OPT: How to Apply
Important! You MUST receive an OPT recommendation I-20 (the "OPT I-20") BEFORE applying through the mail or online to USCIS. Applying too early or without first receiving an OPT I-20 could cause the rejection or denial of your application by USCIS.
Am I Eligible for Post-Completion OPT?
In order to be eligible for Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT), you must:
- Have completed all academic coursework
- Be in F-1 status at the time of applying
- Be fully enrolled for 2 semesters (Fall and Spring semester)
- Have not used more than one year of full-time CPT or OPT at this degree level
When Should I Apply?
Applying for OPT can be a lengthy process and requires sending your application to USCIS for adjudication. To ensure you apply at the right time, you need to determine when your program is complete. Please refer to our Completing Your Program page for information on when your program is considered complete. Once you know your program completion date:
- You can apply to USCIS for OPT up to 90 days before your program completion date
- You can apply up to 60 days after your program completion date
This is the OPT "Application Window," your application must reach USCIS during this window to be accepted. Applying too early or too late may result in a rejected application.
How Should I Apply?
(Optional Step) Attend an OPT Information Session
While optional, the OIA OPT Information Sessions are a great place to start when applying for OPT. Our team of advisors will go through the application process, help students identify their program completion date, and determine when they should apply for OPT-- as well as a host of information on how to maintain your status while on OPT.
Step 1: Paper Application - Complete the I-765
- Always make sure you are using the most recent version of the I-765 by checking the edition date on USCIS's website
- You can find helpful hints on filling out the I-765 here.
You do not need to fill out the paper I-765 if filing online, the online application will collect this same information-- the I-765 and above tips may be useful to reference later when completing the online form. Remember! You must first receive an OPT I-20 before applying online!
Step 2: Gather Your Other Documentation
As part of your OPT application, you will need to supply USCIS with copies of the documents below. Make sure you gather these documents as soon as possible, so that your application is not delayed.
- Copy of your most recent electronic I-94 record OR copy of the front and back of your current paper I-94 card
- Copy of your passport identification page (and any renewal pages)
- Copy of your most recent F-1 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.
Step 3: Passport Photos and Fee Payment
Review these recommendations on passport photographs.
- Photos must measure 2 inches by 2 inches and must be in color; photos should be printed on glossy photo paper.
- Head should be positioned directly facing the camera.
- Photo should capture from slightly above top of hair to middle of chest.
- Background should be plain white or off-white.
- Photos should be taken within the last 30 days prior to the extension application. Photos used for obtaining a non-U.S. passport or a U.S .visa stamp are generally not acceptable, as they are often not the correct size, and rarely taken within 30 days of the OPT application.
- Photos with poor lighting (too dark) may be rejected.
If filing a paper-based application, we recommend writing your name and I-94 number on the back of your photos in pencil or with a felt tipped pen (it is important to avoid marring the photos or leaving marks).
There are several pharmacies and stores (such as CVS, Walgreens, or Walmart) that will take and print passport-sized photographs for you at a low cost. We recommend you have your photographs taken by one of these stores, and you can ask them to retake the photo at no cost to you if it does not meet the recommendations outlined above.
Paying your I-765 Fee
There is a $410 fee for the OPT application. If filing a paper application can pay this fee by check or money order made out to: USCIS. If applying online you can submit credit or debit card information to pay.
Do not sign the back of your check! This will void the check.
Step 4: Determine OPT Requested Start Date and Complete E-Form in Atlas
In this e-form, you will need to provide your Academic Advisor's information to confirm when your program will be complete. You will also need to choose a requested OPT start date.
- Your requested OPT start date must be after your program completion date (If you complete your program May 9th, your requested start date can be as early as May 10th)
- Your requested OPT start date can be up to 60 days after your program completion date
- This is a requested date. If your application is approved by USCIS after the requested date, your OPT will begin date of approval by USCIS
Step 5: Make Recommended Changes to Your Materials and Print I-20 Copy
After your completed Post Completion OPT Processing Request e-form has been reviewed, the Office of International Affairs will create a new I-20 recommending you for OPT. Along with this I-20, your Advisor will recommend edits or corrections to your application materials--make sure to make any suggested corrections before sending your application to USCIS! Your approval email will include a scanned copy of your OPT recommendation I-20, you should print this copy to include with your packet. Make sure to sign your I-20 copy.
You will receive instructions about when and where to pick up your new I-20 as well. If you no longer live in Indianapolis, we can send your OPT recommendation I-20 by UPS for $10, or by U.S. mail for free.
Step 6: Compile Your OPT Application Packet or File Online
For online applications, now is when you should complete the online application with USCIS, being careful to upload your materials correctly and selecting "c(3)(B) Student Post-Completion OPT" as your eligibility category.
For paper applications, USCIS can better review your packet if you prepare it in a certain way. Below is the order we recommend for your documents. Please do not staple any individual documents within your packet.
- Check ($410)
- Photos (we recommend you place these in a small plastic bag with a zipper, plus write your name and I-94 number on the back of each photo with a pencil or felt-tip pen)
- I-765 form
- New I-20 recommending OPT
- Most recently issued I-20
- I-94 record
- Passport Identification Page
- F-1 Visa Stamp
- Other supporting documentation if applicable (SEVIS printout for CPT, I-797 Approval notice, prior EAD, etc)
- Optional: Form G-1145
Once you have compiled these documents, staple the whole packet together (including the check and the baggie that has your pictures in it—be careful not to staple through the pictures).
You should make a copy of your entire OPT packet for your records.
Step 7: Send Your OPT Packet to USCIS
For paper applications, you should send your completed OPT application packet to USCIS. We recommend you use a courier services such as UPS or FedEx, or registered first-class U.S. mail service to have your packet delivered. These methods will both provide you with information on when the packet was delivered to USCIS, which you should keep for your records. For both online and paper applications, USCIS must receive your application no later than 30 days immediately following the date on page 1 of your I-20 (where the DSO has signed), or the date your 60 day grace period ends, whichever is sooner.
Step 8: Receive Your Receipt Notice and Wait
Once your OPT application has been filed with the USCIS, a Receipt Notice will be issued. It will come to the address you listed in 5.a.-5.e. in Part 2 of your I-765 application form. You can check the status of your application by going to this site and entering your Receipt Number, which can be found toward the upper, left-hand side of your Receipt Notice.
If you need to update your address with USCIS while your application is still pending you can do so here.
Frequently Asked Questions
For information on maintaining your F-1 status while on OPT and work requirements, please see our Maintaining Your Status on OPT page.
Am I still in F-1 status on OPT or when my application is pending?
Yes-- you are still in F-1 visa status even while on OPT. OPT is a work authorization, not a separate status. Students may remain in the United States, even after their grace period, if they have a pending application with USCIS.
Can I work on campus while I wait for my OPT to be approved?
Not after your program completion date-- on campus work authorization ends when your program ends.
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)
How do I make sure I receive my EAD card when my OPT is approved?
- You should make sure you can receive mail that is listed as "first class or higher" at your mailing address.
- Make sure you or the person you've put as "in care of" on your application are listed as residing at the mailing address with USPS. You may need to confirm this with your local post office.
If you move while your OPT is pending and can no longer receive mail at your mailing address, make sure to update your address with USCIS as soon as possible.
Will my International Student Insurance continue while I’m on OPT?
If you already have IU International Student Insurance through IUPUI, it will expire at the end of the period of insurance coverage. The last day of coverage for Spring/Summer insurance is July 31, and the last day of fall insurance coverage is December 31. Typically, students who will not register for classes will use the insurance offered through their employer. If your OPT employer does not provide you with insurance coverage and you would like information about other options, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you register for classes at IUPUI any time during your OPT period, you will be billed automatically for IU International insurance. If you would like to request exemption from mandatory student insurance enrollment while you are on OPT, you must complete a Health Insurance Exemption Request in Atlas.
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 Atlas.
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 Atlas.
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.