Optional Practical Training
If you are an F-1 student who will be completing a program of study, you may be eligible for 12 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT is employment that is related to your major field of study prior to or shortly after graduating.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is responsible for granting OPT employment authorization. You are eligible for 12 months of OPT for each higher education level you complete. For example, you are eligible for 12 months of OPT after completing a bachelor’s degree, and then you are eligible for another 12 months of OPT after completing a master’s degree. If your major field of study is in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) field, you may be eligible for an extension of OPT. Learn about the STEM extension »
Never work without first receiving employment authorization. It is a serious violation of your F-1 status to work without authorization.
What should I know about OPT?
Am I eligible for OPT?
All F-1 students nearing graduation who have been enrolled full time for at least 2 consecutive semesters are eligible to apply for OPT employment authorization.
When Should I Apply for OPT?
Applications for OPT can be submitted up to 90 days before your expected program completion date. Your application for OPT must be received by USCIS no later than 60 days after the completion of your academic program requirements. Additionally, your OPT application must be received by USCIS no later than 30 days after your OPT I-20 is printed.
USCIS will need around 3 months to process the OPT application. USCIS provides expected processing times for applications on its website. Do not apply for OPT using the USCIS's online ELIS System. Visit USCIS for more information about processing times »
Applying late for OPT may cause loss of OPT time. OIA recommends you apply 90 days before your expected program completion date.
How do I apply for authorization?
Call OIA at 317-274-7000 to sign up for an OPT Meeting. At this meeting you will learn how to fill out the forms, choose your start date, and maintain status while on OPT. Meetings are held every Friday at 10am at the OIA.
Submit the application for OPT with all required documents (detailed below) at the front desk of OIA (ES2126). Do not apply for OPT using the USCIS's online ELIS System.
Within 2-4 days, OIA will issue an I-20 showing your OPT recommendation. When you receive an email from OIA, return to ES 2126 to pick up your materials.
Once your OPT application has been reviewed and your I-20 created and application assembled, OIA will give you directions on how to mail your application to USCIS. OIA strongly recommends using a service like FedEx for delivery so that you can track your package.
You will be responsible for ensuring that your OPT packet is mailed within your eligibility period.
What Documents Do I Need to Apply for OPT?
- Completed Form I-765
- 2 passport style photographs that have not been used in your passport before. Please write your name and I-94 number on the back in pencil.
- Check, money order, or cashier’s check in the amount of $410 addressed to U.S.C.I.S.
- Completed “Verification of Pending Program Completion” form. This must be completed by you and your academic advisor.
- Completed “Optional Practical Training Information Sheet”
- Copy of your current I-20 form
- Copy of your I-94 record:
- If you have a paper card, we need a copy of the front and back.
- If you have an electronic I-94 record, please print a screen shot
- Copy of your passport ID page (and any renewal pages)
- Copy of your visa stamp
- Copy of any previously issued EAD cards
- If you entered the U.S. in a visa status other than F-1, a copy of your I-797 approval notice.
- Form G-1145 if you wish to be notified by the USCIS when your application is received and approved
How do I Maintain my Legal F-1 Status While on OPT?
- You may not begin employment until you receive the OPT card (employment authorization document) and may only work during the dates listed on the card, unless your employer has submitted an H-1B petition. Learn about the cap-gap extension »
- After you complete your degree, you may not work on campus until you have received your OPT card and the start date on your card is current, even if you were previously authorized to work on campus. At that time, you can resume working on campus only if the work is in your field of study.
- You must work at least 21 hours per week. There is no maximum number of hours you can work.
As an F-1 student authorized for OPT, you are required to report any of the following to OIA within 10 days of the occurrence:
- If your address has changed, update it in One.iu.edu using the “Local” address field.
- If your immigration status has changed, please email iAdvisor with proof of your new status.
- If you have an interruption of employment, submit the "Report No Longer on OPT or Currently Unemployed" e-form in iStart.
- If your employer has changed, report this through the "Report OPT Employment" e-form in iStart.
- If you decide to return home and forgoe any remaining OPT time, email iAdvisor with your travel plans.
At the end of the OPT authorization, you have a 60-day grace period to remain in the United States and prepare for departure, to begin a new program of study, or to submit an application for a change of status, unless your employer has submitted an H-1B petition.
The cap-gap extension applies to all F-1 students on OPT whose non-college or university employers filed a timely H-1B petition for the following fiscal year, regardless of your field of study.
If your employer files a timely H-1B petition (requesting a change of status within the United States and an employment start date of October 1 of the following fiscal year) before your current OPT authorization expires, you are permitted to continue working and may remain legally in the United States in F-1 status until the H-1B petition is approved, rejected, denied, or revoked. The allowance of extra time while the petition is being reviewed is known as "cap-gap authorization."
This permission to remain in the United States in F-1 status and continue working under OPT in this particular situation is automatic. There is no new application for an EAD.
If the H-1B petition is approved, your immigration status change will occur on October 1. If the H-1B petition is rejected, denied, or revoked, your OPT cap-gap authorization will end 10 days after its rejection, and you will have a 60-day grace period to depart the country, change status, or begin a new program (at the same school or by transferring to a new school).
The cap-gap work authorization continuation only applies in cases where the H-1B petition is filed before the EAD expires. If the EAD expires before the H-1B petition can be filed, but you are still within the 60-day grace period, you may remain in the United States in F-1 status until a decision on the H-1B petition is reached, but may not be employed.
F-2 dependents (spouses and unmarried minor children) are eligible to remain in F-2 status during this time as well.
If your employer's attorney, your local BMV, or a similar party requests that you provide an updated I-20 that reflects your cap-gap OPT, please email us at email@example.com to request the I-20.
If you are an F-1 student whose OPT is based on a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in a STEM field, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), you may be eligible for a 24-month extension of OPT.
When is my program complete?
It is important to remember that program completion and graduation are two separate things. Graduation typically refers to when your degree is conferred by the university and/or the commencement ceremony where this achievement is celebrated. Immigration considers your program complete once your final requirement has been met to meet your degree requirements.
Grades of incomplete do not delay your completion date - in this case your completion date will be the final semester you are enrolled.
For students who do not have a thesis/dissertation option, this is often the final day of the semester in which you finish.
For students who have a thesis/dissertation option, this is often the final submission date.
For some students, they have both a thesis/dissertation and another final requirement (course) that must be completed. In these situations, the program completion date is considered to be whichever component is finished last.
Can I travel while I’m waiting for my OPT to be approved?
Yes, but OIA recommends caution when traveling outside of the United States after you have graduated, while you are waiting for your OPT authorization. Your U.S. immigration status is determined by your I-94 card, and because the I-94 information is no longer available each time you depart from the United States, establishing your F-1 status while outside the country will be difficult if USCIS has questions about your application. If USCIS sends a request for additional information about an aspect of your application and it is not resolved in a timely fashion, your application will be denied.
According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), you may travel back to the United States while your OPT is pending in order to search for employment. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) explains this in detail on its website.
OIA also recommends caution if you need to renew your visa while abroad. Since OPT is optional, the consular officer may not feel it’s necessary for you to return to the U.S., especially if they feel you have any intention of immigrating.
If you do decide to travel outside the U.S. while waiting for your OPT to be approved, make sure to carry:
- Your passport
- A signed I-20
- A valid F-1 visa stamp
- An I-797C (receipt notice from USCIS)
Can I travel during my OPT?
Yes, but it can be very difficult to apply for an F-1 visa stamp while you are on OPT. If your visa stamp is expired, or will soon expire, keep this in mind. Please feel free to discuss your plans with an international student advisor at OIA before you travel.
If you are traveling while on OPT, you are advised to carry the following:
- Your I-20, signed for travel (remember that each travel signature is valid for only six months during the period of OPT)
- A valid F-1 visa stamp
- A passport valid for at least six months into the future from the date of re-entry to the United States
- A valid OPT (EAD) card
- A job offer or confirmation letter. If you are traveling for business or on a vacation from the job, ensure that the letter clarifies this.
Individuals with a Cap-Gap Extension
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) strongly recommends that you not travel during your cap-gap extension. USCIS may consider your application to change from F-1 to H-1B as abandoned and deny the change.
When I am on OPT, what is my status? Can I extend my OPT like I could extend my I-20?
OPT is part of F-1 status. Though you may no longer be a student, you are still in F-1 status.
A 24-month extension of OPT is only possible for students who are completing a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree in DHS-designated STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. If your degree is in a non-STEM field, the maximum amount of time for which you are eligible for OPT is 12 months for each higher degree level. See the information about STEM Extensions above.
What are the reporting requirements for tracking employment?
You should report your employment dates and place of employment through iStart. You must submit the form again within 10 days of changing employers.
Additionally, it is recommended that you maintain careful records of your employment for yourself. Obtain a letter (on the company’s letterhead) from each employer which includes:
- Position held
- Duration of the position
- Job Title
- Contact information for the supervisor or manager
- Description of the work
This is not to be submitted to OIA, but to be kept for your own records.
What is the SEVIS Student Portal?
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) or the group that regulates SEVIS, the database that produces your I-20, has created a student portal by which students who are currently on 12-month or 24-month STEM extensions can report changes to their records.
OIA recommends that you continue to use iStart for this purpose and report your address/employer changes to OIA directly. OIA updates your SEVIS record with any changes as required by law. Information you provide in the SEVIS Student Portal could potentially be incorrect based on your situation and cause you problems in the future.
Can I volunteer on OPT?
Yes, you can do two types of volunteering:
True Volunteer Work:
Completely volunteer in the spirit of service, good examples of this include volunteering at a place of worship, hospital, or school.. This is not considered employment in any way. You do not need to report this to OIA or immigration. You should NOT report this in your SEVIS Student Portal.
Volunteering as a means to avoid hitting your 90-days of unemployment while on OPT limit. In this case, your volunteer work must adhere to the same OPT employment guidelines as employment to count as employment for immigration purposes:
- Must be related to your field of study
- Must be for at least 20 hours per week
Be aware, volunteer work must be unpaid for anyone else doing the same type of work. If you are unpaid but someone else is paid, this is a violation of labor law.
It is your responsibility to evaluate your own volunteer opportunity and ensure that it is truly volunteer work. You are also responsible for keeping track of your deuties and hours worked. Questions on both could come up in a future benefit request (like an application for STEM extension or H1-B application).
Only report this type of volunteer work to OIA or the SEVIS Student Portal if your work is directly related to your field of study.
How is my authorization affected if I become unemployed?
You may accrue up to 90 days of unemployment during your OPT.
Any period of unemployment will count toward this total. This means that any days for which you are not employed or on payroll count toward the 90-day total.
Days spent outside of the United States while unemployed still count toward the 90-day total.
If you near your 90th day of unemployment while on OPT, it is best to make plans to depart the United States, apply for a change of status, or make preparations to begin a new degree program. Take action early enough so that by the end of the 90th day of unemployment, you have another option already in progress. If you are unemployed for more than 90 days, you are considered to be out of status.
What kind of employment is allowed on OPT?
All employment must be related to your degree major.
Work for Hire
You may perform services on a contractual relationship with an employer, rather than be hired as their regular employee. You should maintain evidence of every contractual job that you accept.
Self-Employed Business Owner
You may start your own business and be self-employed. In this situation, you must work full-time. You must be able to prove that you have proper business licenses and are actively engaged in a business related to your degree program.
Employment through an Agency
You must be able to provide evidence showing that you worked an average of at least 20 hours/week while employed by the agency.
Unpaid (Volunteer) Employment
As a strategy for maintaining your employment status while on OPT, you may work as a volunteer or unpaid intern, as long as this does not violate any labor laws. This unpaid work must also be in your major field of study. You will be required to provide evidence from your employer that you worked at least 21 hours per week during the period of employment.
You must be careful not to "volunteer" without pay in positions that U.S. citizens would be paid for. This rule is designed to protect you, the employer, and other workers. The U.S. Department of Labor provides information on the Fair Labor Standards Act on its website. Visit the Department of Labor »
You CANNOT volunteer while on STEM OPT. STEM OPT employment must be paid.
Will my International Student Insurance continue while I’m on OPT?
If you already have Aetna insurance through IUPUI, it will expire at the end of the next policy period. This date is August 1th for Spring/Summer insurance and December 31st for Fall insurance.
Aetna no longer offers continuation insurance for students. Our best suggestions is to use the insurance offered through your employer. If you register for classes at IUPUI any time during your OPT period, you will be billed automatically for the IUPUI insurance. If you would like to waive this insurance, you must complete an insurance waiver request through iStart.
Can I take classes or start a new degree program while on OPT?
If you begin study at another education level, your OPT authorization is terminated with the notification of a new degree program in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) or with a transfer of your SEVIS record to another institution. You are supposed to work full time while on OPT.
If you are pursuing full-time work in your major field of study and wish to take a class or two, there should not be a problem with this, provided that you do not begin a new education level.
If you plan to begin a new academic program on a full time basis at IUPUI, you will need to fill out the e-form called “New Program I-20 Request” in iStart.
If you wish to transfer to another college or university in the United States, you must also fill out the "Transfer Out Request" e-form request in iStart.
These e-form requests must be submitted before you begin a new program, and the OIA approval for these requests must be granted no later than the end of the 60-day grace period following completion of OPT. OPT will automatically terminate on the day your SEVIS record is transferred to a new institution or the day your new program (at IUPUI) begins or your actual OPT end date, whichever is first.