the 30-day point, and has not been submitted with the application to USCIS, must make an appointment with a DSO immediately to discuss issues with the delayed application.  The DSO recommendation in SEVIS is only good for 30 days, so a new recommendation in SEVIS may need to be done by a DSO, if the student is within 60 days of program completion date.

COVID-19 Update

To increase safety for students and staff during COVID-19, we have implemented new procedures:

  • OIPS pick-up and drop-off services are not available. We will continue to give and receive documents by other methods. See the OPT section on our Self Service Center for changes to Step 1 and Step 2.
  • We cannot accept delivery of your EAD card from USCIS. Do NOT use the OIPS address as the mailing address on your OPT application. Consider setting up a P.O. Box at USPS: https://www.usps.com/manage/po-boxes.htm

Important USCIS Updates

Review these USCIS updates to ensure you provide the correct documents in your OPT application.

ALERT

On September 29, 2020 a nationwide preliminary injunction and stay on implementation of the 2020 final USCIS fee rule in its entirety.  New fees and form versions associated with that rule that were to be required on October 2, 2020, as well as all other aspects of the rule, are now on hold.  USCIS is expected to issue an update concerning this.  OIPS will do our best to keep you updated on the situation.  Please be sure you get an OPT packet review before mailing your application to talk to an advisor about what form and fees you should use.

For more information, visit the USCIS website: https://www.uscis.gov/i-765

Updated I-765

On June 26, 2020, USCIS announced a final rule modifying DHS’s regulations governing asylum applications, interviews and eligibility for employment authorization based on a pending asylum application. The final rule will be effective Aug. 25, 2020.

USCIS will not accept Applications for Employment Authorization postmarked on or after Aug. 25, 2020, if you do not file them with the updated edition of Form I-765 and I-765WS and the correct fees.150

What to Know About Sending USCIS Your Form:

  • The current edition of Forms I-765 and I-765WS, dated 12/26/19:
    • If it is postmarked before Aug. 25, 2020, USCIS will continue to accept the 12/26/19 edition.
    • If it is postmarked on or after Aug. 25, 2020, USCIS will not accept the 12/26/19 edition.
  • The updated edition of Forms I-765 and I-765WS, dated 08/25/20:
    • If it is postmarked on or after Aug. 25, 2020, USCIS will accept the 08/25/20 edition.
    • If it is postmarked before Aug. 25, 2020, USCIS will not accept the 08/25/20 edition.

When applying for your OPT work authorization please download the I-765 directly from the USCIS’s website:  https://www.uscis.gov/i-765

Fee Increase

USCIS has announced an upcoming fee increase, effective 10/02/2020.  The application fee for OPT and STEM OPT applications will increase to $550.  Any applications that are postmarked on or after 10/02/2020 must include payment of the increased amount ($550).  Any applications that do not include the proper fee will the rejected and returned.

Send your application to USCIS (postmarked 10/01/2020 or before) in order to pay the lower fee of $410.

Constructing the OPT Application

How to Construct the OPT Application Packet & Complete the I-765 Application Form

International Advisors and Immigration Specialists review how to construct your OPT application packet and complete the I-765 application form. Learn helpful tips about the application process and what to expect after you have mailed your application to USCIS. Watch these videos after you have received / applied for your OPT I-20 and are building your OPT application packet.

 

Documents To Include

Include the following documents in your OPT application to USCIS in the following order:

  1. G-1145 e-Notification (optional)
  2. Credit Card Form (G-1450), check, or money order made payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (see information on fee above)
  3. Two color passport-style photographs with name, SEVIS ID, and date of birth printed on back
  4. I-765
  5. Copy of OPT I-20
  6. Copies of other previously issued I-20s (most recent I-20 first)
  7. Copy of passport (your passport must be valid)
  8. Copy of F-1 Visa or F-1 Change of Status Approval Notice
  9. Copy of I-94 card
  10. Copy of previously issued EAD card (if applicable)

Other Employment Options

F-1 students may also be eligible for on-campus employment, CPT and STEM OPT.