Optional Practical Training (OPT)

 

 

 

 

 

 

OPT Informational Guide

 

What is OPT? 

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is defined by US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) as “temporary employment for practical training directly related to the F-1 student’s major area of study at their current educational level.” OPT can be authorized at the following times:  

  • 90 days prior to the semester of graduation or within 60 days after your graduation. OR 
  •  After completion of the course of studyOR 
  • After completion of all course requirements for the degree, excluding thesis or equivalent, if the student is in a Master’s, or Doctoral degree program. (The student will need to finish thesis/dissertation at least 90 days prior to OPT completion, to be eligible for STEM OPT) 

 

Basic Eligibility Requirements to apply for OPT: 

  • The student has been in valid F-1 status for a minimum of one academic year by the start of the requested practical training period.
  • OPT can be requested for a maximum of 12 months for each academic level completed.
  • Students must not have engaged in off-campus Curricular Practical Training (CPT) full-time (20 hours or more per week) for more than 12 months. 
  • If the student already had OPT at the same educational level.
  • If the student previously had an OPT at a higher educational level, then the student is not eligible for OPT at lower level. Example: If a student had OPT at masters level, the student is NOT eligible to apply for OPT at bachelors Level. However, the student will be eligible to apply for OPT at doctorate level. 

NMSU ISSS OPT Process:

  1. If you are interested in applying for OPT, please send an email to Matthew Lara at mglara@nmsu.edu 
  2. You will recive an email with inital applicaiton process instructions
  3. Gather your elecronic documents and email them back to us. (Always reply to all when responding to email from the ISSS Team
  4. ISSS Team reviews your documents and returns them to you for any corrections that need to be made
  5. After you have made the corrections, the ISSS Team will schedule an OPT Document Review via Zoom. We will go over your docuemtns and talk about applicaiotn process next steps. 
  6. ISSS will issue your OPT I-20 3 to 5 business days after the OPT Document Review  

Required Application Documents  

*****Your online application must be submitted within 30 days of the OPT I-20 issue date. 

  1. OPT Request FormThe OPT request form will have to be completed by your academic advisor. It is very important that this form includes the student's Academic Advisor's approval. OPT Request Forms submitted without the Academic Advisor approval will not be considered for processing and will delay the application process. This form is for the Office of International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) use only and is not uploaded to USCIS online application. Here is the link to the application https://isss.nmsu.edu/_files/isss-pdfs/opt-forms.pdf 
  2. Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization: Please check the USCIS website for the latest and most current I-765 Form: https://www.uscis.gov/i-765 .This is a “PDF fillable” form on the USCIS website. Download and fill out the PDF to the best of your ability. Save a copy and email it along with the other documents. Please be sure to use Adobe Acrobat to open and fill out the PDF. If you do not use Adobe Acrobat, the document will come to us blank and will delay our ability to review your documents. If you do not have the free version of Adobe Acrobat, please us this link to download it - https://www.adobe.com/acrobat/pdf-reader.html 
    • Application for Employment Authorization Item #27 (Page 3 of the application): Pre-Completion OPT = (c)(3) (A) Post-Completion OPT= (c) (3) (B) STEM Extension= (c)(3)(C)
  3. Electronic copy (PDF) of visa and passport identification page. Include a copy of your expired passport if your valid visa is in the expired passport.
  4. Electronic copy (PDF) of Form I-94 Departure Record and travel History. https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home 
  5. One electronic color passport-style photographs. Passport style photograph guidelines can be found at the Department of State – Please know that you do not need to send these photos to ISSS for document review, but you will need them for the online application form.  website: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/how-apply/photos.html  

  6. OPT I-20 (with OPT endorsement on Page 2). This will be issued after the above required documents are submitted to ISSS and we have gone over the documents in a Zoom Document ReviewThe new I-20 should be uploaded to the online applicaiton form. Do not submit your online application without the OPT I-20. If you do, your application will be denied and you will lose your application fee!  
  7. If applicable: Electronic copies (PDS) of all previous Employment Authorization Documents (EADs)previously used SEVIS receipt numbers, and any previously authorized CPT or OPT. 

 

Important Information: 

Your online application must be submitted within 30 days of the OPT I-20 issue date.  

You may submit the application as early as 90 days prior to the completion of studies or graduation date. The deadline for submission of your OPT application is within 60 days of your program completion date. After submitting your online application, you will receive an email notification to let you know that you applicaiton and documents have been received. You are encouraged to submit your application as early as possible to avoid delays.  

Employment can start only after the EAD has been received from USCIS and on or after the OPT start date on the EAD. Engaging in work prior to the start date on the EAD is a violation of status and will result in the termination of the student's SEVIS record and loss of OPT privileges. The student will have to leave the U.S. immediately. 

There are two methods of checking the status of your application, using the Notice of Action receipt number assigned to your application: 

The starting date of your Optional Practical Training will be: (1) the OPT date indicated on your I-20, or (2) the date the application is process by USCIS – whichever is later.  

OPT must be completed by the 14th month following your graduation. You cannot extend or renew OPT beyond the 12-month limit unless you qualify for a STEM or H-1B Cap-Gap extension. You do not need an offer of employment in order to apply for Optional Practical Training. Eligibility for an additional OPT authorization in the future is limited to F-1 students completing another academic program at a higher level. For example, you may be eligible for OPT following a bachelor’s degree and again following the completion of a master’s program. 

 

Next Steps After Submitting Your OPT Online Application: 

  1. Student should receive a Receipt Notice to the address indicated in the I-797 A Form 
  2. After your OPT is approved, you will receive an EAD card from USCIS. Please email isss@nmsu.edu a copy of your EAD card to obtain a new I-20 reflecting OPT “Approval status” on the 2nd page of your I-20. 
  3. You will receive an email from USCIS requiring you to create a Portal Account. Follow the instructions to create your account and password. Please update your employment details, U.S address, and email within 10 business days. 
  4. Email isss@nmsu.edu the following information to get an updated I-20 reflecting your current employer on 2nd page of your I-20: 
    • Explain how employment is related to student's course of study. 
    • Employer Name  
    • Employer EIN(highly recommended) 
    • Job Title 
    • Start Date and End Date, if applicable. 
    • Full-Time / Part-Time  
    • Supervisor’s Last Name, First name, Phone Number, and Email 

 

Employment while on OPT: 

*20 hours or more per week on OPT is considered full-time. Less than 20 hours is considered part-time on OPT. 

*Employment must be appropriate to the degree earned in college and in the area of study. 

 

Types of activity that constitute employment while on OPT.  

  • Regular paid employment in a position directly related to the student’s program of study and level. 
  • Students may work for multiple employers, as long as it is directly related to the student’s program of study. 
  • Payment by multiple short-term multiple employers. 
  • Work for hire (Contractual work) 
  • Self-employed business owner 
  • Employment through a recruiting agency 
  • Volunteers or unpaid interns 

 

Frequently Asked Questions: Post-Completion OPT

 

There are two methods of checking the status of your application, using the Notice of Action receipt number assigned to your application: The USCIS online case status service, https://egov.uscis.gov/casestatus for current processing dates and status of your case; or The USCIS National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283.

20 hours or more of work per week on OPT is considered full-time.

The start date of your OPT will be (1) the OPT date indicated on your I-20, or (2) the date the application is processed by USCIS - whichever is faster. OPT must be completed by the 14th month following your graduation. You cannot extend or renew OPT beyond the 12-month limit unless you qualify for a STEM or H-1B Cap-Gap extension.

You do not need an offer of employment in order to apply for Optional Practical Training.

The eligibility for an additional OPT authorization in the future is limited to F-1 students completing another academic program at a higher level. For example, you may be eligible for OPT following a bachelor’s degree and again following the completion of a master’s program.

The limit is 90 days for students on Post-Completion OPT including those with a Cap-Gap extension. An exception is that students with a STEM OPT extension are given an additional 30 days of unemployment time for a maximum of 120 days.

An F-1 student approved for Optional Practical Training following completion of studies continues to be in F-1 status. If you are traveling outside the U.S. with an unexpired EAD issued for Post-Completion OPT, you may return to the U.S. to resume employment following a temporary absence. Carry a letter from your employer explaining your employment, reason for travel and the time frame of your arrival back in the U.S.  


Contact isss@nmsu.edu for current information regarding travel during OPT. Re-entry into the U.S. while on OPT requires an I-20 which has been endorsed for travel within the preceding 6 months, an unexpired EAD, Employment Offer Letter, valid passport, and valid F-1 visa.

Contact ISSS to report any of the following:

  • Changes in current physical address (within 10 days of moving)
  • Current employer name(s) and address
  • Changes in status, including H-1B approval or departure from U.S.
  • Changes in preferred e-mail
This is a USCIS requirement and is mandatory to maintain your F-1 status during OPT. ISSS is responsible for updating the above information in SEVIS at the time of a change upon receipt of your notification. You are responsible for providing updated information regarding the bullet points above in a timely manner. Send updates to isss@nmsu.edu.

The USCIS service centers process OPT applications by the date received.  Depending on the number of pending applications received, the processing time can be from 3-5 months. Here is the link to check your case status after you receive the Receipt Notice. https://egov.uscis.gov/casestatus/landing.do.

No. In order to start working, you must have the card and you cannot work earlier than the start date on the EAD.