Optional Practical Training (OPT)

 

Spring 2021 OPT Information Session

Watch the recorded webinar from March 17, 2021 below. Please note that the information, dates, and deadlines are applicable to the Spring 2021 semester only.

 

 

View Spring 2021 OPT PowerPoint Presentation

 

 

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. 

 

Required Application Documents (#2 - #9 will be included in OPT application packet mailed to USCIS) 

*****Your application must be mailed 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 mailed to USCIS. Here is the link to the application https://isss.nmsu.edu/_files/isss-pdfs/opt-forms.pdf 
  2. Form G-1145, E-Notification of Application/Petition Acceptancehttps://www.uscis.gov/g-1145 
  3. 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 print a copy to mail with your OPT packet. Do not forget to sign and date on page 5 of Form I-765 with a black pen ONLY.
    • 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)
  4. Photocopy of visa and passport identification page. Include a copy of your expired passport if your valid visa is in the expired passport.
  5. Photocopy of Form I-94 Departure Record and travel History. https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home 
  6. Two color passport-style photographsPassport-style photograph guidelines can be found at the Department of Statwebsite: http://travel.state.gov/passport/pptphotoreg/pptphotoreq_5333.html
    • Write your name and I-94 number on the back of each photo with a pencil.
  7. $410 application feeCheck or money order payable to "U.S. Department of Homeland Security". Do not abbreviate to DHS. Please DO NOT send cash.
  8. OPT I-20 (with OPT endorsement on Page 2). This will be issued after the above required documents are submitted to ISSSThe new I-20 should be included in your OPT application packet when mailed to the USCIS Service Center.  
  9. If applicable: photocopies of all previous Employment Authorization Documents (EADs)previously used SEVIS receipt numbers, and any previously authorized CPT or OPT. 

 

Where to mail your OPT Packet? 

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

Due to COVID-19 and some delays caused by mailing services, there have been changes in mailing address: Please check the latest filing address at https://www.uscis.gov/i-765-addresses Depending on the carrier service utilized to send the application packet, the current mailing address is listed below.  

USCIS Chicago Lockbox 

U.S. Postal Service (USPS):                FedEx, UPS, and DHL deliveries: 

USCIS                                                           USCIS 
PO Box 805373                                          Attn: I-765 C03 
Chicago, IL 60680                                      131 South Dearborn - 3rd Floor 
                                                                Chicago, IL 60603-5517 

 

Important Information: 

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

You may send 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 mailing your application, you will receive a “Notice of Action” (Form I-797) from USCIS stating an estimated processing time and that your documents have been received. You are encouraged to send 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 Mailing Your OPT Packet: 

  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.