Optional Practical Training (OPT) Frequently Asked Questions

What is Optional Practical Training (OPT)?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is the opportunity for an F-1 student to apply knowledge gained in the classroom to a practical work experience.  OPT is a work permit allowing F-1 students to work in the U.S. for up to 12 months following graduation in a job related to their major.

Who can apply for OPT?
F-1 students can apply for OPT if they have:

  • been in full-time F-1 student status for at least one full academic year
  • maintained valid F-1 status, and
  • intend to work in a position directly related to their major field of study.

Do I need to have a job offer to apply for OPT?
A job offer is not required to apply for OPT.

If I am a double major can I work a job in either field?
Yes, only one major will show on your I-20, but you can be employed in either field.

How long can I be on OPT?
Standard OPT is available for a cumulative maximum of 12 months per educational level.

Can I apply for an additional 12 months of OPT after a second bachelor’s degree?
Not if you use 12 months of OPT after your first bachelor’s degree.

Can I get an extension of my OPT?
A one-time extension of 24 additional months  is available to certain STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics) degree recipients.

What is an OPT STEM extension?
A STEM extension is a 24-month extension of your OPT for STEM majors only (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics).  You must apply for the extension before the end date of your OPT (but no more than 90 days before).  Your employer must sign off on your training plan and prove that they participate in the U.S. government’s E-Verify program, an internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States. More information about STEM extension may be found here.

If I apply for OPT after my master’s degree, can I work a job related to my bachelor’s degree?
No (unless both degrees are in the same field).  Any employment must relate to your most recent field of study.

When should I apply for OPT?
You may apply for OPT no earlier than 90 days prior to completing your degree requirements and no later than 60 days after completing your degree requirements.

How long does it take the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to process the OPT application?
The average processing time is 90-120 days.

What dates should I request for the start and end dates of my OPT?
You may request your OPT to begin as early as the day after completing your degree requirements and as late as 60 days after completing your degree requirements.

Can I change the dates of my OPT after I submit my application?
Maybe, if you have a written job offer that requires you to start employment earlier than you requested on your application, you can make a change of dates request to the USCIS through the Center for International Students.  We cannot, however, guarantee that the USCIS will approve the request.

How will I know if the OPT application has been received?
Within 30 days of receiving the application, you should receive a receipt (Form I-797).

How can I track my OPT application?
Each receipt has a file number.  Using the file number, you can track the Case Status at http://www.uscis.gov.

Can I begin working before my OPT is approved?
No, it is not legal to begin working until your OPT is approved.

Can I change jobs while on OPT?
Yes, but you must report the start and end date and employer information for each job to the Center for International Students so that the information can be updated in SEVIS.  All jobs must relate to your major.

Can I have more than one job at a time while on OPT?
Yes, but all jobs must relate to your major.

Can I be unemployed on OPT?
You may be unemployed for no more than 90 days while on OPT.

Can I volunteer while on OPT?
Volunteering for a local charity, like a soup kitchen, is permitted on OPT. However, in order to count your volunteer work as OPT employment, it must be related to your field of study and work that is inherently volunteer in nature, not work for which you would normally be paid.

Do I need to report my OPT employment to anyone?
Yes, you must report all employment and any changes to employment to the Center for International Students within 10 days.  The Center for International Students staff will update SEVIS.

How do I report my employment information?
You can access the OPT Update Form by logging into Truview, going to your Student Tab, clicking on the Registration Tab, and selecting the F-1 Student Forms link.

Should I keep records of my employment?  Yes, you should keep careful records of all employment including volunteer work.

What if I have applied for OPT but I don’t complete the requirements for my degree (i.e. fail a class)?
If the OPT application has not been adjudicated, you can withdraw the application. Your fee is not refundable. If you are only missing your thesis/capstone, you may still be eligible for OPT authorization. Contact the Center for International Students for further information.

What if I my OPT has been approved but I don’t complete the requirements for my degree (i.e. fail a class)?
Students who have applied for OPT, but for some reason fail a class or discover they still have a class to take can work part-time on OPT while re-taking the class followed by full-time OPT.  The student in this situation can work full-time during breaks and holidays while finishing requirements.

Is there another name for the OPT card?
Yes, the OPT card is called an Employment Authorization Document or EAD.

Can I travel outside the United States while my OPT application is pending?
F-1 students who have filed an application for OPT may travel outside the United States while the OPT application is pending. Upon reentry, the student needs to provide the OPT application receipt issued by the USCIS to the immigration officer at the U.S. airport.

Can I travel outside the United States after my OPT is approved?
An F-1 student with an EAD card and proof of employment (a letter from your employer verifying that you have a job) can travel outside the U.S. However, if you have an EAD card but no job offer you should not travel. Without a letter from your employer identifying you as having a job, you will not be able to re-enter the U.S.

Can I get a new visa to reenter the U.S. while my OPT is pending or after it is approved?
We do not recommend travel outside of the U.S. while OPT is pending. If you have an EAD card and an employment letter, then you are eligible to apply for a new visa if you travel overseas.

Can I take classes while on OPT?
Yes, as long as you are not considered a full-time student or pursuing a degree.

Can I get health insurance through the Center for International Students while I’m on OPT?
Yes, you may purchase health insurance through the Center for International Students in 6-month increments within 30 days of the beginning of each semester.

If I am admitted to graduate school while on OPT, when should I have my SEVIS form transferred from Truman to the graduate school?
The day after your last date of employment.  Transferring your SEVIS record cancels OPT so wait until you are done working.

Can I travel abroad after I apply for OPT? See the following:

If you have not graduated, you may travel outside and re-enter the U.S. because you are still a student. In order to re-enter the U.S., you will need:

  • A valid passport
  • A valid F-1 Visa
  • I-20 signed for travel within six months
  • Letter from your department stating that you have not yet graduated

If you have graduated and your OPT is pending, you may travel outside the U.S. and re-enter the U.S. in order to resume searching for a job. However, this risky and we do not recommend it. The officer at the Port of Entry makes the determination regarding whether you are allowed to reenter, and the wording in the regulations states that you may return to the US to resume employment. If the officer determines that seeking employment is not the same as resuming, you may not be permitted entry. In order to try re-enter the U.S., you will need:

  • A valid passport
  • A valid F-1 Visa
  • I-20 signed for travel within six months
  • I-797 receipt notice (OPT receipt)

If you have graduated and your OPT has been approved, you may travel outside the U.S. only if you have a job offer or are returning to a job. In order to re-enter the U.S., you will need:

  • A valid passport
  • A valid F-1 Visa
  • I-20 signed for travel within six months
  • An Employment Authorization Document (EAD card)
  • Letter from your employer stating that you have not yet graduated.

How do I apply for Optional Practical Training?

  • Pick up an OPT application packet in the Center for International Students
  • Submit the completed application and all supporting documents to the Center for International Students
  • The Center for International Students will review the application, create a new I-20 and email you when it is ready to sign and mail.
  • The completed application must be received by the USCIS within 30 days of the date the new I-20 was issued.

What forms do I need to apply for practical training?
This OPT packet includes application instructions.

Which address should I use on OPT application (Form I-765)?
Because USCIS will not allow an EAD to be forwarded we suggest that you use the Center for International Students address (Center for International Students, Baldwin Hall 104, 100 East Normal, Kirksville, MO 63501) on your OPT application.  We will scan and email the receipt to you and we will notify you by email or phone you when we receive the EAD.

What about the OPT application fee?
The application fee for OPT is $410.00.  This must be paid by check or money order made payable to the Department of Homeland Security.